Cartagena's Urban Fix For The Poor? Remove Them

Cartagena flooded
Cartagena flooded
Javier Ortiz


BOGOTÁ — In August 1894, while traveling to Venezuela, the Colombian poet José Asunción Silva spent time in Cartagena de Indias, the colonial port on Colombia"s Caribbean coast. He wrote about his impressions of the city to his mother and sister. He had taken a liking to the locals, who were cheerful and informal, and made particular note of the conduct of the city's poorer residents and those of African descent. "Humble black folk here are more attractive than our own. People move, shout, and fumble through English or French but without the awful intonation common to the unfortunate inhabitants of our plains."

These poor black people survived, as they did in previous generations, eking out a living with odd jobs, a bit of good fortune and the traditional inventiveness of people from the Caribbean.

There has never been a systematic commitment on the part of the country's political class or rulers to address the city's poverty. What never changes is the infinite contempt local elites have for the poor. They are not seen as people whose rights must be guaranteed but, rather, as a nuisance and obstacle to the implementation of commercial projects.

"The poor are seen as an obstacle to the implementation of commercial projects' Photo: Luz Adriana Villa/Flickr

Right now, the city is going through one of its worst political crises. As the country's top tourist destination, everything that happens here makes national news. Still, we do not see any official creating a program in the city to ensure the payment of historical debt to the city's poorest residents. Big investment projects associated with tourism and port facilities are not enough to generate structural changes in Cartagena. They have not had an impact on transforming the life conditions of the neediest people here.

Houses look more like prisons

Some weeks ago, the Central Bank or Banco de la República, issued a report on eradicating poverty by 2033. In spite of its good intentions and the professionalism of those who compiled the paper, one of its proposed solutions was much the same as those tried before in the city. The report recommended relocating the poor. This effort had previously been carried out in the early 20th century wherein residents of humble cottages built around the city's ancient walls were moved. It happened again in the 1970s with the people of Chambacú, a shantytown that used to be outside the historical district.

Nobody is thinking of sanitation or solving resident's problems or building facilities in the neighborhoods where they have established strong roots and memories. People do not feel adequately compensated when they are moved to apartments or houses that look more like prisons than homes.

We know what happens once people are relocated. Land prices rise and expensive tower blocks begin to emerge. As long as city governments, whatever their political hue, refuse to seriously tackle the problems of the poor, we shall never see the structural changes Cartagena needs.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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