Thursday, November 29, 2007

Colombia’s City On A Hill

Sergio Fajardo, Mayor of Medellin, Colombia

Five years ago the hillside slum of Comuna 13 was the most brutal urban battleground in Latin America, a bloody microcosm of Colombia's [narco]-fueled civil war. Left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and well-armed [narco] gangs, often indistinguishable despite their ostensibly conflicting aims, had been fighting over the territory for years. Government, for most purposes, did not exist. In 2002, the casualty count for Comuna 13—in chaotic street fights, targeted assassinations and neighborhood-wide "cleansings"—numbered in the hundreds.

Today Comuna 13 feels like a completely different neighborhood. Its streets are relatively safe. School construction and public-transportation projects are now underway. But it is only the most dramatic example of the remarkable transformation of Medell?n, a city that struggled for decades to shed a notoriety, well earned in the days of Pablo Escobar and the Medellín cartel, as "the most dangerous in the world." In 1991, the annual murder rate was 381 per 100,000 people—more than 500 homicides a month. In 2002, it was 184 per 100,000. Last year, it fell below 30, making Washington, D.C., look bad in comparison.

Medellín is Colombia's second largest city and traditional business center, and as security improved, the economy also flourished. Since 2003, per capita income has increased by 25 percent, unemployment has fallen from 17 percent to 12 percent, and business investment and new construction have surged. At the same time, the percentage of the city's schools considered low-performing by national standards fell from 50 to 14. Complaints about congestion and pollution are typically met with the observation that residents have gone from discussing the daily body count to grumbling about their commute.

Medellín's transformation took off in 2002, when Alvaro Uribe took over as Colombia's president, promising a "firm hand," get-tough approach to security. He began a process of demobilization of right-wing paramilitary organizations, and confronted the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other guerrilla groups. In Medellín, soldiers and police stormed Comuna 13 in helicopters and armored vehicles, fighting and winning a series of pitched battles against various armed factions. But while this reduced the guerrilla presence, there was still an enormous amount work to be done, and a year later Sergio Fajardo, a shaggy-haired mathematician with a University of Wisconsin Ph.D., was elected mayor of Medell?n with a platform that suggested military victory was merely the first step to turning the city around. "Every reduction in violence," he says, "we had to follow immediately—and 'immediately' is a key word—with social interventions."

So when he took office, Fajardo did not just install new police outposts in Comuna 13. He built deluxe new schools, flooded the neighborhood with social workers and microcredit specialists, and commissioned a prominent architect to design a gleaming library and community center. He started construction on a mass-transit system of gondola cars that reach into Medellín's most dire slums—giving the poor access to the economic and civic life of the city's more prosperous center. Fajardo also increased the city's education budget by 65 percent and poured millions more into new schools and five "library parks," like the one in Comuna 13, designed by high-end architects and located in poor neighborhoods. "The mayor understood that you don't get peace from soldiers and police alone," says Carlos Jiménez, a Comuna 13 development worker.

Some critics say that Fajardo's approach is mere symbolism, showy grandstanding that does little to help the city's poorest. But Fajardo counters that these symbols are among his most potent weapons. "When the poorest kid in Medell?n arrives in the best classroom in the city, there is a powerful message of social inclusion," he says. This iconoclastic approach to urban transformation mirrors his willfully iconoclastic persona. Fajardo carries a backpack, rides a bike around town and shows up to work every morning in jeans. And while he uses the majority of public revenue on the poor, he does so without scaring businesses with the kind of radical populist rhetoric that so often emerges from the mouths of Latin American political leaders. "By showing that he is capable, he has brought credibility to the public sector," says Olga María Ospina, an economist with Medellín's business association. Result: his approval rating has remained around 80 percent, fueling speculation that he will one day succeed Uribe, who was mayor of Medell?n in the 1980s, as Colombia's president in 2010. (NEWSEEK)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sing Along... "Ven A Medellin!"

