Santa Elena: People are Unhappy

Riding into to the finca in the collectivo Saturday morning we got an earful about peoples dissatisfaction with how the Mayors office in Medellin is handling a regional development project and legalization of peoples proprieties. One of the local towns, Mazo, held a demonstration Saturday afternoon to protest the way things are being handled. The two guys with us in the cab were livid.

The folks in Mazo are pretty well organized and I think they are the fuse to the powder keg. They are concerned about their homes being condemned and torn down. The context is a regional tourism development project and a city administration trying to implement planning procedures. Colombia and Medellin need good planning laws and regulations, no doubt about it. Most people in our area however bought their homes when these did not exist or were not enforced. Hence there are lots of properties without proper documentation. This problem goes back for generations and a heavy handed approach will cause a lot of hate and dissention.

The City needs to reassess their approach now before irreparable harm is done.

Update: 24 September 2009

It turns out that the main concern people have is widening the road through the area. More than 100 houses will have to be condemned and destroyed for the road. Improved transportation is critical to the development project so it is likely that the condemnations will occur.


Street Vendors Learning English

The following is a note from RCN News via Twitter:

ColombiaNews Street vendors from Medellin are receiving English lessons so they can give a better attention to their costumers….

Street News: Santa Elena

As I mentioned on 09 August the people up in the Santa Elena area are very unhappy about the handling of local tourism for the Flower Festival. I spent most of my vacation in the area and asked many people about the situation. I did not hear one positive comment. Many people were hurt economically. Most of these folks live on very low incomes and are being set back by the problem.
There will be several community meetings where different agencies will be present. It will be interesting to see how they handle things. I hope they do a root cause analysis and correct the problem.

Street News: Santa Elena

Word has it from friends and neighbors living in the Santa Elena area that the way the Flower Festival was handled this year resulted in a complete disaster there.

The origin of this event is the traditional mode of transporting flower crops from Santa Elena to Medellin. This was done by loading the flowers onto wooden pack frames (silletas) and carrying them down to Medellin on foot. This was very colorful and the silleteros became an icon of local tradition. As a result the area around Santa Elena is now considered to be part of the National patrimony and is much loved by people in Medellin.

A key part of the Flower Festival is a parade of the silleteros. The silletas have evolved into elaborate and highly competitive floral designs. It has been a tradition to go up to Santa Elena the day before the parade to see the construction of the silletas, eat, drink and party. This provides much needed income for the local residents.

This year it was decided that the event would be “improved.” Special buses were designated as THE transportation mode and tourist packages were set up at a cost of 70,000 pesos per person. This is about $US 35.00 which is expensive for most people here. Consider a family of five when the minimum wage is around $250.00 per month.

Very few people went. The folks in the area had bought all the food and supplies they generally need to cook for, feed and entertain the large crowds they expected. Sales were minimal and most of the perishable items will probably be lost. Local income levels will not bare this kind of screw up. Outrage is said to be rampant from Santa Elena to El Tambo.

More on this later in the week. My wife will be up there for some project meetings and these are expected to be turbulent. I would not want to be a representative from the Mayor’s office. Did someone say tar and feathers?

Street News

I have found that taxi cab drivers are a great source of information about the city. So what’s new? I will be reporting on what I learn from cabbies on occasion.

Today I asked one what he thought Medellin’s biggest problem is. He started off with the potholes in the streets and the City’s failure to fix them. Actually this is first time I have heard this.

I told him I’m interested in writing about the real Medellin for an English speaking audience. He went on to talk about the way the government tries to hide problems associated with poverty from non-Colombians. He mentioned the plight of the street vendors.

What he really wanted to talk about is the injustice of the market for agricultural goods. He does not like the way farmers get low prices for their goods and how the consumer has to pay 3 or 4 times the price the farmer receives in the big wholesale markets. He did not seem to have a clear grasp on the problem of middle men.

I think he is absolutely right about the farmer getting the dirty end of the stick. These folks work the hardest of anyone to get the food we urban dwellers need on our tables. They work for months to bring in a crop. When they take it to the wholesale markets the price they receive rarely meets expectations and they mostly go home disappointed.

This cabbie did not have a clear idea of how the middle men affect these markets. I mentioned to him that each group that handles the produce has to pay their employees, rent and other costs. He got it but still expressed concern for the farmer. I can’t argue with that.