Comuna 13: transforming war into art

Comuna 13 was some years ago one of the most violent “barrios” in Medellín, city that actually was catalogued as one of the most dangerous in Latin America, from there, you can have a hint of how complicated ambience was. But luckily, those years are far behind and now, this place has proved that change in zones that seem to have no hope is viable, and that it can happen sooner that anyone could imagine. Comuna 13 is the fastest community to have recover from the war past and has show that inhabitants and social projects can really change realities when they are working together for a better living.

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View from the top of “Barrio Las Independencias” / Photo: Medellín Travel

War

The city of Medellín struggled for so many years with paramilitary groups and narcotrafic cartels, which was actually the reason why, for a long time, it was only known for. Thanks to the existence of really strong ideals that were opposed and diverse power forces, the city, and mainly its “barrios”, where living an internal conflict that seemed to never have an ending. What happened especially with Comuna 13 was that as it is a place with direct access to the highway, it made it easy to transport drugs, guns and money, being it the place where everyone wanted to have control over. 

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Once the most dangerous area of Medellin, is now a quite place

After many years under the power of groups controlled by Pablo Escobar, the worst moment for Comuna 13 was in 2002, when the Colombian military carried out the Operation Orión, which was meant to finish with rebels and drug cartels in the zone. Sadly, the attack took over the life of several persons and hundreds just disappeared. But even though it may have been one of the most difficult times for the Comuna, it was also the event that made its inhabitants come together and stand against violence. It was only the beginning of the transformation because they decided to come together in solidarity and to change their reality.

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Kids of Comuna 13 have now hopes of a better future

And even though we all feel curiosity for the past, because it might be the best way to understand the present, believe me, inhabitants of Comuna 13 are not really interested in talking about hard moments, in fact, they love to tell you about their present and about a future that promises much better experiences.

Community

Comuna 13, also known as San Javier, is a gather of many different “barrios” that all together make what we know as one place. The growing popularity of the comuna began to rise after war was over, when the first electric escalator was installed in “Barrio Las Independencias”, project which was actually unique in its type in all the country and one of the first steps to show that transformation was possible in an area where only violence and hard living standards were known.

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350 concrete stairs were replaced by an electric escalator divided in 9 flights / Photo: Medellín Travel

Nowadays, many social plans are held in the area and they involve work from inhabitants and from lot of people that come around and falls in love with all the changes the places has undertaken. All the neighborhoods that make part of Comuna 13 want to make it the best on its kind, not only for making it a touristic point but for making their living standards appropriate to what every person deserves. For that reason, they are always developing new ideas and are always open to receive people that wants volunteer around. Actually, one of the projects that is going on, is connecting all the “barrios” from Comuna 13 by a big wall, kind of a boulevard, all painted with different art pieces, and even though it isn’t finished yet, visitors can enjoy part of it.

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“Esperanza” is the Spanish word for “hope”

Grafittis

Art has become one of the most important things to rely on for the area residents. Art has not only become the best way to give some colors and a new face to the spaces in Comuna 13, but has also been the best way to make inhabitants feel interested in the transformation. You will love to discover that each graffiti has it own history and that most of them speak about realities, roots and believes, letting you know through their colors the reality that the place lived and what they dream about now.

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Many of the graffitis are made by @chota.13

If you go around you have two options: either go looking around and passing by, or, to go like a local, to interact with the people that live there and to hear from them what is their reality and how they are working to make things better. Ask people from the “barrio” what is the name of each graffitti or what they mean. Don´t be afraid to ask, because colours could be amazing but what really is going to amaze yourself is to go closer to the histories told by their own protagonists.

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Grafittis are a reflection of its people

Hip-Hop

Hip hop is a sign of resistance in Comuna 13, and actually, resistance seems to be the word that better describes the history of most of Medellín “barrios”, where many people have had to deal with hard situations but never leaving its spaces. So, hip hop letters have not only became a way of expressing themselves but also a way to give other hope messages. Doc, the guide who took us around, told us that actually for them, hip hop is seem in a whole thing composed by four important elements: the Dj, the rap, the grafittis and break dance, all making it a lifestyle which have giving them the opportunity to use it as a way of social, political and cultural transformation.

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Hip hop is a lifestyle for many of the inhabitants of Comuna 13

Empowerment

Realities can only be changed if the people that live them are open to it, and apparently the inhabitants of Comuna 13 were eagerly waiting for the right moment to receive the change. It may have come from one of the saddest events in the area, but it arrived to stay and they know it is a great chance to transform what they have lived, for what they could have the opportunity to live from now on.

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Everyone is working at what they know they can do better

And they key to transformation has been to see that little ideas has changed the world, so to believe that small opportunities can make the change truth, and, of course, could end up being big projects. So, what it is really about, is to show everyone that they have a gift, now the plan is to find out what every person does better and show then how they have new chances to work out with the skills they have by hand. And you can see this when you buy local food, when you try “salpicon” o “michelada”, when you entry the art museum or when you get any of the artesanies that locals made around. They are doing what they know better and it is through Colombian flavours, traditions, sounds and more. To grow, people only need to believe in themselves, we all need to believe more in us.

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If you go to Comuna 13, you sure have to try one “paleta de mango” / Photo: Medellín Travel

Hint

Doc was our guide during the tour in Comuna 13 and he’s part of the organization Casa Kolacho. I had the chance to live the experience during a Blog Trip with Medellin Travel.

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Doc was in charge of showing us about the different realities
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