Colombia’s army was behind the “narco-terrorism” that made Medellin the “murder capital” of the world in the 1980’s, according to a declassified CIA report.
The 1988 report that has been made public by the National Security Archive contradicts decades of government propaganda, which blamed the extreme violence in Colombia’s second largest city on late drug lord Pablo Escobar and the now-defunct Medellin Cartel.
The previously classified report confirms claims by Medellin human rights defenders and scholars, who have insisted that local authorities were behind many of the assassinations and massacres between the mid-1980’s and the beginning of the 2st century.
Many of the homicides and massacres that were carried out in the later 1980’s and the early 1990’s were part of “Love for Medellin, a local initiative that combined terrorism and propaganda in order to promote State authority.
American intelligence officials warned Washington DC in April 1988 that the 4th Brigade of Colombia’s National Army, now-defunct intelligence unit B2 were behind a “wave of assassinations” against “suspected leftists and communist” in Medellin throughout 1987.
Specifically, the terrorism campaign was coordinated by the 4th Brigade’s intelligence chief, lieutenant colonel Plinio Correa and carried out by members of intelligence units B2 and the 10th Brigade in collusion with “unidentified members of the Medellin narcotics cartel” and “an unidentified private right-wing paramilitary group.”
The American intelligence agency said it was “unlikely” that the terrorism campaign took place “without the knowledge of the” Brigade commander, late General Carlos Alberto Ospina.
According to the American intelligence report, the paramilitary group that took part in the terrorism campaign was led by “Rambo,” the nom-de-guerre of the late paramilitary commander Fidel Castaño.
Rambo, a former cartel associate, would form terrorist group “Los Pepes” with the help of the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the National Police in an attempt to either capture or kill Medellin Cartel founder Pablo Escobar.
In the late 1990’s, The 4th Brigade and the Medellin Police Department continued to cooperate closely with “Don Berna,” Escobar’s successor and a founding member of Los Pepes, the Truth Commission said in its report on Colombia’s armed conflict last year.
Medellin’s homicide rates
Weeks before the CIA report, then-Medellin Mayor William Jaramillo told US magazine Time that the violence was “a result of drug trafficking.”
For more than a decade, the drug barons of the Medellin cartel have been using murder and corruption in an attempt to cow or co-opt elected officials of this pleasant, bustling Colombian city of 2 million people and turn it into the world capital of the cocaine business. In the process, Medellin, known locally as the “city of eternal spring” for its mild mountain climate, has become the city of eternal violence. More than 3,000 people were murdered there last year.
According to Juan Gomez, who was the owner of local newspaper El Colombiano and running for mayor, told Time that the drug trade “hasn’t created much employment because” the drug traffickers” haven’t invested in productive infrastructure.”
The American publication did not talk to human rights defenders or community representatives, who were blaming the security forces and their paramilitary allies for most of the violence at the time.
With the help of El Colombiano, Gomez won the 1988 elections, which allowed the late commander of the 4th Brigade , General Harold Bedoya, to intensify his terrorism campaign and the newspaper tycoon to intensify his propaganda campaign.
In the nineties, also a “dark” sector of the National Police activated a hit squad, to respond to police killings… The order of these uniformed killers was: “For every policeman killed, no less than 10 young people should be killed.”
Historian John Jairo Gonzalez
Gomez threatened to sue US magazine Rolling Stone in 1989 for reporting on the ties between drug traffickers and Correa and the 4th Brigade’s former special forces chief, Eber Villegas.
‘Love for Medellin’: how state propaganda and terrorism instilled a culture of fear in Colombia’s 2nd largest city
The Medellin miracle hoax
After the 2003 elections, Mayor Sergio Fajardo and national authorities began an international propaganda offensive to promote the “miracle” that allegedly had allowed Medellin to go from “from murder capital of the world to the most innovative city in the world.”
After Fajardo had become governor of the Antioquia province in 2012, public relations firm Blue Ocean Strategy said that the extreme violence that surged in the 1980’s “was largely caused by drug traffickers, local gangs and guerrilla forces” and claimed that the former mayor’s infrastructure projects had reduced the violence.
So how did Medellin go from murder capital of the world to the most innovative city of the world in under 20 years? It all began in 2003, when mathematics professor, Sergio Fajardo, was elected mayor of Medellin, securing the biggest electoral victory in the city’s history.
Public relations firm Blue Ocean Strategy
The propaganda campaign ignored the demobilization of paramilitary organization AUC between 2003 and 2006, which largely ended the terror that began in the 1980’s, and the rapid deterioration of Fajardo’s urban development “miracle.”
Skeptics often wonder if the “Medellin miracle” is more about show than substance. The city has certainly known how to sell itself well internationally,.. but [former urban planning consultant Jorge Melguizo] argues that the most important marketing move has been to sell the idea that transformation is possible to city residents themselves.
Medellin could be Latin America’s largest mass grave, Colombia’s war crimes tribunal finds out
War crimes and propaganda
War crimes tribunal JEP said in 2019 that Medellin authorities purposely had been withholding information about some 900 locals who were forcibly disappeared between 2002 and 2012.
Two years later, the JEP said that the military had assassinated at least 354 Medellin residents and falsely reported them as guerrillas killed in combat.
The court issued multiple orders that would possibly allow the transitional justice system to locate the remains of locals who were forcibly disappeared during the armed conflict in Medellin.