According to statistics from the Medellín coroner’s office, Comuna 13 witnessed 191 homicides in 2011, giving it a per capita murder rate more than double the city average and almost 10 times that of Miami.
Violence against rappers isn’t a citywide phenomenon, said Jorge Ivan Henao, known as “El Mocho,” who set up Medellín’s first hip-hop school and is considered a pioneer of the city’s rap scene. “It’s a phenomenon in Comuna 13. It must be understood, Comuna 13 is a very small area with many combos fighting over territory. There are a lot of invisible borders.”
This theme of fronteras invisibles is one that comes up often in conversations with those who work to help people cope in the city’s most contentious districts.
“What’s an invisible border? It’s a place where nobody can be, only those who belong to the combo that controls the territory,” Henao said.
Within Comuna 13, combos fight between themselves to protect or gain territory.
And rappers aren’t the only ones who have been dying. Five police officers have been killed by gangs since late October.
Alexandra Castrillon, director of the YMCA Medellín, says she does not believe rappers were being specifically targeted.
“That’s the first thing we want to debunk,” she said. “All we can say is that [El Duke] was a well-known leader and those who perpetuate the conflict sow fear to destabilize community organizations. Many leaders have been killed here.”
But she says the community takes note when rappers die: “Those who make themselves most visible, certainly in their deaths, are the young rappers because they talk about politics; they talk about what’s happening in the district.”
Criticism for deteriorating security has fallen upon Mayor Gaviria.
Home of infamous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and his Medellín Cartel, the city was popularly known as the murder and kidnap capital of the world during Escobar’s heyday in the 1980s and early-90s. Since his 1993 shooting death, Medellín has fought back to boost its image and restore confidence and prosperity.
BATTLE FOR CONTROL
But as a major transit point for drugs moving from eastern production areas to the coast for export, the city has remained under the influence of organizations that are now battling for control of the criminal underground.
As the Urabeños paramilitary drug-smuggling organization attempts to move in on Medellín’s historic Oficina de Envigado crime organization, the battles have become increasingly bloody.
Eduardo Rojas Leon, secretary of security for Medellín’s city government, told The Miami Herald the murder rate in the “complicated districts” was “under control,” despite citywide year-over-year increases seen in September and October.
Colombia’s national Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon has pledged to send 1,000 more police to the city.
But for those living in the troubled areas, simply sending in more security forces is not the answer.
“There is an excess of police and military here. Comuna 13 is the most militarized territory in Colombia,” Castrillon says. “But still the violence continues.”
“We all hopes there are no more losses,” said the CJL’s Arboleda. “But the reality is, while these illegal groups have influence, the threat remains and we will likely see more deaths in the hip-hop community. The life and safety of young people depends on effective measures from the authorities.”