La Escombrera, a huge landfill on the outskirts of Colombia’s second city Medellín, houses at least 300 decapitated bodies.
Exhumation works are finally set to begin in the 75 hectares of dirt and trash, high up in the city’s notoriously violent Comuna 13 neighborhood.
For the past 30 years, the landfill site has been recognized as a dumping ground for bodies caught up in paramilitary violence, victims of contract killers or suspect deals with drug lord Pablo Escobar back in the 1980s.
“The situation in La Escombrera, where hundreds of bodies were hidden in Medellín, as we have established in Court, constitutes an infringement of the victims’ rights and a serious violation of the agreements and powers of state,” the 2013 Justice and Peace Tribunal for the Antioquia department stated.
Termed the “largest urban grave in the world,” by the city’s council, families who have spent decades searching for the remains of their lost love ones may finally be granted peace.
“Needle in a haystack,”
Jorge Iván Mejía, coordinator of the exhumation works, explained that the total area to be excavated is 3,713 meters squared from which 24,000 meters cubed of debris are expected to be removed.
“We are all aware, including victims’ families, that it isn’t guaranteed that we are going to find remains, even so, we will make a concerted effort. We are going to excavate until we hit hard soil, but it is like looking for a needle in a haystack.” Mejía told El Tiempo.
Families of victims buried in La Escombrera have also been subject to threats from the 30 criminal gangs in and around La Comuna.
“The boys from over there said that they won’t allow the landfill to be closed, it’s their ‘business’ and they don’t want to lose money,” one woman told Colombian media.
But the many mothers and widows, left behind due to the city’s violent past, are determined not to back down.
“Today I woke up filled with joy, filled with hope that all these mothers and widows are going to find their loved ones and finally feel at peace,” Gloria Amparo Urrega commented from her wheelchair.
As exhumation works are about to begin, the total number of bodies could be higher than Medellín’s council currently predicts.