A mixed group of characters has secretly negotiated an indefinite peace deal between Medellin’s warring crime factions.
“Peace processes aren’t done with a microphone in hand and a camera on your shoulder,” said Jaime Jaramillo Panesso, a prominent lawyer and a member of the National Commission for Peace and Reconciliation. “And that’s why we wanted to keep this process confidential.”
Panesso joined the reconciliation commission after guerrillas shot his oldest daughter in the back in 2002. The other negotiators include Alberto Giraldo Jaramillo, the archbishop of Medellin, and Francisco Galan Bermudez, a former member of the guerrilla group ELN who quit after 36 years of fighting. He now heads a peace non-profitorganization. Rounding out the group is Jorge Gaviria Velez, leader of Medellin’s peace commission, which has reintegrated 4,271 demobilized paramilitaries back into mainstream society.
The ceasefire, in effect since February 1, has already drastically affected Medellin’s homicide rates. Only seven murders were reported last week, down from 231 registered murders in January.
Medellin’s criminal gangs have battled to fill a power vacuum following the extradition of paramilitary leader and drug kingpin “Don Berna” to the United States last year. A rivalry between one faction headed by Maximiliano Bonilla, alias “Sebastian”, and another criminal band headed by Erick Vargas, alias “Valenciano,” has been particularly vicious.
Panesso and his colleagues met with confidants from “Sebastian” and “Valenciano’s” gangs in various prisons in Antioquia. The negotiators also sat down with “Don Berna’s” former right hand man, as well as the leader of another criminal group, known as “Los Triana.”
All together, the men represented about 80% of the criminals in Medellin, according to the negotiators.
The negotiators say “Sebastian” and “Valenciano” agreed to a ceasefire because they are exhausted by the brutal street war that claimed 2,178 lives last year.
They added that neither the federal nor the local government supported the mediations, although the government’s high peace commissioner, Frank Pearl, was aware that discussions were ongoing. According to Panesso, President Uribe also knew about negotiations.
“This was an exclusively civilian effort and neither the national nor the municipal governments were involved,” said Panesso. “This was a purely humanitarian action on part of the city of Medellin.”
The mayor’s office said that they knew the negotiators were pushing for a ceasefire since October 2009, but were not involved.
“As mayor I have neither participated in this group’s meetings nor have I authorized members of the mayor’s office to participate,” said Alonso Salazar.
The mayor’s office told Colombia Reports on Monday that negotiating ceasefires between criminals is not part of the mayor’s approach to battling crime.
It is unknown how long the ceasefire will last.