I love Medellin!
I LOVE Medellin!!

Iron Maiden to rock Colombia

Tickets went on sale in Colombia and Phil Rodriguez, the promoter for the show at the 30,000 capacity Simon Bolivar Stadium in Bogota, stated that it was the fastest and biggest first day box office of any music event ever in Colombia.

"Box Office records were broken from the very start and Maiden mania is sweeping Colombia. We sold over 12,000 on just the first day. Nobody has ever done this, it's fantastic -- this is usually a "slow" market for ticket sales. But even though this is the first time the band have ever played here it does not particularly surprise us -- Maiden are just huge in all of South America, the kids worship them. This is a massive event for the hordes of Maiden fans here"

Sorry, Iron Maiden Tickets In Colombia SOLD OUT!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Colombia's Coffee Growers Have Woken Up To Smell A New Crop: Tourists Arrive

A Coffee Finca in Venecia, Antioquia - 2 hours Southwest of Medellin

Three-year-old Jesús is in his element. Slipping and sliding through the undergrowth, he ducks under tomato plants, orange trees and around pineapple bushes. Where we get whacked by branches or tangled in spiders' webs, he nips through gaps to rescue shiny red tomatoes that have fallen to the floor.

Jesús is leading us on a tour of his coffee finca in Colombia. Or rather, he is helping his grandfather, Don Elias Pulgarin, show the visitors round the farm. Don Elias and his family live in a two-room house on a hillside near Salento, a small town in the foothills of the Cordillera Central. This is coffee country, the centre of Colombia's tropical Zona Cafetera. It is here, between the magical altitudes of 800m and 1800m, that much of the country's annual 66m tonnes of coffee - about 10% of the world's supply - is grown.

And it is here that coffee growers, including Don Elias, first realised the potential of their farms to develop another kind of crop: tourists. Coffee finca tourism, opening up coffee farms to visitors, has been around since the early 1990s. Back then the value of coffee plummeted, and so coffee growers turned to tourists to supplement their income. Much like the Italian idea of "agriturismo", travellers pay to stay on or visit the farms to experience rural life and get an idea of how food, or in this case coffee, is actually produced.

Since those early beginnings, the idea has grown to encompass three coffee-growing regions in the west of the country, Quindío, Caldas and Risaralda. There are 700 fincas listed in the Quindío tourist authority's annual brochure, Haciendas del Café, and down in the valley there is even a coffee theme park. Disney-style rides with a coffee twist - a tren del café (coffee train) and the cabaret-style Show del Café to name just two.

Most of the visitors are Colombians, escaping from the big cities of Cali, Medellín and Bogota for a weekend. International tourism in Colombia is still mainly restricted to cruise passengers visiting Cartagena and backpackers, who can't resist the "Colombia's amazing!" travellers' tales.

Don Elias charges 3,000 pesos, or just under 70p, to take you on a tour. His farm is typical, and there are 300,000 farmers like him in Colombia. The path to his house is dotted with fat chickens and threads away from the road through shaggy, overgrown coffee bushes.

At his house, where with the help of a government grant he is building an extension to accommodate overnight visitors, he greets us a little unsteadily. He must about 60, although it's hard to be sure, and wears a dusty cowboy hat, a muddy white shirt and black welly boots. (Full Aricle)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Colombian Club Kids, Grooving at the Edge of Apocalypse.

Hooray For Hip-Hop!

"There was no time to hide, no time to run . . . rain of bullets, detonation, and explosion." — Muerte en el Ghetto, by Ghettos Clan

The radio station sits tucked away in a residential section of Medellín, Colombia, in a ramshackle stucco building with cracks in the walls and chipped slate floors. Even from outside you can hear the metronomic beats, the brittle walls no match for a bassline that crunches every third word as you negotiate with the armed guard behind the metal gate. The security may seem excessive, but last summer a powerful bomb went off outside the office of a national radio station here, taking about 100 homes with it.

