In this jungle there is no State. Here there has always only been the land, civil war, internal armed conflict, terrorist threats, ideological struggle, the extreme left and right, the same methods, a competition in cruelty. How many dead are there? How many disappeared? There is no consensus about the numbers. In this jungle there is no State. There are villages, farmers’ homes. The farmers. How many freedom fighters have been seen passing close by? How many atrocities. First the extreme left. The guerrilla. Later the extreme right. The paramilitaries. In the 1990s the guerrillas were transformed into war machines fed by the sale of cocaine. Impossible to confront them directly, the police, the armed forces were not enough, and the FARC were occupying more territory. So they appeared. Also fed by cocaine sales. The paramilitaries. AUC. In the state of Antioquia is where it evolved, it is there where the most crimes were committed. How many dead are there? How many disappeared? And where are they? How did it happen? Here in Colombia. Why do they call them “barrios piratas” or pirated barrios? Because they don’t begin with any infrastructure. The owners only planned the location of the streets and the division of the lots. The people occupied the lots and built their houses, then later they got the services. And how did they get the utility services? With their own labor. They got together to install the electricity, they got together to install the sewer, the water, everything.
Wolf explains how large landowners took advantage of a law obligating the city to extend services to the properties of the Catholic church: proprietors on the north side of Barranquilla would donate portions of land farthest from the city center to the church, so as to secure public services across these holdings. People living on the land then devised ways to pirate the utilities, building homemade transformers that consisted of tanks of oil, for example, and using them to reduce the power from 220 to 110 volts.
I asked her if the need to work together was the driving force behind the formation of neighborhood groups. She said, “I think that necessity is the mother of most creation and the ‘Centros Cívicos’ were necessary to organize the people.” So, I asked if they were invented by the people, and she clarified that, “the idea for the Centros Cívicos was proposed by the Society of Public Improvements” (a private organization of wealthy civic minded individuals) as a way to organize the labor of the community.
These organizations became the foundation for many of the community-based neighborhood organizations that function in almost every part of the city today. They have expanded to include groups focused on culture as well as community development, becoming part of the city’s organizational fabric. In many cases, they still depend on mostly volunteer labor, but now they can receive minimal funding from the municipality.
Prado was the first wealthy neighborhood built outside of Medellín’s historic center, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Today it’s a slightly tattered and architecturally eclectic area along Barranquilla with large houses, tree-lined streets, and more than its share of homeless people. With the help of Santiago Vélez, a local artist and university professor, I founded the Fundación Casa Tres Patios, or C3P, in this neighborhood in 2007 as an alternative art space dedicated to promoting experimental artistic practices in Medellín. Since then, our program has evolved into a transdisciplinary community-based practice that integrates artistic and pedagogical projects.
During the opening of the second exhibition in C3P, Juan Fernando Vélez, a local artist who had painted a full-size city bus on the wall of the central courtyard, told me that we had created something that the local artists had not been able to do. We had not only created a space for experimentation, but more importantly, we had created the opportunity for artists to meet on a regular basis and share each other’s practices. From that point C3P began a program that would grow to include around seventy events in a year. We were obsessed with the idea of providing a social space to the local artistic community in order to give visibility to artists, introduce new practices, and create a space for critical dialog. The program evolved to meet these goals, gradually including more workshops given by the resident artists.
A pivotal moment for C3P occurred in 2012. A newspaper article in El Espectador that November, “Rappers denounce death threats in Medellín,” reflects the social situation at the time:
On Wednesday more than sixty young Medellín artists denounced death threats from the same armed group that killed the rapper Elíder Varela, better known as “El Duke,” on October 30.
The young people received the threats after the assassination of “El Duke” and, according to the spokespersons, after holding a protest in the center of the El Salado neighborhood the illegal armed group was considered as an “aggression” and a “challenge.”
Varela, leader and creator of the Hip Hop School La Kamada and the group Comando Elite de Ataque (CEA), was assassinated by gunmen in La Torre, a sector of Comuna 13, [which consists of] a group of popular neighborhoods in that city.
Also in 2012, the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC-EP began to negotiate the end of fifty-two years of armed conflict. The negotiations came to a close on August 14, 2016, but that October a public referendum to ratify the agreement failed, and it was necessary to renegotiate several of the terms; the accord was finally signed on November 24, 2016, and ratified a little under a week later.
Before signing, the government required that all high school students take a special class to familiarize themselves with the peace process and agreement. This measure was supposed to help compensate for the fact that between 1974 and 1984, as a result of a national educational reform originally intended to challenge the dogmatic memorization approach to teaching history, the Ministry of Education in practice ended up creating at least one generation with little factual knowledge of the history of their country or the armed conflict. At the beginning of the class on the peace process, Deibi 4 one of the participants, was resistant and lacked motivation. He said that he was only there because he had to fulfill a requirement for his diploma; at first he refused to participate, but after three meetings he mockingly and disrespectfully began to share his opinions with the group and the workshop leaders.
Deibi said he did not believe in any peace process because [in 2008] he lived what had been the peace process with the paramilitaries in his neighborhood, in which they invited young people to falsely register as having been demobilized, in exchange for $200,000 pesos [about $65.00 USD] a month and a place in the SENA