Increased Institutional Presence in Marginalised Communities

In document Security Provision and Governing Processes in Fragile Cities of the Global South: The case of Medellin 2002-2012 (Page 143-149)

from the arrival of public resources to marginalised communities (OSHM 2012; Abello Colak and Guarneros-Meza 2014; Bedoya 2010)76 .

Cluster 2: Increased Institutional Presence in Marginalised Communities

An important aspect of the security strategy used in Medellin was the establishment of institutional referents of the state in marginalised communities which had been controlled by illegal armed actors. As in other cases across the region, pacification operations in these areas pursued the interrelated objectives of establishing the state’s presence in contested territories and realigning the allegiance of the population to the State (Felbab-Brown 2011). In the particular case of Medellin, the heavily-armed military and police interventions used to physically control urban communities were complemented with efforts to increase citizens´ trust in the State through their closer contact with security and justice institutions.

The action plan to improve citizen security and coexistence designed by the local government in Medellin in 2008, for example, contained programmes and initiatives to bring security and justice provision closer to residents of marginalised communities. It is with this intention that the local government continued to invest not only in communication and transport equipment for the police forces, but it also planned the construction of 5 new police stations, 5 substations, 2 forts for the mounted police, 9 police centres for immediate response in strategic areas (CAI periferico-Centro de atencion imediata) and 5 mobile police centres for immediate response, as well an increased number of community police officers in 500 more men (Alcaldia de Medellin 2009).


The security infrastructure built in marginalised areas was meant to improve the physical environment in these communities while at the same time allowing the police to respond faster to criminal groups and activities. Prior to the interventions in these communities in 2002, police were only stationed at the centre of the city and this, according to them, diminished their responsiveness to incidents occurring at the side hills of the city. As an innovative approach to this problem, centres for immediate response were specifically built in strategic areas at the margins of the city (CAIs perifericos). Located in the highest geographical points of the peripheral communities and with special light systems, these types of security buildings became strategic surveillance posts with panoramic views of the communities for the police forces (see photos below).


Photos: CAI Periférico Medellín / EDU 03 feb 2012. Plataforma Arquitectura. < edu>

The following map shows the distribution of these and other security and justice offices across the city in 2009, with an important concentration of security infrastructure in neighbourhoods with historically higher levels of violence (at the centre-west, centre and northeast of the city).


Alcaldia de Medellin 2009

The construction of these institutional spaces and others, such as schools, libraries and parks, complemented the coercive measures used by the State to try to achieve the monopoly of violence and were also an attempt by the local government to create physical benchmarks of the State’s presence in the communities. The establishment of these physical and institutional


symbols sought to make the State a recognizable, capable, trustable and effective actor in these communities (Alcaldia de Medellin 2009:19).

Regarding the access to these security and justice institutions by residents of marginalised areas, the local government decided to concentrate human, logistical and technical resources in particular locations so that citizens could find easier access to police inspections, family commissaries, local prosecution and ombudsman’s offices, justice houses and conciliation centres offering access to mechanisms for alternative conflict resolution. The local authorities were willing to recognise the security needs of women and launched in 2008 a Strategy for Public Security for Women (Estrategia de Seguridad Publica para las Mujeres). This strategy designed with the support and input of the social movements promoting gender equality in the city and cooperation agencies, established principles, guidelines and actions to improve women’s security situation and perception (Alcaldia de Medellin 2008-2011).

Although the police and the judicial apparatus remained under the national government's control and guidance, the local governments also tried to establish a closer relation with the local Commander of the Police. They also created entities for coordination between security, administrative and justice institutions at local level, such as Local Government Committees (Comités Locales de Gobierno) in which police and civil local authorities could coordinate the state intervention in each area and interact with the community. These committees organized Citizen Coexistence Councils (Consejos de Convivencia Ciudadana) to discuss security issues with the communities77 and were in charge of making diagnostics of security

problems, articulating and coordinating local plans and programs implemented by the local administration in each comuna and legitimizing the state presence in these territories. Another important institutional innovation was the creation of a permanent unit for the oversight of Human Rights at the city level.


Other deliberative spaces created in the communities for participation on issues related to local planning also became spaces for the peaceful resolution of conflicts at the local level. These served to support the creation of community discussion spaces focusing on security problems at local level called Human Rights and Coexistence Tables (Mesas de Derechos Humanos y Convivencia).

The stated objective of the increased institutional presence was to make the State the only provider of security and justice in these areas where those services have historically been in the hands of a diversity of armed actors. However, criminal actors still play a key role in the provision of violent forms of protection, security, private justice and conflict resolution at community level, as well as in offering means for survival to residents struggling with high levels of poverty.

After a decade of efforts to establish State authority in these communities, the permanence and power of criminal actors in these communities and especially the effects of their violent competitions for territorial control since 2008 have changed the focus of the institutional presence of police and the justice authorities in marginalised urban communities. Rather than improving the capacity of these institutions to respond to the multiplicity of problems residents face on a daily basis, the police strategy and the justice system’s efforts are concentrating on combating local armed groups and capturing their leaders. This normally produces more violence in urban communities, due to increasing competition within the criminal organizations to fill the power vacuums. After the last violent crisis between 2008 and 2011, it seems that the State presence in marginalised communities is becoming less concerned with making the State capable of social and community regulation, than with winning an almost impossible war against criminal networks which are being fuelled by drug trafficking and expanding illegal economies.


Cluster 3: Prioritised Attention to Youth with Emphasis on those

In document Security Provision and Governing Processes in Fragile Cities of the Global South: The case of Medellin 2002-2012 (Page 143-149)