Weeks after the arrest of Medellin‘s security secretary over his administration’s alleged mafia ties, paramilitaries have begun an offensive in the west of the city, attacking street gangs and police alike.
In Altavista, on the rural outskirts of the city, more than 190 children have been unable to attend school because of ongoing combat between the illegal armed groups, ombudsman Juan Fernando Gomez told newspaper El Espectador.
The district of Altavista historically has been controlled by two gangs who have challenged public order, the “Pajaros” and the “Chivos,” who have had critical periods of confrontation, such as the one we are living in this year.
Ombudsman Juan Fernando Gomez
This year, however, is different.
The two gangs traditionally controlling Altavista and Robledo are taken on by The Hand of God, an urban militia of Colombia’s largest drug-trafficking paramilitary group, the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC).
Where is the State? The Battalion of Urban Operations of the National Army, which has precise orders to control and supervise the Altavista district, apparently has been absent, leaving the tranquility of the people to the mercy of the gangs.
Crime think tank Analisis Urbano
Like in Altavista, violence has escalated in the western Robledo district and tensions are reported in the neighboring 12 de Octubre district, implying the entire western periphery of the city is under paramilitary pressure.
In the western neighborhoods, apparent paramilitary forces have reportedly been harassing locals to give up the names and locations of gang leaders loyal to the Oficina de Envigado, Pablo Escobar‘s former enforcer army.
Gutierrez’ safe spaces
The violence escalated after the mayor’s hand-picked security secretary was arrested on charges he was a top associate of La Oficina that has been running the city in collusion with the local political elite since the 1980s.
In an attempt to pretend Medellin is not in crisis, Mayor Federico Gutierrez visited Altavista over the weekend, claiming his administration had created “safe spaces on all schools with psychologists, pedagogues and the Medellin Police” in Altavista.
— Federico Gutiérrez (@FicoGutierrez) July 22, 2017
Local newspaper Q’Hubo reported more than a week earlier that “fear reigns in Altavista” because of the ongoing urban warfare, a claim confirmed by the city’s ombudsman and virtually all local media two days after the mayor’s false claims.
What we see now are public order phenomena like confrontations at any hour of the day, which has generated the displacement of families. So far this year, we have had 55 cases of displacement.
Ombudsman Juan Fernando Gomez
Gutierrez has refused to take responsibility for the situation, but has instead blamed judicial authorities for granting conditional parole to alleged criminals instead of sending them to the city’s prisons.
The mayor conveniently ignored the fact that Medellin’s prisons closed their doors for new inmates years ago already due to excessive overcrowding.
The AGC’s not so safe spaces
The AGC has reportedly not just declared war on the local gangs, but local police too, taking advantage of the apparent disarray in Medellin’s underworld and government to make strategic territorial expansions in the city.
In Altavista, the paramilitaries have reportedly opened fire at patrolling policemen and in Robledo they destroyed a police car.
Gutierrez has been running the city without his right-hand man, former Security Secretary Gustavo Villegas, after the dynasty politician was arrested on charges he was a close associate of La Oficina.
The same prosecution witnesses that put Villegas in jail have claimed Gutierrez was well aware of his trustee’s ties to Pablo Escobar’s former enforcer army.
Medellin crime syndicate Oficina de Envigado is not reported to have engaged in the fighting to stop the apparent paramilitary expansion, yet.
The last time the paramilitaries and the Medellin Cartel heirs went to war in 2008, thousands of people died in Medellin and the surrounding Antioquia province.
La Oficina and the AGC signed a truce in 2011 after admitted mediation by Jorge Gaviria, a cousin of La Oficina founder Pablo Escobar and the brother of Senator Jose Obdulio Gaviria (Democratic Center).
Both the Democratic Center and Gutierrez have refused to support Colombia’s peace process that obligates the dismantling of criminal-political structures like La Oficina that has controlled the city and supported election campaigns since the days of the Medellin Cartel.
While the rest of Colombia is taking steps towards peace, Medellin seems to be heading to another war.