Medellin’s Courageous Transformation

 Not long ago, Medellin, Colombia was one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The whole country suffered for decades in a four-way fight for power and money and justice. A right wing militia, a left wing militia, drug cartels and corrupt politicians wreaked havoc, leaving thousands dead and many thousands more homeless, injured, terrified. Medellin was the center of the violence and of the drug empire of mafia boss, Pablo Escobar.

Part of a painting at Medellin’s Casa des Memorias depicting how different regions of Colombia were affected by the civil war.

But so much here is changing.

Murals are everywhere to honor the city’s past and future. Technology is definitely a part of the new economy.

In the past 15 years, the government of Colombia has worked hard to stop the violence — first by using violence and, more recently, by negotiating a peace agreement. The economy still relies on cocaine sales — mostly to the United States where demand remains strong — but the country is recovering and the violence is down to manageable levels.

Once the most dangerous area of the city, newly-named Parque de la Luz is the site of hundreds of trees, a giant library and towering lights representing transparency and hope. It is now a thriving economic center.

Although Colombia has a long history, the only history that seems to matter right now is the last 50 years, as local politicians and communities find innovative ways of getting back to normal.

People in Medellin are very comfortable socially. They are especially eager to tell you that you are welcome and that Colombia is a wonderful place. Like this man who stopped us on the street to chat.

The counter of a favorite breakfast place in our Poblado neighborhood.

The municipal government created a very long (and very high) cable transit system so poor people would not have to drive or walk up and down the very steep hills to get to work. Again, for poor people.

And here we are, tres mujeres, in a city that, as tourists, we cannot recognize as a place of violence. We are staying in a neighborhood of trendy cafes, hostels and bars, shaded by trees and the construction of new high rise hotels and apartment buildings. But we also visited less touristic neighborhoods and felt safe and welcome (and subjects of a little extra attention).

Medellin is famous for its Christmas lights, which are over-the-top and all over town. Called “Alumbrados,” the lights are as much a part of the holiday season as Christmas mass and Santa Claus.

Colombian in front of one of Colombia’s favorite hometown artists, Fernando Botero

One of the hundreds of murals that are all over town, mostly encouraged by city government as a way of expressing hope and pride.

Youth culture is in abundance here. They hate our president.

So far, we love Colombia!

4 comments

  1. It looks lovely, Kim, and I love Colombia, too! I spent a year in Colombia in 2nd grade, and traveled through in my 20s. My memory from a few days in Medellín that year are that it felt quite dangerous and people were constantly warning me to be careful. I’ve been following its transformation, but didn’t know about all the murals or the new museum. Or that little breakfast place. I’m happy you are feeling welcomed and safe.

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