Authorities in Colombia are responding to a recent wave of violence in Medellín with large-scale security force occupations and targeted arrests of crime bosses, but the factors fueling the clashes remain unclear and the security strategy may be exacerbating tensions.
During the last two weeks of April, a spate of homicides and violent clashes between criminal groups in northwest Medellín have spurred security officials to deploy more than 1,000 police officers and soldiers to patrol the area while authorities pursue top crime bosses.
According to Medellín Mayor Federico Gutiérrez Zuluaga, the eruption of violence — which has included frequent gunfights and the burning of a bus and a taxi — is part of a plan among criminal groups to “generate terror.”
Gutiérrez cites conversations between criminal bosses that were intercepted by Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office as evidence that crime groups are coordinating to “destabilize security” in the city following the recent arrests of several prominent leaders of the criminal network known as the Oficina de Envigado.
In response, Medellín Security Secretary Andrés Tobón announced on April 25 that 300 police officers and 120 soldiers were being deployed to several neighborhoods in an area known as Comuna 13 as well as nearby Comuna 7 and Altavista.
On April 30, local and national security officials, including the heads of Colombia’s police and military, announced that reinforcements of at least 500 more police officers and an unspecified number of soldiers will be deployed to the area.
In addition to the massive deployments, security officials announced that they are targeting a new list of the city’s top ten most-wanted criminal bosses. The list included Juan Manuel Piedrahíta Giraldo, alias “Juancito,” who was arrested on May 1 after being identified by authorities as the main instigator of the wave of violence in Comuna 13.
Juancito, the alleged boss of Comuna 13’s Betania crime group, is accused of ordering recent attacks on public transportation, distributing threatening pamphlets, and instigating violent clashes against rival crime groups for territorial control.
The day after Juancito’s arrest, on May 2, authorities arrested another boss from the most-wanted list: Iván Cardona Gallego, aliases “Cucho Iván” and “El Mono,” the alleged head of finances for the Robledo crime group, which is thought to operate in Comuna 13 and Comuna 7.
Police in Medellín have also arrested 25 alleged members of criminal groups and confiscated dozens of weapons in the areas under occupation.