Zona Norte: Wealth and Poverty in Cartagena’s North

I’ve been thinking about how I would write this post for a while. There are so many interesting facets of my site but a big one is the rapid development in the area. Manzanillo, along with communities such as La Boquilla, Tierra Baja, etc; have historically been poor fishing communities made up of overwhelmingly Afro-Colombians. The community of Manzanillo has existed for over 200 years, my host family has lived here for generations yet a part of me wonders what the community will look like 10 years from now.

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Manzanillo is classified as Strata 1, the poorest level of 6 Stratas or classes in Colombia. But around Manzanillo, you’ll find pockets of wealthy gated communities. Resorts line the beach with more on the way and what is said to be the “best golf course in South America” is a few miles away. There is a Carulla, an upscale grocery store, about 2 miles away on the highway and I bike there often for groceries. The Carulla is a part of an outdoor strip mall, Las Ramblas, adjacent to a really swanky housing development called Barcelona de Indias. Save for a few occupied stores and offices in the mall, it is always completely deserted and I wonder how the few businesses there manage to not go broke. But really, they’re probably just waiting for the development of Serena del Mar, “La Ciudad Soñada / The Dreamed City.”

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I’ve noticed the large construction zone on the highway for Serena del Mar since I got here but it took a while to fully understand what it was. It will be a “city within the city (of Cartagena)” that will focus on “quality of live, environmental sustainability, and social inclusion.” There will be a hospital, the first satellite campus of the best university in Colombia (Universidad de Los Andes), private schools, a new large public high school, huge mansions but also very affordable housing and apartments with government subsidies available. It all sounds like a perfect utopia-like place but I can’t help but remain skeptical. Will this city be a model for harmonious, eco-friendly living regardless of class and racial divides? Or will it just become a microcosm of the issues that already glaringly exist?

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When I bike to that Carulla, I feel like I have whiplash as the differences between Manzanillo and Barcelona are so apparent. There are wealthy, white Colombians living in houses with everything they could ever need – just getting their weekly groceries and then driving home at the end of a long day of work. The best international private schools in Cartagena are located in Zona Norte just a few minutes away. The communities of Manzanillo and Barcelona don’t ever really need to interact with each other, except for maybe the Manzanillera cashier in Carulla. The stark inequalities honestly reminds me of America. My hometown of Fresno, California is one of the poorest cities in the country but it’s easy to not see any of that if you have enough money. I went to school in Malibu and most people might envision celebrity mansions and beautiful beaches, which do exist, but also don’t know about the large homeless population or the many immigrants that take the bus 3 hours every day so they can get a job in one of those mansions.

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I found this map of the proposed city of Serena del Mar. It will take about 50 years to complete, although the university and hospital are expected to open in the next year or so. This “city” covers all of Manzanillo around where it says “Proyecto Constructora Epic,” except perhaps the small light island within its borders.  At first, I was confused by what would happen to Manzanillo: would the residents be displaced? Would they be offered new ones by Serena del Mar? After talking to the staff at the local Fundacion, I was able to understand a little bit better. Manzanillo will still remain and the people can keep their houses. Marinas being built on the beach should also provide many locals with jobs. While I still don’t get everything going into this development, I’m reassured that Manzanilleros and the Fundacion are being represented in this process.

Nevertheless, the rest of the planned development encompasses primarily beautiful green land. The photo below from my bike rides can’t do it justice how beautiful the natural landscape is here, but it will soon be gone. Development may also impact the large, beautiful mangrove “Cienaga de la Virgin” which many rely on for their livelihoods. Will wealthy white Colomians really want to live in this utopian city with the local Afro-Colombian population? And if they do live behind gated communities within this “city within a city” while others live in more humble homes – is that really promoting social equity?

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Of course it’s great that this organization is putting environmental sustainability and social inclusion but you can see why I’ll remain skeptical for the time being. I don’t have all the answers on this project but I thought it was a topic worth pondering. All I know is that if I come back to visit in 10 years, this area will be drastically different.

 

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2 thoughts on “Zona Norte: Wealth and Poverty in Cartagena’s North

  1. This reminds me of a similar project just outside of Barranquilla, in Juaruco. Several of my Puerto Colombian friends have indigenous family that lives up there and there’s a huge development coming in that promises an “indigenous museum” and jobs for the local kids, but so far they’ve just bulldozed half the hill. 😦

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