Mompos: Restoring History

And here is my piece from Bogota’s City Paper on the underlying problems of trying to achieve anything in Mompos. Please read on and feel free to comment. The full text is found below.

As if poisoned and influenced by a bitterness and frustration ever present in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “The General in His Labyrinth’”, the little town of Mompós continues along its course twisting in a serpentine narrative of magic realism of everyday life on the banks of the Magdalena River. Ah yes, Mompós, my adopted hometown in Colombia, where I have invested time and funds over five years into creating our little enterprise of the Casa Amarilla Hotel.

Just the mention of the town’s name and my thoughts are molded into ones of nostalgia and hope for this place that has so much and yet so little to offer at the same time. Herein lays the attraction of this soporifically hot colonial backwater. For those wishing to be immersed in history, cumbia, architecture and nature, there may be no more authentic destination in Colombia. For others looking to strike out off the beaten track to do nothing more than to be immersed in an atmosphere of a forgotten Colombia, read a good book and enjoy an afternoon siesta, Mompós is at the top of the list once more.

Over the years, as my wife, her Momposino family and I have toiled in attracting both international and domestic tourism back to one of the key national heritage towns in Colombia, we have become purveyors of logistics, information and employment in one of the nation’s most overlooked and forgotten places. There is a cultural legacy here that needs to be protected through an increase in sustainable and socially inclusive tourism that directly benefits Mompós and the immediate impoverished towns. Our work has seemed at times akin to McDonalds setting up in Russia back in the 1980s and having to create a complete line of production from start to finish before being able to run the Hotel efficiently so non-existent was everything at the beginning.

Once details were announced that Mompós was at the fore of the Ministry of Culture’s plans and was to undergo a restoration, we were jubilant. But, this has come at a well-publicized price. Contrary to statements made in El Tiempo, at no point were the townspeople or Mompós’ businesses consulted on the proposed restorations. Perhaps we were all too swept up in the joyous furore that something finally was going to take place in our town.

Don’t get me wrong. I welcomed the restoration and will continue to praise public works being undertaken in Mompós. The town has remained in a willful abandon and state of decay for so long that it actually feels like the locals have no pride left in their home. Facades remain unpainted, children toss litter into the streets as their parents hurl black bin bags of household refuse into the river and the authorities turn a blind eye as colonial buildings are irreparably altered.

And how does this happen? Well, both sides are to blame. On the one hand it feels as if the government rushed headlong into an overdue and necessary obligation in Mompós without knowing how much work the project would ultimately entail. Now, they need to justify their vast expenses and the result is an intrusive metal structure in the Plaza de la Concepcion. And on the other hand, the feudalism still present in Mompós’ society – directly inherited from the colonial Spanish – perhaps led the local citizenry to believe that they couldn’t participate in any discussion on their town, and has permitted the works to continue to a point where they can no longer be reversed.

However there is a further and more profoundly disturbing element to the abandon of Mompós that I have noted and that is the lack of appreciation and understanding of their history by the younger generations in the town. People have been migrating to Mompós from nearby villages and regions since the Wars of Independence, either forcibly or by choice, and yet they are still left feeling as outsiders by Mompós’ high society. There is an intellectual snobbery that has left many with no knowledge of their past and that draws directly on the tortured and labyrinthine history of the region. The Ministry of Culture is right to intervene in Mompós, but they would have done well to have investigated this society first.

 

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