Monday, March 30, 2009

"My Friend" Clinton in Medellin

I was riding in a taxi the other day, when the taxi driver mentioned that "my friend" would be speaking at the meeting of the Inter American Development Bank (IDB), which is taking place in Medellin these days. I didn't immediately realize that he was talking about Bill Clinton, ex-US president. "My friend", oh well. "Ojala", I responded, which means "I wished!". 

Well, I'm not sure I'm going to have the chance to shake friends with "my friend", but it's worthwhile listening to what he has to say if he visits my new hometown anyway.

He met with President Uribe at the Plaza Mayor, the main congress center, just 4 years old, where the majority of the IDB meetings are held. He also visited a school in Baranquilla built by the Colombian singer and superstar Shakira. 

One of the central statements of his speach were: "I believe the best outcome for us would be a 21st century economy in which more money is made in the production of goods and services and less money is made in finance". He continued: In such an economy, “people make money in finance the old-fashioned way, by making investments in products that people want to buy, but not by building sand castles in the sky,” So less borrowing and more "real economy". Well, this seems obvious in hindsight. 

He also encouraged the Colombian officials to engage in a dialog with the left. I'm sure that the Colombian president Uribe had to swallow hard when he heard that. Having lost his own father in the civil unrest in Colombia, Uribe is known to be a hardliner with respect to FARC, and he has been very successful with his policy of pushing back the FARC into the most remote jungles of the country.

"The R-Word" Reaches Colombia

You can see it everywhere: Empty storefronts, "Alquilar" signs popping up everywhere even in prime locations around Parque Lleras, or Zona Rosa, the main entertainment district in Medellin.

As of March 28, the recession officially arrived in Colombia: Richard Francis of Standard & Poor Rating Services declared that Colombia entered the recession in the first quarter of 2009. The Colombian economy contracted for the first time since 1999 in the 4th quarter of 2008, when it shrank by 0.7%. In contrast, the Colombian economy grew by a whopping 8.1% in 2007. Francis expects the Colombian economy to begin the recovery as soon as in the second half of this year, as long as foreign direct investment and government spending stay intact.

Still, the gross domestic product of Medellin is expected to grow by about one percent in 2009, not too bad considering the economic climate this world finds itself in.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Medellin in the Worldwide Spotlight

This Friday the 50th assembly of the Inter American Development Bank (IDB, or BIC in Spanish) got kicked off in Medellin and the city is accommodating between 4,000 and 6,500 visitors. The city is literally bursting with bankers and economists in suits and ties, which is not an outfit you normally see much in a city where casual is king.

Medellin is very proud to be able to host this big-scale event: It demonstrates how confident the world has become in the safety of Medellin, which for a decade has tried hard to shake off it's nasty image of a past dominated by crime and violence. With an event at this scale, Medellin is getting a lot of worldwide visibility.

The LA Times in it's Thursday issue printed a detailed article about the development in Medellin. The article lists some of the recent accomplishments in Medellin, like the installation of a modern metro system, which is one of a kind for latin cities. The metro is supplemented by two air cable car systems, called Metro Cable, which are particularly revolutionary, since they go up the steep mountains at the edge of the city, where the poorest of the poorest live. Only with the Metro Cable in connection with the Metro do these people now have access to the employment centers of Medellin. This concept is now being looked at by other Latin-Amercian cities for possible imitation.

The article in the LA Times also talks about a relatively new project the Inter American Development Bank is actually directly involved in with a $580 Million loan: The cleaning up of the river which goes through the city. The very river which gets decorated so spectacularly during Christmas. If you take the Metro, which by the way always goes above ground in direction Bello you can see what the issue is: The river goes through some very poor areas and these neighborhoods contribute a great deal of pollution into the river. With the help of the loans given by the IDB this mess is now going to be cleaned up and the residents in the nearby Barrios will be educated on how to not pollute the river.

The renaissance of Medellin is so dramatic, that it's architect, the former mayor of Medellin, Sergio Fajardo is now considered a prime candidate for the Colombian presidential election next year.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Colombia Becoming a Tourist Destination

Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet guide books, is expecting travel to South America to experience big growth. In particular, he expects Colombia to become a major tourist destination.

 Wheeler says Colombia will be a hot destination as it starts to shake off its dangerous reputation. The capital, Bogota, combines Spanish colonial-era architecture with modern city amenity, museums and galleries, while Cartagena, a Spanish-era walled city and seaport on the Caribbean coast, is "quite incredibly picturesque".

To read the full article, click here.

Well, it's about time that the world realizes that Colombia for the most part is not the "dangerous country" it's believed to be anymore. Good call, Tony Wheeler!





Celebrating the 15th Birthday of Pablo Escobar's Death

Pablo Escobar shot About 15 years ago on December 2 1993, Pablo Escobar was shot by combined Colombian and US American police forces on the roof tops of Medellin.

Pablo Escobar was one of the biggest gangsters in world history. In the '70-ies he created a drug imperia known as the Medellin Cartel. He is responsible for killing 30 judges, 457 police men and over 4,000 people overall. He also killed the Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan and bombed an Avianca flight and the DAS building in Bogota.

Pablo become so wealthy from drug trade that in 1989 the Forbes Magazine listed him as the seventh richest man in the world with a wealth close to $25 Billion US.

Pablo Escobar's Grave After what seemed like and endless manhunt, Pablo was finally cornered and shot by joined Colombian and US American police forces on the rooftops in a middle class neighborhood in Medellin.

In Medellin, Pablo Escobar for many still has a Robin Hood-like image, especially among the poor. He was an expert at public relations, being a soccer fanatic himself he built soccer fields and many churches. There are many rumors about his death. There are speculations, mostly driven by his brother that he actually killed himself with a shot through his ears. I heard some Paisas saying that he's not even dead. This kind of reminded me of the "Elvis is Alive" rumors we hear about every once in a while.

Painting Pablo Escobar's Death by Botero I'm always puzzled that there are no obvious traces of Pablo Escobar in Medellin. People still don't want to talk about him. I think there should be a Pablo Escobar museum to deal with his impact on Medellin in a more pro-active manner. For some time I was thinking about putting together a "Pablo Escobar" tour for tourists.

Today, Medellin is a very different city. I don't question that the drug trade is still going on. But the current drug bosses keep a lot lower of a profile. Today, there are about 30 homicides in Medellin per 100,000 residents. That's about the rate of Philadelphia. A lot of the violence has moved to Cali and to Caracas, Venezuela.

Might Pablo Escobar rest in peace if you wish, but let's acknowledge the impact he had on the modern Colombian history and on Medellin.

Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to Have Its 38th Assembly in Medellin

Inter American Development BankBetween March 27 and 31, the Inter American Development Bank (IDB, BID in Spanish) will have its 38th assembly in Medellin. More than 4000 international bankers and experts are expected in the city.

This is yet the boldest statement how far Medellin has come along as far as safety and security is concerned. Just 10 years ago, nobody would have dreamt about having an event of that magnitude in a city which at that time was plagued by bombings, kidnappings and violence. 

The slogan IDB uses on it's website is "Medellin, The City Which Reflects The Transformation of Colombia".

With this event, the world will realize that Medellin has become a modern, safe and thriving city! For more information about IDB click here and for more information about the event in Medellin, click here.