You get used to this constant parade of men in army fatigues, shadowy ghosts that lick at your periphery as they patrol downtown sidewalks, guard driveways that wind endlessly upward, or slide bomb-detection devices under cars en route to the mall. These men are sentries in the 38-year war between Colombia's constitutional government and the guerrillas, with the U.S. and its $1.3 billion Plan Colombia squarely in the middle. After a recent breakdown in peace talks, the Bush administration last week proposed an additional $98 million to train and arm Colombian troops who'd then protect Occidental Petroleum's oil pipeline from guerrillas. The White House also wants to train a counter-narcotics force for a region controlled by right-wing paramilitary groups.

But on this November night, the only thing approximating violence is the irascible thud-thud-thud of the bass. Upstairs, inside the broadcasting room, are several mics atop a large round table, two well-worn Technics 1200s, and a computer. DJ Dee mans the ones and twos, mixing from one hard trance record to another, nodding in time with the rhythm, his focus on the beat absolute. Three friends, dressed in wife-beaters and multi-zippered club pants, watch every drop of the needle. When DJ Ilana Ospina, promoting her gig the following night at a local club, slides a dubby techno track into the mix, they encircle her, astonished at the sight of a woman working with the calloused fingers of a pro.

Ospina, 29, was born in Bogotá, but now lives in New York. "I have a French passport because part of my family is French," she says. "It changes everything. I was lucky." She left for Paris in '91 to pursue a new life.

For many kids, that kind of exit isn't an option. Securing a visa can be extremely difficult, and even if they do find a means out, getting the working papers needed to stay abroad is next to impossible. "As a student, I took a loan with the government to study in London," says Carlos Estrada, a 31-year-old Medellín club owner. "But it was with the condition that I go back to Colombia afterward to work. It's a vicious cycle."

These kids are confined, for the most part, to urban areas, because the risk of kidnapping renders much of the countryside impassable. And for many of the poorer ones, trapped within ghettos, living on the edge of society means dealing with the daily specter of death in the form of murder, bombings, and random gang violence, or the threat of being drafted as paid assassins, sicarios, by the outlawed paramilitary groups. For them, salvation can be found through sharing music—the kind brought back by artists like Ospina, and the kind they create using bare-bones equipment, often with no more than their bodies and a mic.

"I've been down what they call the 'bad steps of life,' and I now realize that's not what I want," says Javier Beltrán, a/k/a Javi Herc, a Bogotá-based hip-hop producer. "I use hip-hop not as a mechanism of escape, but as a mechanism of living."

The Village Voice by Adrienne Day

A Documentary on the Hip-Hop Scene in Medellin, Colombia

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Thing About Juanes

He’s a Colombian Rocker with a dark streak, a heart of gold and an unwavering style.

But how did Juanes get so big?

Born Juan Esteban Aristizabal in Medellin, Colombia, this reserved, unassuming young man seemed genuinely overwhelmed at the amount of attention and recognition he has been receiving lately. While he made a name for himself years ago in his native country as lead singer of the band Ekhymosis, his popularity has skyrocketed as of late with his first solo album reaching out to the Latino youth and music critics alike. This new phenomenon is known as Juanes, and this is his story.

By the time you read this, the Latin Grammys will have come and gone, in Los Angeles no less, and you will have undoubtedly seen and heard the musical blend of rhythm and soul that is Juanes. With seven nominations, the most of any other artist in 2001, Fijate Bien marks a breakthrough in a career that began with a seven-year old boy learning about music from his five brothers and his father.

Starting out as a youth playing guitar at local parties, Juanes had a great love for music as diverse as the music he plays today. He was hooked on everyone from Metallica and Led Zeppelin to Silvio Rodríguez and Los Visconti. At age 15, Juanes met bassist Andrés García, vocalist Alex Oquendo and drummer Esteban Mora. The four teens combined their love for rock and heavy metal with their musical savvy and formed the group Ekhymosis. The guys discovered that through music not only could they have a great time, but they could also tap into their spirituality and make social commentary about their lives in Colombia and youth in general. (LATIN BEAT MAGAZINE)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Philadelphia Enquirer - Travel News

I wanted to share this article written by a mother concerend about her daughters well-being after accepting a teaching job in Medellin, Colombia.

