Local authorities, analysts and statistics clashed with U.K. daily The Guardian Wednesday after the newspaper claimed Medellin‘s security improvements over the past ten years had been “blown apart” by drug gang wars.
The report, headlined “New drug gang wars blow Colombian city’s revival apart,” warned of a potential escalation of violence between two of the region’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations, the Oficina de Envigado, heirs of Pablo Escobar‘s cocaine empire, and the Urabeños, a group made up of former mid-level paramilitary members based in the northwestern Colombian Uraba region.
However, local authorities, statistics and analysts contradict The Guardian’s claim that Medellin may be “on the brink of another drug war.”
Recent crime statistics demonstrate that Medellin has made major improvements to its security situation. While there remain concerns about forced displacement and forced disappearances, the city’s official murder rate went down 49% in the first three months of this year compared to 2011, Medellin’s Government Secretary Mauricio Facio Lince told Colombia Reports.
According to Facio Lince, the Guardian article showed “a great lack of knowledge about the city” and was “a bit insulting” towards the city’s efforts to improve security.
Local crime analyst Jeremy McDermott, director of crime analysis website InSight Crime, confirmed the local government’s claims security in Medellin had improved and denied the Urabeños and the Oficina de Envigado were about to collide.
“There are no indications of an imminent war between the two groups. There is Urabeños presence in the city, but this has not led to clashes,” McDermott told this website.
There have been violent clashes between gangs in the city’s western Robledo neighborhood and in Itagui, a town southwest of Medellin, but crime analysts do not believe this is the beginning of an all-out drug war.
“The violence that has taken place in these neighborhoods was ‘combo’ to ‘combo’ and not ‘bacrim’ to ‘bacrim’,” McDermott said, referring to small local gangs, called “combos”, and the government term for neo-paramilitary groups, “Bacrim.”
Medellin has been a major hub for drug trafficking in Colombia, the world’s number one exporter of cocaine to the United States, since the rise of the Medellin cartel in the 1980s. The city’s underworld caused homicide rates to spike as recently as 2009, when factions of the Oficina de Envigado – formed by Medellin cartel capo Pablo Escobar – fought for control over the organization following the extradition of Diego Fernando Murillo, alias “Don Berna.”
Don Berna, a former Escobar associate, became the leader of the Oficina de Envigado following the notorious drug lord’s death in 1993. He allied with the paramilitary group, the AUC – even assuming a leadership position in the organization – to tighten his stranglehold on the city’s drug trade.
His 2008 extradition to the United States over drug trafficking charges left a vacuum that sent Medellin’s murder rates soaring when rival drug lords and AUC members, Maximiliano Bonillo Orozco, alias “Valenciano” and Erick Vargas Cardenas, alias “Sebastian”, fought over control of the city.
In late 2010, the security situation stabilized when Sebastian took control of the majority of Medellin, with his bitter rival Valenciano claiming the notorious Comuna 13 neighborhood. Valenciano was later arrested in Venezuela.