Medellin – Botero and Escobar

Two men stand out in the recent history of Medellin and for very different reasons. Fernando Botero is the most famous artist the country has produced and although he may not be as widely known internationally as some of his peers, he is often known as the artist who paints (and sculpts) the fat people. The central square in Medellin is full of his bronze sculptures, it is also full of hawkers and other shady characters along with a significant police presence. This speaks to the other side of Medellin and has more to do with the continuing shadow that Escobar casts on this city in particular, even decades after his death.

The town planners and civic officials are keen to promote Medellin as a city rising from the ashes of it´s past and in many ways it is. There is no longer a bounty on the head of each policeman (Escobar paid $1000 for each one executed) and the place is undoubtedly much safer and appealing to tourists. Money has been invested in internationally recognised civic regeneration projects. In particular sports and educational facilities are benefitting from the money made available to develop areas of the city.

Escobar is still prominent in the psyche of the town, to many he was a folk hero, a Robin Hood character, though his philanthropy was more calculated towards alienating anyone who stood up to him and getting himself elected to the senate. There are a number of tours in Medellin which focus on his life, a friend of ours took one and met his brother, not sure how that meeting went as the friend was an ex London bobby! When we were in Medellin the headlines were full of the American rapper Wiz Khalifa, who had taken photos of himself beside Escobar´s grave placing flowers and a joint on the grave. This did not go down well with the mayor of the city and most of the population who want to move away from that dark period of their history.

The city is trying very hard to move on but it still has tremendous problems to overcome. When you scrape the surface of the new image it is creating the problems of the past are still there.

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