In recent decades, criminal bands in Medellin and Rio de Janeiro have tried to impose a rule of terror supported by a constant influx of dollars from one of the most profitable businesses in the world: illegal drug trafficking. Due to the great demand for narcotics – a market generating billions of dollars each year – drug trafficking has been a force powerful enough to create parallel governments in these important Latin American cities. Against all odds, however, the situation is quite different in these cities today. To understand the story of this transformation, Discovery en Espanol enters the most dangerous neighborhoods of Medellin and Rio de Janeiro in “BARRIOS EN GUERRA” premiering Sunday, August 12 at 10pm E/P, a documentary that gives audiences an unprecedented opportunity to witness the struggle to take back the streets from drug trafficking and organized crime.
The two-part original production features the testimonies of Rio de Janeiro and Medellin residents who experienced firsthand conditions of extreme violence verging on civil war. The first part of the program, which focuses on Medellin, recounts the two most violent years in the city’s history during the period when Pablo Escobar controlled the continent’s drug trade and was the most powerful and wanted drug kingpin in the world. After Escobar’s death in the 1990s, armed gangs or “combos” vied for control of valuable drug-trafficking routes. Their battles unleashed a wave of violence that turned Medellin into one of the world’s most dangerous cities, leaving a toll of thousands of innocent victims and many teenagers and young people in jail.
“BARRIOS EN GUERRA” presents the testimony of one former drug operative who explains how he got involved in the illegal narcotics business, how the gangs operated, and the factors that enabled him to leave this criminal world and become an exemplary father and citizen. The program also presents the wider context of the government, police and military intervention that succeeded in lowering the violent crime and murder rate by 60%, allowing Medellin to become one of Latin America’s most prosperous cities today.
The second episode of the documentary relies on the testimony of members of the security forces, sociologists and even a former drug trafficker to present a detailed look at all aspects of the illegal narcotics trade in Rio de Janeiro, from tracing distribution routes to the discovery of a huge cocaine processing laboratory in the middle of the city’s favelas. “BARRIOS EN GUERRA” details the complex operation that led to the arrest in 2010 of the infamous “Nem,” the capo of Rocinha, the favela that became one of the city’s main hubs for illicit drugs. The program also documents the work of the Rio police, who gradually pacified the neighborhoods liberated from criminal control and recruited thousands of residents to help guarantee the city’s security during the 2014 Soccer World Cup and 2016 Olympics.