The Mayor of Medellin in Colombia, Mr. Sergio Fajardo, has said his city had reduced the homicide rate of 350 per 100,000 inhabitants in 1991 to its present rate of 50 per 100,000.
Addressing a forum organized by UN-HABITAT for representatives of diplomatic missions, international organizations, NGOs, the media, and academic institutions at the United Nations Office in Geneva, he said that Medellin, which used to have the dubious privilege of being the most violent city in the world, is now “a city of opportunities.”
In a city too often associated with violence and narcotics trafficking, Mr. Fajardo’s strategy has been to “place a strong bet on education to break the cycle of violence and combat inequality”. The challenge, he said, was not so much the access to education than its quality in poorer barrios or slums. Responding to this situation, Mr. Fajardo has set up a variety of educational and nutritional programmes, especially for the children under the age of six.
One of most original projects, he explained, is at the crossroads between education and planning concerns: it consists in the building of five large parks with a library or a museum at their centre. These projects are envisioned as symbols of cultural expression, social encounter and peace to be built in the city’s poorest areas.
Mr. Fajardo said that a majority of Medellin’s population lives in small, overcrowded houses, while there is virtually no public space in the city. As the likelihood of violent interaction increases, it becomes vital to “get together not only around a soccer field, but also around education as a common goal”.
In the ongoing peace process, the municipality is working to restore the legitimacy of police force and legal institutions in public spaces, allowing the people to re-discover the city’s streets. “But this is a fragile process,” he said.
Many of those killed belong to gangs, militia, and paramilitary groups. Recently, a programme was introduced to address one of these groups, thus giving 865 former militiamen the opportunity to benefit from an individual programme of social reinsertion.
This IOM-sponsored programme proposes educational training and psycho-social monitoring. Its ambition is to have the men reintegrated into their community as committed citizens, professionals, entrepreneurs, or social workers.
Mr. Fajardo was optimistic that the programme is creating new models for the younger generation and imposing a new logic of opportunity instead of the logic of violence.
A 48-year-old mathematician, Mr. Fajardo obtained an overwhelming electoral victory in 2003, and took office in January this year as the Mayor of the second Colombian municipality, Medellin (over 2 million inhabitants). As such, he is recognized as part of an emerging generation of politicians identified with a movement of political and civic renewal.
Mr. Fajardo embarked on a tour of European capitals emphasising that he was not seeking funds, but rather partnerships with local authorities, international NGOs, and the Colombian diaspora.
In her speech at the occasion, the Director of the UN-HABITAT Office in Geneva, Ms. Sylvie Lacroux, emphasised the organization’s commitment to supporting local authority-based innovative practices and cooperation. She recalled that the Municipality of Medellin has established an award on Best Practices in the Latin America and the Caribbean, with the participation of UN-HABITAT Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC).
Also present at the forum were representatives of local authorities, including the Mayor of Geneva, Mr. Pierre Muller. The forum was organized within the UN system at Geneva by UN-HABITAT at the request of the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the UN at Geneva and the Embassy of Colombia in Switzerland.