Tag Archives: Colombia

Honoring Colombia’s Civil War Victims

Colombia’s civil war has been raging for more than fifty years. Beginning in 1964 as a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union, the civil war pit the government of Colombia, allied with right-wing militias, against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), two left-wing paramilitary groups backed by communist governments. Throughout the conflict, all sides have been accused of drug trafficking and terrorism, and the death toll has exceeded 220,000 people, the vast majority of which were civilians.

Recent advances in the peace talks have given Colombians hope, and negotiations between FARC, the ELN, and Colombia’s government appear to be making headway. One of the most symbolically important tasks has been to excavate the many mass graves that dot the countryside.

What do you think? Will Colombia’s civil war finally be brought to an end? What will peace in Colombia look like after more than fifty years of civil war? And how can that peace be made to last?

Urban Development and the City of the Year

Medellín, Colombia, City of the Year (Photo Credit: Camilo Sanchez/Wikimedia)

Medellín, Colombia, City of the Year (Photo Credit: Camilo Sanchez/Wikimedia)

An annual competition by the Urban Land Institute, the Wall Street Journal, and CitiGroup yesterday named Medellín, Colombia, as the “City of the Year.” Selected from a list of 200 contenders, Medellín beat out a wide range of cities, including the other two finalists, Tel Aviv and New York, to claim the title. According to the Urban Land Institute,

Originally distinguished for its progress and potential, the winning city found new solutions to classic problems of mobility and environmental sustainability. Today, gondolas and a giant escalator shuttle citizens from steep mountainside homes to jobs and schools in the valley below. As a result, travel time for the majority of its citizens has been cut from more than 2 hours to just a few minutes. In this city, a modern underground metro system has eased pollution and crowding in the city’s main arteries above, and glistening new museums, cultural centers, libraries and schools enrich the community. Connections create innovation, and it is no wonder that our winning City of the Year has achieved great success in bringing its residents together to assure opportunities for all. That city is the traditional cultural capital of Colombia: Medellín.

The award is certainly a shot in the arm for a city that throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s was most well known as the most violent city in the world, scarred by an urban war that pitted drug cartels (the most well-known of which was the Medellín Cartel under Pablo Escobar, which controlled up to 80 percent of the global cocaine trade during the 1980s), and the police and military.

How did Medellín transition from the most violent city in the world to the world’s city of the year? Violence in the city gradually declined following the death of Escobar and the breakup of the Medellín Cartel in 1993. As the city became more stable, the local government was able to invest heavily in local infrastructure and development. As Medellín’s current mayor, Aníbal Gaviria noted upon receipt of the award,

Medellín stands today as an example for many cities around the world, because despite having lived very dark and difficult times 20 years ago, we have been undergoing a true metamorphosis. Going from pain and fear to hope, and now from hope to be a place filled with life, the city has known how to innovate in every step, both in social programs, urban developments, or the combination of both, and this has been key in the success of this process.

What do you think? Does Medellín deserve to be City of the Year? What lessons can we draw for countries and regions currently plagued by violence from Medellín’s success? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what you think?

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The political situation in Iran continued to evolve over the past week. Last week, a standoff between President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, culminated in the dismissal of two conservatives from the cabinet and the firing of Vice President (and close ally of Ahmadi-Nejad), Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. The deteriorating relationship between Ahmadi-Nejad and Khamenei further undermines the political stability of Iran, already weakened by June’s disputed presidential elections and the subsequent protests which have rocked the country. Protests have been a regular feature of the Iranian political scene for the past month, including clashes between police and opposition supporters like those that occurred on Thursday.  Although the Iranian government last week released hundreds of people arrested for participating in the post-election protests, the trial of 100 of the most prominent detainees is moving forward. Critics of the regime have condemned the trial as a spectacle.

Meanwhile, three Americans were arrested on Saturday by Iranian security forces for allegedly entering the country illegally.  The three were camping in Kurdistan (near the Iraqi-Iranian border) when they crossed over into Iran. They have been transferred to the capital, Tehran, where they are currently being held.

In news from outside Iran in the last week:

1. Two statements by the Indian government last week dashed hopes of progress in multilateral negotiations. On Wednesday, India’s commerce secretary, Rahul Khullar, dismissed hopes of rekindling World Trade Organization talks as unrealistic in the current global political and economic climate. The current round of talks, referred to as the Doha agenda, has been under negotiation for nine years. The talks have been suspended numerous times, largely as a result of the inability of WTO member states to agree on binding cuts to agricultural subsidies. According to Khullar, progress is unlikely because, in the context of the global economic crisis, political leaders are focused on job losses and the lack of domestic economic growth, a focus which makes it difficult to move forward on a new global trade deal.

In another development, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, said on Friday that India would not agree to binding emission cuts for at least ten years, potentially throwing climate talks scheduled to take place in Copenhagen in December into disarray. India and China are both dismissive of western pressure to agree to greenhouse gas reductions, believing that such reductions would undermine future economic growth and development in their countries. But without the participation of China and India in climate change negotiations, progress will be far more difficult, particularly given the historical U.S. negotiating position that it will not be bound by any climate change agreement that does not also include reductions for China and India.

2. Over the weekend, Russia concluded negotiations to expand the Russian troop presence in Kyrgyzstan. The expanded Russian presence is part of Russia’s broader effort to reassert itself in its traditional sphere of influence, an effort which included the development of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a counterpart to NATO which includes Russia and six other former Soviet Republics, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Belarus. The United States and Russia have been competing for influence in Kyrgyzstan, which occupies an important geo-strategic position, and Kyrgyzstan’s president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has skillfully negotiated between competing Russian and American interests. In February, after receiving $2 billion in aid from the Russian government, Bakiyev ordered the United States to leave Kyrgyzstani bases by June. The bases are part of the U.S. air transit route to supply forces in Afghanistan. After the United States agreed to triple rent payments for use of the base and to offer additional financial assistance to the Kyrgyzstani government, Bakiyev rescinded his request that the U.S. withdraw.

3. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has once again sparked widespread criticism, this time among human rights groups. At issue is the latest development in the president’s campaign against “media terrorism”—a new law which would punish journalists and their sources with up to four years in jail for “causing panic,” “disturbing social peace” or compromising national security.

In an unrelated development, the government of Venezuela has “frozen” diplomatic and economic relations with its neighbor, Colombia. Relations between the two countries have been poor since March 2008, when Colombia launched a raid into Ecuador, a close ally of Venezuela. The decision to suspend relations came after Colombia accused Venezuela of supplying rocket launchers to Marxist rebels in Colombia.

4. Clashes between security forces and an Islamist sect in three states in Nigeria continued last week despite the death of Islamist leader Mohammed Yusuf in police custody. More than 150 people have died in five days of fighting in Nigeria, where a sharp economic and political divide between the largely Muslim north and the predominately Christian south has been exacerbated by the country’s declining economic situation. The fighting in the northern part of the country complicates efforts to address the longstanding crisis in the southern, oil producing region of the country, where conflicts between militant separatist groups and the government have continued off-and-on for the better part of a decade. Taken together, these conflicts represent the most significant challenge to the Nigerian government since independence.

5. The International Monetary Fund on Friday issued a statement intended to play down the standoff between the Fund and the government of Iceland. At issue are the conditionalities imposed on the government of Iceland as a requirement for the dispersal of $2.1 billion in IMF loans. The government of Iceland has been under immense political pressure regarding the status of foreign savings deposits in Icelandic banks, which collapsed last year as part of the global economic crisis. The IMF is requiring that the government guarantee all foreign savings deposits, but the government of Iceland has so far refused, bowing to domestic political pressure not to compensate account holders.