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Government / Local politics

Why did Colombia choose Cartagena to sign its peace treaty with Farc?

At the end of September the Colombian government signed a peace deal with left wing guerrilla group Las Farc, an event that 50.2 per cent of Colombians chose to celebrate by rejecting the peace agreement in a Brexit-esque moment. Whoops.

Anyway, the city chosen to host the signing of the peace deal was Cartagena de las Indias. The Caribbean port city is far smaller than capital, Bogotá. It also hasn’t experienced the same resurgence as second city Medellín.

So what led President Juan Manuel Santos and his negotiators to choose Cartagena over its bigger and more impressive rivals?

Let’s look at some of the deciding factors:

Guests

Signing a peace deal and inviting world leaders, along with media representatives, is much like hosting a party. All things must be considered to make your guests – in this case 27 heads of state – as comfortable as possible. 

Before the event, rumours were circulating that Raul Castro, the 85 year old brother of 90 year old Fidel, and now president of Cuba, was not well enough to handle the altitude in Bogotá, which is 2644 metres above sea-level. 

Cartagena may not be as famous as Bogotá – a signing in the capital’s Plaza Bolivar would have been iconic. But it is on the coast, and would have meant less acclimatisation even for Colombia’s healthier visitors, too. 

Photo opportunities

As something being broadcast all over the world’s media, you need to make sure the city you pick for your political event looks good. Where Medellín is a more functional city – along with the likes of Baranquilla and Santa Marta – Cartagena is stunningly beautiful. 

While the larger metropolitan area looks like any other modern city, Cartagena is also home to a stunning colonial walled city – and fortress – that was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984.  

The city has its own problems with poverty and, it must be said, police corruption (this writer was legit robbed by some of the city’s finest police officers while they pretended to do a security check). But you would be hard pressed to a more beautiful city in which to host a ton of international guests. 


Security

Everyone, from police officers to taxi drivers, was adamant that Cartagena was picked because of its size and ties to the Colombian navy. 

It’s important to remember that the signing of a peace deal with the Farc is not actually the end of all conflict in the country: the government is soon to embark on a peace deal with secondary leftist group the ELN, while right-wing paramilitary successor groups continue to perform as leading narco-traffickers.  

Although these other groups said they would not interfere with the peace deal or signing, Cartagena was undoubtedly easier to police and monitor than sprawling Bogota, or Medellín, which is the capital of the No vote heartland (something which could have presented challenges of its own). 

Regardless of which reason may have clinched it for Cartagena, with a series of on-going peace deals taking place in Colombia, time will tell whether or not the city will once again be selected as a location for ending conflicts.

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