Medellin landlords and gangs skyrocket forced displacement

Medellin's 13th District

Medellin landlords using gangs to evict tenants more than doubled forced displacement in Colombia’s second largest city, according to the local ombudsman.

Medellin Ombudsman William Vivas said Wednesday that 530 people were forcibly displaced in the first two months of the year.

This is more than twice as much as the 245 people were were forcibly displaced from their neighborhoods in the same period last year, according to the human rights official.

Many landlords are using criminal gangs to collect the value of the rent and give people ultimatums to vacate their homes in the midst of the pandemic crisis. There are other tragedies that many families in Medellin are experiencing as a consequence of forced displacement.

Medellin Ombudsman William Vivas

Forced displacement is particularly a problem in the historically impoverished 13th District in the west of the city, and District 1, 2 and 8 in the northeast.

These districts have historically been all but abandoned by the police and effectively controlled by gangs, of which many belong to local crime syndicate Oficina de Envigado.

Gangs ignore president’s eviction ban

President Ivan Duque banned evictions after the coronavirus pandemic last year spiked unemployment, making many depending on informal or street labor unable to make rent.

Landlord are ignoring this ban and employ the local gangs to make sure that those who can’t pay or are behind on rent are forced to either pay or leave, according to Vivas.

Many people are displaced because they are approached by illegal groups to pay rent, and if they do not pay, they must leave the neighborhood in the time given to them by these gangs in order to safeguard their lives.

Medellin Ombudsman William Vivas

The same gangs are additionally taking advantage of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic to forcibly recruit children and teenagers, said the Ombudsman.

For decades, the gangs have used high unemployment and a lack of education opportunities to consolidate control over the neighborhoods in the north of the cities.

Failing peace process

La Oficina, which was originally founded by late drug lord and Congressman Pablo Escobar, offered to take part in a peace process with the now-defunct guerrilla group FARC under the condition local authorities would provide labor and education opportunities.

The crime syndicate’s offer was ignored by former Mayor Federico Gutierrez, whose former security chief was imprisoned for having ties to La Oficina.

Forced displacement has also increased in other parts of as Duque has only reluctantly implemented part of the 2016 peace deal.

According to the United Nations, which monitors the peace process, almost 20,000 people were displaced so far this year.

This would indicate  a major increase compared to 2020, when 27,400 people were displaced during the entire year.

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