In the slopes overlooking downtown Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city, gun-toting gangs reign over vast stretches of neighbourhoods, overseeing the local drug trade, demanding extortion fees from businesses and enforcing rules about who comes and goes on their turf.
According to international media reports, now such gangs, which employ up to 14,000 people, have declared that they are ready to give it all up. On June 2, after nine months of secret meetings with officials, 16 gang leaders — imprisoned at a maximum security prison outside of Medellin — announced that they would officially begin dialogues with the government to discuss their disarmament and reintegration into society.
“We want to start down a different path: one of peace, of forgiveness and of reconciliation,” said Sebastian Murillo, a spokesperson for the gangs and a jailed leader of La Oficina, a drug-trafficking group originally founded as part of Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel, international media reported.
As per reports, since the 1980s, Colombia has pursued talks with the politically motivated rebel and paramilitary groups that have fuelled a nearly six-decade-long conflict in the countryside. But for the first time, Colombia is now using a similar approach to dismantle urban gangs, seeking to end criminal rule in the cities.
While rates of violence have plummeted in Medellin, a city once known as the murder capital of the world, experts said that non-violent crimes like extortion have actually increased as gangs expand throughout the city.