The transformation of Comuna 13 in Medellin is amazing. In 2010 were considered one of the most dangerous neighborhood. Today, they are one of the most visited places in Medellin and has been awarded globally an in South America. Comuna 13 is recognized due to is cable car, the electric stairs and the breathtaking graffiti.
When our couchsurfing guests told us about going to a Tour in Comuna 13, first thing we used to do was warn them about taking care of theirselves, do not go alone and a big number of cautions that they should take. It was until last June 24th that I decided to go with Marina, a Canadian girl that we hosted. That day, we went to the GraffiTour organized by Casa Kolacho and I figured out that I was really wrong about Comuna 13.
The tour oriented by Casa Kolacho (WhatsApp: +57 311 347 3131) began in the upper part of the neighborhood and we descend to the metro. I like so much the story of transformation of the sector that I went again yesterday (July 9th) for a photographers meeting of “Fotografiando Medellin“. This time, the tour was organized by”Stairway Storytellers” (WhatsApp: +57 312 212 3868) and we began from the bottom of the neighborhood. Both tours has as meeting point the San Javier station of the Metro and are performed by people from the community. I recommend 100% both of the tours because they do not only show you the cruel part of their history but also let you know about their transformation and how they were able to change the past of war into a present of overcoming.
The guides told us the history of Comuna 13: a history of war but also a history of change. They told us how near 1998 the comuna was taken by guerrilla, who took the place were paramilitary were before. From that moment, 4 years of urban war started. It is believed that between 5000-6000 people were killed. Many of them were civilians, youth and children that were not related with those armed groups. They told us how people were going out of their homes due to the continuos confrontations between all those armed groups, polices and army. None of them took care about the innocents that were around. The guys spoke also about the 22 military operations that took place to try to recover the sector from guerrillas. Only the last one was successful but with the cost of many innocent lives. Sadly, the most remembered operations were Operación Mariscal and Operación Orión. They also mention a mass grave called “La Escombrera”, where they believe 3000 people that disappeared during the war were buried, 300 of them from Operación Orion.
Listen to this history almost makes me cry. They said that the official register counts only 2000 people and just some years ago they started to speak about those buried in “La Escombrera”. The numbers given by the community are much bigger. However, what is really significant from Comuna 13 is not this terrible past, the most important part is that they, like the Phoenix, reborn from the ashes. In crisis times, good people is more, and is here where collectives of young leaders began sport clubs, hip hop groups, dancing and music clubs and graffiti as an art.
Today, graffiti is the most known. They use the art to exorcise the sadness and pain feelings. The guys from the tour told us that when they start to put art in the walls of the neighborhood, people was afraid thinking that they will find again the names of the armed groups on the walls. But soon, they figured out that something different were coming: a renovation. The graffitis turned the walls into story tellers walls. Through them stories like Operación Mariscal or Operación Orion are told. The faces of the war are reflected into the graffiti. Art has won the war.
The electric stairs gave an impulse to the neighborhood. It was thanks to the electric stairs that the tourism was activated generating new jobs. The perception from the sector has change not only for the visitor but also from the people inside.
Today. walking though Comuna 13 gives a sensation of safety. You can see hundreds of tourists mixed with the people that inhabit the place. You also can se how, thanks to the tourism, people has created all kind of little stores: selling juices, ice cream, coffee or the famous Colombian Sancocho. And, if there is something you have to taste when you go to Comuna 13 is the Mango Biche ice cream! Really delicious!
It seems interesting to me see the school “Benedikta Zur Nieden”, given the fact that that german citizen decided to stay in our country because she think that here there are a lot of things to be done. Her family donated the “Museo El Castillo“. We also visited the cemetery, it let me see how the death acquired a different meaning by planting flowers in plastic bottles when someone dies to decorate the cemetery.
The visit to Comuna 13 was amazing. I feel that they share the dream of Sophos: legado que trasciende, because there are volunteers teaching English to children and youth and making possible that they have opportunities and can dream about going further. This make us believe that IT IS POSSIBLE! Finally, I would like to invite you to visit Comuna 13 and listen a lot of the story that is not included here.
By Sandra López