The “Urabeños,” by far Colombia’s most powerful neo-paramilitary group, have sent reinforcements to the city of Medellin in an attempt to take over control of the city’s underworld, according to locals, officials and media.
Medellin has traditionally been run by the Oficina de Envigado, a crime syndicate created by Pablo Escobar in the 1980s that works as an umbrella organization joining the local neighborhood militias. However, following the arrest of its latest leader “Sebastian” and his right hand man earlier this year, the organization lost much of its control over the gangs.
The Urabeños have been trying to move into Medellin since 2008, but until a few months ago were only able to take control of parts of the western Comuna 13.
Earlier this year, the Urabeños aligned with “Gomelo,” a local warlord from the eastern Comuna 8 who successfully broke away from the Oficina. Anonymous city officials attributed extreme acts of violence that took place in the Comuna 8 to the neo-paramilitary group.
Both the Comuna 8 and 13 and considered strategic exit and entry points; the Comuna 8 connects Medellin to the Bajo Cauca region where coca is cultivated, while the Comuna 13 connects the city to the Uraba region. Uraba, the birth-ground of the Urabeños, is an important Caribbean port for both arms and drug trafficking.
Newspaper El Tiempo reported Sunday that the Urabeños have now also taken control of neighborhoods in the northeastern Comunas 1 and 3 and some 150 armed neo-paramilitaries are patrolling the hills above that part of the city. Residents confirmed to Colombia Reports that there has been frequent combat between gangs in the woods.
According to El Tiempo, the neo-paramilitary group is close to taking over the Santo Domingo neighborhood. If successful, the take-over would give the neo-paramilitaries access to the cable cart system and metro that connects the Comuna 13 with with the Comuna 1 and allows transport between the two opposite sides of the city without having to pass through enemy territory.
The incursion into the city is led by “Leo,” a former EPL and AUC commander who has taken over the Urabeños’ branch in Colombia’s second largest city from “Mi Sangre” who has been promoted to lead the organization’s international drug trafficking businesses, reported the newspaper.
With the exception of violence between gangs in some of Medellin’s neighborhoods, the incursion so far has gone relatively peaceful. Instead of violently taking over territory, Leo reportedly is holding talks with leaders of Medellin gangs and offering arms and money to join the Urabeños’ urban network.
Nevertheless, the incursion of the Urabeños coincides with cases of forced displacement in the neighborhoods under neo-paramilitary control and is causing fear among Medellin residents who have learned to coexist with the local militias, but fear the Urabeños’ brutal reputation.
Urabeños presence in Medellin
Rural area Urban area Urabeños