Frequent correspondent Chris Stubbert is just back from a visit to Cartagena, and sends this reflection on the stark social contrasts of a city that is both a top vacation destination for wealthy Colombians, and a prinicipal refuge for their internally displaced fellow citizens.
An update from Cartagena
If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin. - Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (1839), Chapter XXI
Cartagena, a city with a population of around 895,000, is fast becoming the major tourist destination in a country where tourism has had a negative reputation for years. Cartagena is not your typical image of Colombia. There are no Andean mountains here, but a Caribbean coast. The weather is warm, but breezy, and the people – â€˜CosteÃ±osâ€™ – are distinct from those in other regions of Colombia.
Having just returned from a third visit to Cartagena, I think itâ€™s about time to talk about the incredible social contrasts one finds in this city. Charles Darwin wrote the above quote in 1839, reflecting on slavery in South America, which brought millions of West Africans across the Atlantic from the 16th to 19th century. The legacy of that trade in modern Cartagena is still very strong. The contrasts of rich and poor, black and non-black are evident even when driving from the bus station to the center of the city.
Cartagena is currently constructing the tallest building in Colombia, named â€˜La Torre de la Escolleraâ€™ at 58 floors. And as the skyline quickly fills with new apartment towers and hotels, and Donald Trump has even put his eye on the Caribbean city, one must wonder who is being left behind? With mayoral elections coming up on October 30th, Colombian media have reported that some mayoral candidates are being supported and funded by narco-traffickers and paramilitary elements, who wish to get a hand in the building contracts expected to be handed out in the coming years.
The Attorney Generalâ€™s office has made it a â€˜top priorityâ€™ to investigate the pattern of corruption in the lead up to the election. But Cartagena is and has always been the epicenter of this type of activity.
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