IN THE TRENCHES
PHOTO: COURTESY OF FEDERICO GUTIÉRREZ
The Medellín Miracle
Former mayor Federico Gutiérrez discusses
how prioritizing security and sustainability
paved the way for a 21st century city
52 FINANCE & DEVELOPMENT | June 2020
IN 1991, MEDELLÍN
, Colombia’s second-la rgest urba n
area, was the world’s most violent city. Today, the
“City of Eternal Spring” is international ly recog-
nized as one of the most innovative, inclusive, a nd
sustainable cities in t he world.
Federico Gutiérrez, born in Medellín in 1974 at
the advent of Colombia’s violent period of armed
conict, was the cit y’s mayor from January 2016
until January 2020 —helping spearhead ma ny
eorts to cement the city’s future as one of peace
and prosperity. He credits the determination and
unity shown by the people of Medellín for their
commitment to overcoming violence and conict,
which has won their city acc olades and admira-
tion. Speaking with F&D’s Marjorie Henríquez,
Gutiérrez shares his thoug hts on the city’s remark-
able transformation over the past three decades.
What was t he turning point for Medellí n?
In the 1980s and 1990s our society hit rock
bottom with the tragedy of narc oterrorism. In 1991
we recorded a homicide rate of 381 murders per
100,000 inhabitants. Today the rate is approximately
20 per 100,000 inhabitants— a 95 percent decrease.
Although the only acc eptable gure is zero, we have
achieved signica nt progress in curbing violence
and ensuring respect for life.
As to whether there was a speci c turning point,
that is complicated and open to debate. Ever since
businesspeople decided to stay in Medellín i n the
1980s and 1990s—not giving in to the violence—
we began to develop a vital st rategy rooted in team
work. e business fabric of our city is extremely
solid, and this can be explained to a great extent
by the diculties that the private sector had to
face in order to survive. In t he midst of violence,
staying was a great act of bravery.
ere were no shortcuts, but there were practical
solutions. One of the latter involved partnerships
between the public sector, private sector, academia,
and civil society. Teamwork as a society was a deter-
mining factor in the cit y’s social transformation. e
maa upended our values: it turned h ard and honest
work into easy money, sobriety into opulence and,
worst of all, it took the value out of life and instead
put a price on it. ough we still have a long way
to go, we have started recovering such va lues as life,
respect, and free dom.
In fewer than th ree decades, Medellín has bec ome
a benchmark for the world. It is a socially in novative
city that is today an a liate center for the Fourth
Industrial Revolution for Latin A merica, in partner-
ship with the World Economic Forum. Experiencing
the worst things possible as a society has made us
stronger and more resilient. Medellín is a cit y that
acknowledges its past, t akes pride in its present, and
above all, views its futu re optimistica lly.
As mayor, what were your key priorit ies?
FG: A government’s priorities must, in some way,
be the priorities of the people. For us, they were
education, security, and sustainability.
We had the highest education budget in
Medellín’s history. With one of the agship pro-
grams, we mana ged to return more than 8,0 00
children who were outside the educational s ystem
for various reasons to the cla ssrooms. We also
gave more than 43,000 scholarships for higher
education. at is the best strateg y for security in
the long term—giving opport unities to succeed
within the framework of legality.
On security, we dealt forceful blows to str uctures
that had been operating for dec ades. e security
issue is still quite complex. ere is crim inality,