Meeting the Mayor and Hearing His Story

P1050393 735571
Today was a busy day with our busload of South American journalists, we covered a lot of ground in and around Medellin. The most interesting part of the day was when we went to Medellin’s city hall, and met the mayor of the city. After passing through the metal detectors, of course.

Sergio Fajardo is a handsome man with long hair, dressed in a blazer and blue jeans, he spoke to us in a big conference room and addressed head-on the challenges that face his city. He said that journalists have focused for so long on the drugs and violence, that’s it’s been a tough road to show the good. But there is so much that has been accomplished, as evidenced by the New York Times story a few weeks ago praising the changes. “We’ve gone from fear to hope,” he said, and he’s hosted mayors from Brazil and elsewhere to help them succeed as Medellin has done.

I spoke with a vendor who was selling sugar cane drinks and he said bullets used to whizz over his head, and he knew many people who were killed in the battles between the FARC and the paramilitaries. Now his business is thriving and it was very safe–enough for 18 journalists to walk the streets and chat with the locals as we toured the new library that Spain helped build up here. No way, said our guides, could we have done that 10 years ago.

The Mayor was once a mathematician at the local university. He said that part of his success came from the fact that he wasn’t an insider, not a politician but a citizen. His cabinet too, are not from the inside, and that’s made people feel better about them. He’s built dozens of new libraries and community centers and has battled the corruption that stifles progress. The city’s motto is ‘don’t look back, look forward,’ and ‘compromise for the public good.’ It’s called social intervention, providing for the people and maintaining a hardline on security, that has made the big difference.

The city is basking in the glow of a wave of foreign tourism, including Americans, and it’s sad that the great and hard working mayor’s term ends in October. Then again, he might be a great candidate for a much higher office in the years ahead.