Cali Murder Inc, A Colombian Drug Cartel War May Be Back

Expected to return to Cali after serving prison time, some old gangsters will find a 'new generation' of criminals running businesses in town. Will that mean trouble,

Packing marijuana in Toribio, Valle del Cauca, in the Cali region, Colombia
Boris Salazar

CALI — Does a recent spike in murders in the western Colombian city of Cali — 19 in one April weekend alone — mean the return of organized crime and drug trafficking to this city with a troubled past? Colombian Vice President Óscar Naranjo, a former police general, warned there could be an increase in murders in certain parts of Colombia, as 25 drug lords move home after a decade or more in prison in the United States.

Will Cali's new and old criminal gangs work together or initiate an even bloodier turf war?

This is a necessary warning as criminals do often return home and finish, well, unfinished business. Cali has an epicenter of drug trafficking in South America and has been home to organizations like the Cali Cartel dating back to the 1970s. The fall of the big cartels around the turn of the century paved the way for successor gangs who engage in both criminal and "respectable" activities: peddling drugs, as well as buying real-estate selling high-end cars, and loaning money.

Woman cutting buds of marijuana in order to prepare it for consumption — Photo: Nicolas Enriquez/ZUMA

It's believed this expansion of industry is reflected in the wider age range of recent victims. Before, crime victims were usually impoverished youths, but recently they have included professionals in their 30s or even older. Even still, much of the trouble is still centered around youth, sparking an effort from the city to place "vulnerable" youngsters into jobs or school and dismember gangs through its Strength Plan (Plan Fortaleza), which boosts police personnel, training and equipment. A big challenge remains in breaking the links between criminals' legal and illegal activities.

Meanwhile, as the authorities brace for a recurrence of killing sprees, the question remains: will Cali's new and old criminal gangs work together or initiate an even bloodier turf war?

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Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe

BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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