For the past three years I have documented life in Medellín, the second largest city in Colombia and where I grew up, to understand how it has transformed from the world most dangerous city to one that is praised as one of Latin America’s safest and fastest growing cities. However, what I have found, is a city that is regressing to its violent past.
At the center of the city of Medellin rests one of the most dangerous neighborhoods known to locals as Barrio Triste (Sad Neighborhood). I began this project after meeting Fatima Mazo, a displaced mother of 4 children. Her husband was slain by paramilitaries for refusing to enlist with them. Faced with the same demand, she was forced to leave her farm in Concordia and found refuge in this small community at the center of Medellín. This personal project is an effort to document the hope, despair and struggles of residents like Fatima of this neighborhood as well as way for me to understand the current reshaping of this city I once call home.
Over the last decade, efforts by the local government to change the image of the city of Medellín have spurred a wave of urban revitalization and the interest of foreign investment. Increasing violence due to drug trade has been spreading to marginalize neighborhoods. Neighborhoods such as Barrio Triste are battlegrounds for drug distribution by emerging criminals groups formed by demobilized paramilitaries groups and urban guerrillas partially fuel this violence. But corruption among officials and police officers, unemployment and constant migration of displaced civilians to the city are factors also attributed to this problem.
Barrio Triste was once a residential neighborhood, but over decades has been ousted by repair shops, warehouses and bars. Greased stained streets and dilapidated buildings become alive by the commotion of mechanics and street vendors during the day. Displaced families, homeless, sex-workers and drug addicts fine refuge on the empty sidewalks at night. A Symbiosis among the night and day residents sustain the survival of this neighborhood. Amidst this chaos, law and order is strictly and silently enforced by ‘Los Convivir’ a paramilitary group that controls the sale drugs and runs a protection racket for shop owners.
There are two versions as of how this small neighborhood came to be known as Barrio Triste. In the 1920’s a French man with the name of Tristan owned most of the houses and shops of the area. Locals found it difficult to pronounced the name Tristan but sounded more like Triste, Spanish for sad. The other version tells of wealthy landowners that upon gazing from their rooftops at the shacks along the river would say: “Look at those poor people, they must be sad to live like there”. Eventually, the two stories have come to be local folklore and Barrio Triste, officially named The Sacred Heart of Jesus, it is known to local residents as of the cities main drug dispense center.
I remain optimistic that things have change for the better; Barrio Triste serves a window to the violent past that once plagued the city of Medellín. It reminds me of a past I left behind and the hardship the citizens of this city and this country have endured over many years. - Juan Arredondo