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Gethsemane, a story of dispossession


What is Gethsemane?

Getsemaní has gone from being known as a slum in the 1990s to becoming an icon of the authentic atmosphere of Cartagena de Indias, with local families still living in the neighborhood and colorful murals in the streets. Today, it is going from being a backpacker and party zone par excellence to a hotel zone with the most exclusive resorts in the country, including the first 6-star hotel in Colombia.

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Cartagena de Indias, which prospered thanks to local and port trade and crafts, welcomed the city’s first free slaves, housed various ethnic and cultural groups, African, Spanish, Syrian-Lebanese, and Jewish, and was the scene of the emergence of the independentist, has fewer and fewer inhabitants. According to Miguel Caballero Villarreal, a resident of Pedro Romero Street and president of the Gimaní Cultural Foundation, which works for the preservation of Gimaní culture, only 16% of the inhabitants that made up the neighborhood three decades ago remain.

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The gentrification of Gethsemani

Gentrification refers to a process of displacement of the original inhabitants of a territory in favor of other groups with an economic interest in that area. One of the main manifestations of gentrification in Getsemaní is the overvaluation of community land.

Every urban process has a beginning which forces us to go back to 1978, when the first intervention in the neighborhood took place: the eviction of the Public Market to move it to Bazurto and the implementation of the Palacio de Congresos in it. This was a stab in the back of the history and daily life of those who have always lived there as this change of scenery limited their access to the port of Bahía de las ÁnimasThe two had lived together in a kind of symbiotic relationship throughout the history of the neighborhood.

A process that does not end here. In the 1980s and 1990s, the neighborhood suffered great deterioration, both due to the withdrawal of the economic dynamics of the market and the neglect of the State. One example: in 1983, the State invested money in Cartagena to bury electric cables in the historic center as part of the 450th anniversary of the city, but Getsemaní was excluded from this project. The deterioration of this territory was their goal, a path they follow in every place they want to depress, so that it loses value and its original inhabitants are willing to sell their homes at a lower price and urban speculators make money.

After the declaration of Cartagena de Indias as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984, a process of gentrification similar to that of Getsemaní began in Centro and San Diego, with the difference that in this area large residential complex urbanization projects were developed, such as Serrezuela, Portobello, Las Bóvedas or Santo Domingo, so people continue to live in the Center. As space and return on investment at the Center began to dry up, interest in Getsemaní began to grow.

Gentrification began, once residents became concerned about changing the face of the neighborhood. In the 1990s, “demand began because the Center was saturated,” explains Caballero. He also recalls that 10 years ago, a rental in Getsemaní could cost between 500 and 800 thousand pesos for an apartment or house, while today the same space can be worth between 6 and 10 million pesos.

Thus, the price of public services has increased disproportionately for many families, as if only the rich lived there, forgetting that Getsemaní has all social strata, from 1 to 6. Therefore, it is not uncommon for some households to use electricity from public power poles to avoid paying for the service.

This is a pressure to evict and make room for the new owners, who now have capital and as no one can resist this pressure, people prefer to sell or rent and look for housing in another cheaper neighborhood. The temptation to sell is not small, as the square meter in Getsmaní is now between 4 and 7 million pesos.

Getsmaní : Hotel emporiums

Getsemaní is nowadays an area of concentration of hotels with different offers: from economic hostels to exclusive boutique hotels. For this reason, this part of the city has become the most popular area for backpackers since the cheapest accommodation in the city is located here. What places to visit in the historic center of Cartagena de Indias ?

This reality could be short-lived since two luxury hotel megaprojects are currently being built: the Hotel San Francisco of the Four Seasons chain and the Hotel Convento Obra Pía, Viceroy Cartagena.

The San Francisco Hotel belongs to the Canadian Four Seasons chain, but the investment is made by the Santodomingo Group. The project began in July 2017, in a 30,000-square-meter space that stretches from the former Club Cartagena headquarters to the old Rialto theater, passing through the former Cartagena, Calamarí, Bucanero and Colón cinemas. Everything that has been invested is worth $100 million.

The Convento Obra Pía project aims to be the most exclusive hotel in the country, the first 6-star hotel; it will be located on Calle de la Media Luna, on the former site of the La Femenina school; it will be managed by the Viceroy hotel groupThe $50 million investment comes from KIT Capital, an investment group created by businessman and former Goldman Sachs banker Kaleil Isaza Tuzman, which operates in the United States. real estate sectorsdigital media and biomedical.

Isaza Tuzman is a Boston-raised American of Colombian parents who was arrested in Colombia in 2015 on fraud charges and extradited to the United States in 2016. Isaza Tuzman was accused of market manipulation and accounting fraud in his company KIT Digital, which went bankrupt in 2013. The Obra Pía project says that the legal mishap with Isaza does not interfere with the development of the project, which was scheduled to be delivered in the first half of 2016.

Here is another story from Cartagena, San Felipe de Barajas .

Getsmaní: Neighborhood life changed forever

Hotel San Francisco is located next to the Rafael Núñez University. The economic dynamics generated by the university students in the neighborhood is important since many of them rent rooms in Getsemaní and live with the neighbors. One of the concerns of the Gethsemaneans is that the hotel could also cover the territories of the study center.

Although the companies that come to the neighborhood generate jobs, Caballero Villarreal states that “tourism is not always beneficial, there are many people who come for the drugs and alcohol. If there is demand, there is supply. It disturbs the peace of the neighbors.

María Isabel Gutiérrez Caballero, 19, has lived all her life on Espíritu Santo Street. I have seen many changes in the neighborhood: now there are fewer people sitting in front of the houses in the square, the streets are lonely, but more visitors come from other neighborhoods, cities and countries. A few years ago, her parents received an offer to buy their house for more than one billion pesos, but Maria Isabel and her brother mainly dissuaded her father from selling it.

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The families who, unlike Maria Isabel’s, have sold, leave the houses initially abandoned and after a few months, they are transformed into hotels or restaurants. Families who decide to stay have to face other significant transformations of their territory, for example, living in a much less peaceful context. On weekends, in particular, there is a surge of people going to bars, discos and clubs where music is played loudly and many of them arrive by car, clogging traffic in the area and creating more noise. You have to be patient to put up with all this.

It is a reality that we do not yet know how it will end. The hotel is fine, but people don’t come to sleep at the hotel, they come to meet the whole community. The day we are not here, Getsemaní will lose the attraction that differentiates it from San Diego and downtown, says Davinson Gaviria Pájaro, a resident of Callejón Ancho and also president of the Junta de Acción Comunal de Getsemaní.

Getsmani and its heroes

The community has been pushed to the wall. They are closing public spaces, which is difficult for residents to accept. Living in Getsemaní is not easy. In the spaces that have been vacated, such as Las Tortugas, where there is now a parking lot, or the Mainero building, there is no one left because they are private. But at the same time, the State does not encourage the owners of this type of land to build residential complexes on it, which will be inhabited by the people of the area, by popular settlers.

The Community Action Board’s 20-20 project proposes to involve the community in hotel projects, so that it is not seen as an enemy but as an ally. To create jobs, you have to train people. If there are jobs in the Gethsemane projects, people will have a reason to stay. Maintaining community in the neighborhood is the main objective. However, it is a reality for people that hotels will contribute to ever-increasing taxes, including the rent itself. “This will be the final blow,” says Gaviria Pájaro.

When Cartagena de Indias resisted the Spanish reconquest for three months in 1815, the feat earned it the title of “heroic city”. Despite the pressure, Gethsemane resisted. Thus, Miguel Caballero affirms that today, staying to live in Gethsemani is, as in Cartagena centuries ago, a heroic act.

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