A surge in violence in the west of Medellin is keeping hundreds of children from attending class because going to school simply has become too dangerous. Government officials are no longer allowed entry in the area, while the city’s increasingly controversial mayor insists the situation is under control.
Some 200 children have stopped attending the Eduardo Santos school and other educational facilities in the Comuna 13 district after rival gangs imposed “invisible borders” that can not be crossed by locals and a 6PM curfew that disallows children taking the late shift to walk home.
“Some 200 minors have stopped attending the local educational facilities,” a local who out of fear of repercussions refused to say his name told Colombia Reports. His claim was corroborated by a former teacher who also requested to remain anonymous.
Locals from the troubled zone have told this website stories about multiple cases of people being dragged from their houses by hooded men to never return, shootings with semi-automatic and automatic guns and increased pressure on taxi drivers to pay protection money. However, these stories are difficult to corroborate because the gangs have also begun intimidating journalists trying to report from the Comuna 13.
Juan Fernando Rojas of the Antioquia journalist association APA said colleagues from newspaper Q’hubo and state television stations Teleantioquia and Telemedellin have been intimidated by gang members while attempting to report on the increasingly alarming situation. The same thing has happened in the opposite side of town, the Comuna 8, a press release by the APA said.
According to an anonymous government official, the gangs also no longer allow municipal workers to enter the higher neighborhoods of the Comuna 13.
Over the past week, intense gang fighting has taken place in broad daylight. The police, say locals, failed to intervene.
“Before they waited until nightfall at least,” said one of the locals. “Now they no longer wait. They don’t care about firing shots at any hour of the day.”
One of these battles lasted as long as four hours, during which police simply stayed away, several locals said.
A reporter from newspaper El Tiempo, specialized in Medellin’s gang conflict, said the war is due to tensions between certain factions of local crime syndicate “Oficina de Envigado” and territorial gains in the city made by neo-paramilitary organization “Los Urabeños” who are taking advantage of the weakened Oficina. According to the journalist, the tensions in the city’s underworld are also causing violence in the Comunas 1, 3, 6 and 8.
Despite the apparent security crisis in the neighborhood, Mayor Anibal Gaviria insisted the security situation in the neighborhood has improved.
“We do not disregard the violence that affects our citizens but we know that this situation is in decline,” said Gaviria on Monday, contradicting the most recent figures from the coroner’s office that indicated a 70% increase in homicides in the first ten months of his administration.