Medellín, the power of poetry, the power of the youth

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Nowadays Medellín is the seat of international meetings: the 2nd Jamboree of the World Federation of Independent Scouts – July 7 to 14 – in the John Paul II Park and the 17th International Festival of Poetry of Medellín – July 14 to 21 -. In the first, more than 1 thousand young persons will settle in the city coming from 12 countries in their traditional boy scouts assembly. In the second, 80 poets from 55 countries will read their works in the Medellín plazas. It is good to remind that Medellín was classified in the 80´s as the most violent city of the world and it was associated with the drug cartel. What is happening then? Why Medellín is now the center of such events?

By Al Rodas. Picture “Medellín Downtown” by Sabazoo82. | Español.

The Capital of the Mountain

History has shown that it is not easy to understand Medellín without a deep study of its culture and the identity of its people. The city is just the biggest urban spot of a biggest Colombian sub-culture: the Paisas. The word in Spanish is the short version of “Paisano” (Countryman), but it took along the Colombian history other meaning: just the ones who come from a big region conformed by the departments of Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío, the 80% of the department of Antioquia which capital is Medellín, the north of the department of Valle del Cauca and the northwest of the department of Tolima. In this way to say in Colombia Paisa means to say anything related to that Region. The importance of the Paisas started soon after the Independence of Colombia from the Kingdom of Spain at the beginning of the 19th Century. They were confined first to the most mountainous region of South America and their land were rather difficult to use for agriculture, but gold mines and cattle. In 1849 some families from what is today Antioquia settled near the Snowed Mountain of Ruiz and founded Manizales in what is called in history as the “Antioquian Colonization” or the “Paisa Colonization” to the south-west of Colombia, something similar to the American pioneers to the west. That event endured even until the middle of the 20th Century and gave to the Region an economic vitality without any precedent. The Region would become the center of the first production good of Colombia: Coffee.

Medellín became the capital of Antioquia on April 17, 1826 supplanting that honor to the Royal City of Santa Fe de Antioquia, the first urban center founded by the Spaniard Conquerors during the 16th Century. Located in a strategic valley, the Aburrá Valley, at midway between the two main rivers of Colombia, Magdalena and Cauca, the small village started to be a very important commercial center for the Region.

Pedro Justo Berrío, President of Antioquia. Picture from Luís Ángel Arango Virtual Library of Banco de la República: Bibliografía.

Being then the capital of the State of Antioquia during the so called United States of Colombia at the end of the 19th Century, the President of Antioquia, Pedro Justo Berrío, was the responsable of leading the Region to a way of progress and urbanism. Berrío is considered one of the most prominent governors and economics of the 19th Century in Colombia: he founded the Banco de Antioquia, developped big projects of infrastructure like the train, organized the education and put Antioquia at the top of progress. The civil wars of Colombia at the end of the 19th Century respected the Paisa Region and it allowed in part such progress. Througout the 20th Century, Medellín would pass from being a small city to grow in a thought plan of development. But the second half of the 20th Century would have for Medellín a big challenge: the growing of its population due to the coming of farmers fleeing from rural violence after 1949 and the appearence of mafias since the 70´s that gave titles to the city as the most violent of the world, the capital of drugs dealers and so on.

Medellín to know
But a challenge is a challenge. A city with so long and extraordinary history, keeps the seed of its founders. According with Medellin Info, Medellín is the second largest and most progressive city in Colombia. For many observers, it is one of the most beautiful cities in South America. Two airports, a lively Nightlife – Rumba – tourist agencies, big malls, a good public transport including the world class Metro, low costs, hotels, restaurants, an ideal temperature due to its altitude of 1,600 meters, are enough conditions to understand why Medellín is becoming a center of attention for national and international visitors. Medellín is 400 kilometers north-west of Bogotá. A bus takes about 8 hours to run the Bogotá-Medellín National Road. A plain from the Colombian capital takes 45 minutes to the José María Córdoba International Airport or to the Olaya Herrera National Airport. Buses from Medellín to the main Colombian urban centers would take about the following times: to Cali 10 hours, to Cartagena de Indias 12 hours, to Barranquilla 14 hours and to Bucaramanga 8 hours. The route from Caracas by car to Medellín is Cúcuta-Bucaramanga-Medellín. The route from Quito is Ipiales – Pasto – Popayán – Cali – Pereira – Medellín.

Jamboree “Sólo se vive una vez”

Picture from the site of WFIS.

Sower of dreams, propigator of development and adventures, collector of human quality” is the ideal of the Colombian Scouting Association, the branch in the country of the World Federation of Independent Scouts. The branch has its quarters in the municipality of Itagüí, a city within the Metropolitan Area of Medellín. 2007 is also a key year in the history of the Scouting Movement. In 1907 the British General Baden Powell, held a camp on Brownsea Island with 20 boys to practice what he wrote in his book Aids to Scouting. That event became to the history of the Scouting Movement its corner stone. In 1996, Lawrie Dring, a British Scouter, founded an independent federation from the UK Scout Association seeking what they called somethin closer to the Baden Powell´s original program. Of that WFIS, Medellín, Colombia is the second seat of the traditional World Jamboree, an expression that probably was taken by General Baden Powel from Swahili, Hindi or American or Australian dialects. The most stated proposal is from Swahili (India) meaning hello, jambo. About it, General Baden Powel said in 1920: “People give different meanings for this world, but from this year on, jamboree will take a specific meaning. It will be associated to the largest gathering of youth that ever took place.

The 2nd Jamboree of WFIS is taking place in the John Paul II Park of Medellín to commemorate 100 years of Brownsea Island camp. July 7-14 will see boy scouts from the five continents in one of the most fascinating cities of Colombia.

Poetry for a Romantic City

Picture from Prometeo “Inauguration with torchs”

The close down of the Jamboree on July 14 means the opening of another insolit event: the 17th International Poetry Festival of Medellín organized by the prestigious cultural magazine Prometeo. 80 poets from 55 countries will read their works in the streets and plazas of the South American city. The purpose of the International Poetry in Medellín is expressed in the words of Jorge Riechmann, cited by Prometeo:

“Poetry is also our indestructible memory of human dignity and love. There is only one way to test poetry: to live with it, to adhere to its breath, to let it penetrate in our inner world as well as in our despair, to dance and stroll and sleep with it on a bed of pine needles. We will then find out if we have lightly trusted in a volatile beauty or if, favorably for us, we have tied our future to our irreplaceable partner.”

The Festival is an answer to the Colombian conflicts and a way to denounce violence, violation of human rights, unjustice and inequality. The Festival knows the power of poetry and art and how it brights the darks revealing the horrors of the war. In 2006 the International Poetry Festival of Medellín received the Right Livelihood Award.


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