Medellin police commander General Yesid Vasquez accused the journalist who wrote the story, which appeared in El Pais April 8, of “slander,” while city’s mayor Anibal Gaviria said the article did not reflect “the current reality.”
El Pais used testimony from alleged hitmen who claimed that there were thousands of assassins in the city willing to kill for less than $3. “The other day, a youth told me that he killed someone and was given 20,000 pesos ($11) for the head, and I know others who would kill for as little as 5,000 pesos ($2.80) and then use the money to buy their mother a few arepas (corn tortillas), ” said a former hired gun in the article.
The piece has prompted responses from many in the country, including NGOs, Medellin’s police commander and a Colombian ambassador.
“Whoever reads this article without knowing about Medellin will say it is a monstrous city,” General Yesid Vasquez told local media.
Vasquez, who said the real number of hitmen in the city is closer to 500, accused El Pais journalist Pablo de Llano of being “devoted to slander, to speak ill of the city, to speculate really, but he does not recognize the work being done, not only by the police but by the administrative authorities.”
Medellin, once considered the most violent city in the world, has made major strides in improving its image in recent years, becoming a legitimate tourist destination for many.
While the situation is far from perfect — crime rates remain high in the city’s outer neighborhoods — many are concerned that the article perpetuates an inaccurate view of Medellin.
“I’m sure your readers would have preferred to see that recent figures show a 50% decrease in the number of homicides so far this year, rather than the old figures from 2010, which has led to a misunderstanding creating confusion among Spanish readers and outrage among Colombians,” said the ambassador to Spain Orlando Sardi de Lima in a letter to El Pais.
Mayor Gaviria criticized El Pais’ reporting in his own letter to the publication, claiming that there were testimonies used from 2009, and no effort was made to obtain comments from local police, which would have contradicted the article.
He extended an invitation to Iberian journalists “to visit us and make an intense, objective and, if you will, critical report about the city.”