As I write this, it is December 21st 2019. Yesterday morning my wife and I were honored to attend the dedication of a public park. This is no ordinary park, but is instead a sacred site of hopes, dreams, and aspirations. It's a park dedicated to both the memory of past violence, and a symbol of hope and a bright future for people wearied by years of disruption, yet eager to look ahead. The name in Spanish is Parque Inflexión, or reflection park.
The violent past, and a peaceful future
On the left above, the infamous Mónaco building. On the right, a marker in the new park. (Same location). The Mónaco, one time home of a prominent Colombian drug lord, had sat abandoned since its bombing in January 1988. On February 22nd of this year the city of Medellin demolished the structure, and work began on Parque Inflexión. One reason the building was razed and a park built in its place is that the narrative of the drug years needed to change. As Mayor Federico Gutiérez said, “We are concerned about the way in which we have narrated, and stopped narrating, our own history. In most stories, the perpetrators are the protagonists and this has long-term consequences, because it ends up validating an environment of illegality.” Thus the main theme of Parque Inflexión: Abraza su Historia. Embrace your history.
The Mónaco becomes rubble: February 22nd 2019.
A Wall of Bombings
The picture above is the back side of the memorial wall. Each entry commemorates a bombing. Scanning the inscriptions, we were further amazed at the insistence on remembrance rather than dismissal of this painful history. It would have been far easier to hide all this pain, and to put it out of sight. Instead, citizens of Medellin chose to embrace and display their past, so others may learn from it, and so that it never happens again.
Avianca Flight #203, Bogotá-Cali, 27 November 1989
To cite just one example of the ruthless violence that had to end, Avianca flight #203 in November of 1989 was blown up, killing 107 people. The Mónaco's former resident bombed the plane, hoping to kill presidential candidate César Gaviria Trujillo. Mr. Trujillo—who was not even on the plane—went on to become the president of Colombia. His administration was responsible for killing the former resident of the Mónaco in December 1993.
30 Years of Rupture, and 46,612 lives ended
Centering the park, a jagged, black marble stele symbolizes the 30 years of violence that ruptured Medellin. Its somber stone contains powerful reminders and memories. Reminiscent of the Vietnam Veterans' memorial in Washington DC, the monolith has 46,612 perforations drilled at random into its onyx-like surface. Every puncture allows light to shine from inside. Each light represents a victim of the drug violence that terrorized Medellin for the better part of 30 years. Those perforations represent lives ended by violence, but they also offer families a source of peace and remembrance, and a receptacle for flowers and other tributes.
'We are that which we leave behind.'
On dedication night, people filled nearly every perforation in the wall with flowers provided by the city.
Dedication visitors were gifted with flowers or plants. The card reads: 'Certificate of Origin'
The contrast between blackness and light is both striking, and comforting
Many people crafted loving patterns, and hopeful messages in flowers using the holes in the marble. Hearts, a simple PAZ, (for peace), and crude but tender faces woven with flowers graced the wall, a tribute to all who died and must be remembered.
Finishing touches on Parque Inflexión
Prior to the ten am dedication, workers made last minute details to the park. We thought it was highly symbolic that even the police were chipping in manpower to complete the task, a labor of love for citizens of Medellin. Among the speakers at the ceremony were Leonor Cruz, widow of commander of the Colombian national police force Colonel Valdemar Franklin, assassinated in 1989, and Paolo Lara, the son of minister of justice Rodrigo Lara Bonilla slain in 1984. Mayor Federico Gutierez summarized the proceedings, reinforcing his belief that Medellin's citizens must remember the victims of the violence, and put aside the focus on the perpetrators.
Artist's rendering of Parque Inflexión, Medellin.
Essence, Reflection, and Resilience
These three statements summarize Medellin's initiative to build the park. It's a place to keep painful history alive lest it be forgotten; a place where true heroes—the 46,612 victims of drug violence—are memorialized; and finally a tribute to the remarkable rebirth of a city once labeled the world's most dangerous. The illustration above shows the jagged wall that symbolizes the ruptured city. Green space surrounding it is the serenity and strength that have evolved, now further enhanced by a peaceful park open to all atop the ruins of a monument to hate, greed, and violence.
Ten months, almost to the day
The dust of the destroyed Mónaco building had barely settled when work commenced on Parque Inflexión. On our daily morning walk, my wife and I had tracked the progress of the park, just four blocks from our apartment. It was obvious as the year drew to a close that the outgoing mayoral administration wanted the park completed. Every day, dozens of workers bent to the task, trucks arrived daily with detail features, and the park came together in a remarkably short time. The frantic pace to finish was reflective of the rapid rebirth of the city itself, when citizens embraced hope instead of fear.
Parque Inflexión, a place of tribute and rebirth
Parque Inflexión is located in El Poblado, in the Santa Maria de los Angeles neighborhood at Calle 15 sur, and Carrera 44. The park is a wonderful respite from the noise and rush of the city, and a somber reflection on many years of lawlessness, violence, and the greed and ambition of a few dangerous and destructive men. It's also a powerful symbol of the hope and recovery possible when a society is determined to change the narrative of its past.
Part 2, Parque Inflexión, El Presente, will include many more photos, and many more stories about the park, its layout, and the political will to build it. Post #3, El Futuro, will elaborate on the park's message and its symbolic hope for Medellin. Thanks for reading!