During a visit to Medellin‘s Comuna 13 on Wednesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called for more “communication” between locals and the authorities in order to halt the violence gripping the central Colombian city.
“I would ask the inhabitants of this good community to help us … to be more effective, because I believe that you deserve a much more peaceful, much more safe and much more prosperous life,” Santos said, calling on locals to be a “source of information” about criminal activity in the area.
Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera, who accompanied Santos to Comuna 13, promised to “protect” inhabitants who provide information to the authorities.
Between January and June 2010, a reported 2,300 people were displaced by urban violence in Medellin, compared to 771 in the same period in 2009.
Santos declared war on the violence in Medellin several weeks ago, and 1,000 police reinforcements arrived in the city on September 1, but the violence has continued. Authorities argue that the extra police are having an impact, with 75 alleged gang members arrested in the past week.
The detainees are alleged to be members of the criminal organizations of drug kingpins Maximiliano Bonilla, alias “Valenciano,” and Erickson Vargas, alias “Sebastian,” who are caught in a battle for control over the city’s underworld.
According to authorities, Sebastian has 25 illegal armed groups comprised of some 2,000 men under his command, while Valenciano is believed to control 32 groups and 1,500 men.
Both Valenciano and Sebastian are believed to have worked for Medellin criminal organization “The Office of Envigado” under paramilitary leader “Don Berna,” who was extradited to the U.S. in May 2008.
Colombian pop star Juanes has agreed to be a spokesman for peace in Medellin. The singer will take part in a peace initiative through dialogue with young people in the city’s troubled neighborhoods, at the request of Medellin Mayor Alonso Salazar.