While some in the city call it a Christmas tradition, the so-called “Alborada,” a literal explosion of fireworks at midnight, did not exist before 2003 and is highly controversial because it was originally imposed by paramilitary drug lord “Don Berna” to celebrate the defeat of his rivals in the city and humiliate authorities.
Berna was extradited in 2008, less than five years after he first ordered the gangs belonging to the “Oficina de Envigado” and militias belonging to the Cacique Nutibara paramilitary group to set off fireworks on Pablo Escobar’s birthday.
Berna took over the Oficina from Escobar after the latter was killed in 1993.
With the impressive show of force, Berna made it clear to the local government and the population who was really running the city even though he had officially disarmed and demobilized his troops only five days prior.
Berna turned the fireworks display into an annual event, which coincidentally fall on the birthday of Pablo Escobar, another defeated enemy of the drug lord.
The drug lord’s initiative was considered a nice way to welcome the holiday season by the locals and continued, also after Don Berna was extradited and the Oficina de Envigado splintered and descended into an internal turf war.
Local crime website Analisis Urbano has called the young “tradition” a night during which “crime celebrates, institutions disperse and the community summits.”
Last year, 44 people were injured in the celebration, mainly because of exploding fireworks and stray bullets.
Local cultural organizations have protested the continuation of Berna’s celebration and its apparent inclusion in the annual Christmas rituals and have begun campaigns to remind citizens of the sinister origins of their celebration.
The local government last year even banned the sale and setting off of fireworks until after December 1, but without result. Most fireworks are sold illegally and the majority of paisas couldn’t care less what their mayor says.
The consequence; loud and sometimes beautiful fireworks that, knowingly or unknowingly, celebrate Medellin’s suppressed criminal history.