Personal Journey | Colombia? You had to be there

For The Inquirer - Posted on Sun, Nov. 11, 2007
By Marlene Bruno

What comes to mind when you hear "Medellin, Colombia"?

When my daughter accepted a teaching assignment in Colombia's second-largest city, my thoughts centered on drug cartels, guerilla warfare and kidnappings.
To reassure myself about my daughter's decision, I asked friends and family whether they knew anyone who had visited Colombia. I called my travel agent, begging for encouragement. Instead, she suggested I read the U.S. State Department's travel warning. U.S. State Department on Colombia.

Desperate, I visited several bookstores to learn about this violent, remote country where my daughter would live. I found two travel books about Colombia, and both contained long chapters on safety. Finally, I realized that I needed to trust my daughter's judgment.

With 20 other North American teachers, my daughter arrived safely and was ensconced in a lovely apartment in the El Poblado section of Medellin, with mountain views from every window, and a lively mall and movie theaters nearby.

Her enthusiastic e-mails told of the Colombian culture, landscape and people. During her summer visit home, we pored over beautiful photographs as she convinced my husband and I to visit for two weeks.

Medellin, with its temperate climate, is a lush, green, sprawling city nestled in a valley of the Andes Mountains. Modern high-rise apartments with flower-filled balconies dot the landscape. From my daughter's apartment, I watched a horse grazing on the mountainside, while bustling yellow taxis filled the streets below.

We explored the neighborhood on foot. Exotic flowers were sold on every corner, and joggers looked remarkably like the joggers in my own neighborhood. After school, boys played soccer. Where were the machine guns?

We toured mountain villages with an English-speaking guide. One village, with horse-drawn carts rolling down narrow, cobblestone streets, housed woodworkers. At the center of another, women worked large looms while keeping an eye on their children attending school across the way. Greenhouses and fields of flowers provided a trade for yet another peaceful village.

Our day ended with a visit to our guide's finca, a typical mountain home where many Medellin families retreat each weekend to ride horses and relax in the open spaces.

Before leaving Medellin, we were invited to the home of one of my daughter's students. We enjoyed traditional Colombian foods, including bocadillo (a guava spread served on cheese) and empanadas, as we sat outdoors watching the sun set over the mountains. Our hostess talked about life in Colombia and asked that we tell other Americans about her beautiful country. Before we left, she led us to a guest room and said, "This is your home the next time you visit Colombia."

After years of hearing only negative reports about Colombia, the beauty of the land and the warmth of the people surprised us. I now keep an open mind when hearing reports of unfamiliar cultures and countries, and remember the lesson of Colombia and her people. Certainly, Colombia has its problems. But the spirit and warmth of the Colombian people are what I remember.

Discover Medellin, Colombia

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Welcome to Mango's Discoteca


A clown, three little piggies, a bevy of beauties, Santa Claus, and Mr. T are sitting in a bar in Medellin, Colombia drinking.

"What's the name of the bar?" you ask.

Let me finish my story.

The local Sheriff walks in the front door and takes a seat at the bar, next to three young Asian-American tourist, he orders a drink.

"What's the name of the bar?" you interupt, again.

Let me finish my story.

"What's the name of the bar?" you continue.

Let me finish my story.

"What's the name of the bar, I've heard this joke before." you insist.

It's NOT A JOKE!!!

"I know I've heard this joke before." you snap back.

I'm not in the mood to argue with you so instead of trying to finish my story why don't you just see for yourself. You probably wouldn't believe my story anyways.

Welcome to the World Famous MANGO'S Discoteca in Medellin, Colombia! See for yourself...