Comuna 13 is a neighborhood in Medellín, Colombia that I visited last week. Does mention of Medellín and/or Colombia bring any quick thoughts to mind?
If you thought of the drug trade, the Medellín Cartel or Pablo Escobar, then you are not alone.
As a traveler I have to remember that reputations have long half-lives. For instance, until the Chicago Bulls came along, the Windy City was widely known for its gangsters. Most notably, Al Capone who dominated organized crime there from 1925-1931. Now Chicago is more known for great basketball. Note: the last championship the Bulls won was 1998.
Get the idea?
Comuna 13: Then
In the 1980s and 1990s Comuna Trece was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. The sprawling hillside barrio had plenty of nooks and crannies for gangs and guerrillas to hide in.
Let’s note that of the 100,000+ people who lived there, the smallest fraction were gangsters. Everyone else just wanted to make a living and tend to their families. And the kids wanted to play in the streets – but couldn’t.
The situation began to turn around in the early 2000s when President Alvaro Uribe launched Operation Orion. This military operation had the goal of rooting out the bad elements in the neighborhood.
I am not not qualified to weigh in on the merits and demerits of the operation. However, I am aware that it has been controversial. It is not hard to imagine that innocent people got caught in the crossfire.
Comuna 13: Now
So far from feeling like a dangerous neighborhood, Comuna Trece‘s atmosphere is carnivalesque.
If 20+ years ago, no one dared to go out in the streets, there are crowds now. Along with baubles, jewelry, paintings, T-shirts. And plenty of tourists.
A series of escalators link the various parts of the neighborhood.
And murals everywhere
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen