Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín

(2006, Colombia)

for showing how creativity, beauty, free expression and community can flourish amongst and overcome even deeply entrenched fear and violence.

About

The International Poetry Festival of Medellín is one of the largest and most prestigious poetry festivals in the world. It started in 1991, when Medellín was one of the most dangerous and violent cities in the world. Through poetry readings in the streets, people have reclaimed their city.

Contact Details

Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín
Carrera 50 A # 60-22
Barrio Prado Centro
Medellín
COLOMBIA

Fax: +574 4128822

Website

Biography

The Idea: Poetry Against Terror

The International Poetry Festival of Medellín started as a protest against the political violence and hatred prevailing in Colombia and especially in Medellín. In the early 1990s, Medellín was ruled by fear, political terror and fighting between criminal groups. Some 100 people could be murdered on a weekend. After 8 p.m., the city was usually dead due to a curfew imposed by the paramilitary, nowadays still active in the country. Initiator Fernando Rendón says: "It seems a difficult task to find flourishing and tranquil decades in our country in the last 150 years, but the decade of the nineties was particularly sombre and mournful. [...] The festival arose from a proposal to overthrow the wall of terror and fear imposed by the internal feuds of our country". It was an attempt "to create through poetry an atmosphere that without ignoring the spiral of death and the inertial strength of hate could put a little light in this sombre scene."

The idea was simple: By organising poetry readings in the streets, the Festival initiators helped people to re-establish a cultural life and reclaim their city. More and more listeners overcame their own fear and attended the poetry readings.

During the 10 days of the annual Festival in Medellín, there are public readings of poetry in the streets, in parks, residential areas, at the university and libraries, in theatres, cooperatives, schools and cultural centres, restaurants, malls, subway stations, factories, churches and even in prisons. Each year, some 70 poets from up to 55 countries participate actively in the festival. Up to 200,000 people come to listen to the 100 poetry readings.

The Festival has brought much positive international attention to Medellín, and it has invited many foreign poets: Until 2008, 843 poets from 143 countries have read their poems in more than 60 languages and dialects during 1106 public readings in 33 Colombian cities. In 2012, the numbers of poets who have read at the Festival had grown to 1200 from 160 countries.

History and Organisers

The International Poetry Festival of Medellín was organised for the first time in 1991 by thirteen people connected with the literature magazine Prometeo, which was founded in 1982 and has published 83 issues, 14 books of poetry and a CD ROM with poems and biographies of 216 poets from 113 countries.

The main inspiration came from the editors of Prometeo, the poets Fernando Rendón and Angela Garcia.

Rendón was born in 1951 in Medellín. He worked as poet, editor and journalist and was the founder of Prometeo. The organisation responsible for both Prometeo and the Festival is the Corporation of Art and Poetry Prometeo.

Further Activities and Outreach Programmes

In addition to the Festival and magazine Prometeo, the Corporation of Art and Poetry Prometeo has projects which include a TV documentary series entitled Tiempo de Poesia, an International Poetry School and the Gulliver project, poetry workshops for children in the poor neighbourhoods of Medellín.

From 2005-08, the Corporation of Art and Poetry Prometeo offered through the Poetry School

  • 57 free courses for 400 annual students, 53 conferences, workshops and talks;
  • carried out 16 annual workshops of poetry appreciation under its Gulliver project, reaching annually out for 400 children from 6-11 years from the poor districts of Medellín;
  • created cooperated actions of Latin American Poetry festivals, with Festivals from Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico and, soon, Costa Rica, San Salvador, Nicaragua and Argentina. The Corporation of Art and Poetry Prometeo has also helped to strengthen many of these, and to create the Itinerant Poetry Festival of Africa;
  • edited in Spanish and English the Colombian poetry web page of Poetry International of Rotterdam, in which 63 Colombian poets have already been included;
  • and an unique worldwide poetry anthology on the internet (which in 2013 had grown to 716 videos in 72 languages ​​and subtitles in Spanish, with poems by 692 poets from 157 countries and 28 Indian nations);
  • summoned the International Poetry Prize for books published in Spanish, the Latin American Poetry Prize of the City of Medellín, the National Prize of Stimulus to the Young Colombian Poetry and the Gaceta Award together with the Cuban magazine Gazeta.

Campaigning for Democracy

In 2003, the Festival brought together the first Global Conference on Poetry for Peace in Colombia, which passed a declaration about the political situation in Colombia.

The Corporation of Art and Poetry Prometeo has also campaigned for the democratisation of the country by disseminating a letter signed by 188 poets and writers, 282 artists and hundreds of other Colombian professionals, and 138 poets from 82 countries.

In 2013, they helped develop a Global Campaign for Peace in Colombia, in cooperation with the World Poetry Movement which had been set up in Medellín, Colombia, in July 2011 and which includes the participation of nearly 230 organizations and 1240 poets from 134 nations from all continents.

The Poetry Festival has also participated in the Committee of National Meeting of Artists and Intellectuals "to promote a process of unity of action between Colombian poets, artists and intellectuals in the struggle for freedom of creation, expression and mobilisation, and for the full democratisation of our authoritarian and intolerant country."

The Poetry Festival has been facing death threats, attacks on its office and its homepage and has to deal with a reduction of the Colombian state's economical support, nevertheless it has managed to keep its activities ongoing, supported by different donors, for instance the culture secretary of the mayor's office of Medellín, Dutch Hivos and DOEN and the Governments of Switzerland and Germany. However, in 2013 the Festival reported also lower financial contributions from Europe.

It received the Comendador Order by the Congress of Colombia in 2008. In March 2009, after two years tiresome court case, the Constitutional Court of Colombia declared the International Poetry Festival of Medellín as cultural heritage of the nation.

Quotes:

Fernando Rendón: "The Festival has the conviction that culture must and has to play a fundamental role in any process of development. It has the certainty that arts and poetry will contribute decisively to the up-surging of a new humanity, a new human society."

"The International Poetry Festival of Medellín has maintained and will maintain its efforts, as a way of opposition to barbarism and of looking into alternative routes of democratic and peaceful resistance to the extreme violence that strikes our country, seeking the strengthening and defence of the fundamental rights of the Colombian people: the right to live, the right to have liberty of expression, the right of meeting and the right to create."

The motto of the Festival is "Por una paz más activa que todas las guerras." ... "For a peace which is more active than all wars."
(Last update: February 2013)

Speeches

Acceptance Speech by Fernando Rendón

December 8th, 2006.

Speaker Birgitta Sellén,
Mr Jakob von Uexkull, founder of the Right Livelihood Award,
Members of the Parliament of Sweden,
Mr Daniel Ellsberg,
Ms Ruth Manorama,
Mr Chico Whitaker,
Ladies and gentlemen:

As director of the International Poetry Festival of Medellín, I must express that I gladly accept the honor of the Alternative Nobel Prize 2006 granted to our organization, also represented here by Gloria Chvatal and Gabriel Jaime Franco. I am grateful for this generous award to our postulator, mister Bengt Berg, and to the juries of this Prize, most necessary for the history of the latest humanist and visionary thought. We are also grateful to the tireless philanthropist, Jakob von Uexkull and to Ole von Uexkull of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation.

I come from a country bled by a war of forty years that has left half a million dead, devastated towns and barren fields. Our country does not know peace. After the victory of Simon Bolivar over Spain in the War of Independence, in 1819, there were nine main civil wars during the nineteenth century. As if it was not enough, a war against Ecuador in 1867. The War of the Thousand Days between 1899 and 1902 led to the separation, incited by the United States, of Panama from Colombia, and caused the death of 120,000 fellow countrymen, out of a small population of 3 million. A war with Peru in 1828. And other nine great civil wars during the twentieth century. A popular insurrection in 1948. The creation of armed liberal groups. The formation of paramilitary groups by a law of the Senate. A coup d'état in 1953. The bombing of Marquetalia and numerous places in our land that were the origin of the creation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 1964. The foundation of an archipelago of rebel groups. The genocide of 4000 leaders and members of the Unión Patriótica, which continues. The Colombian state accepted responsibility for this genocide before the Inter American Human Rights Court. The Supreme Court was bombed by the army. Four presidential candidates are assassinated in less than three years. Four million farmers and indigenous people are displaced and deprived of five million hectares. 150 journalists are assassinated since 1980; freedom of the press disappears. There are 12000 missing Colombians. Thousands of citizens are kidnapped. The Plan Colombia. The Patriot Plan. The fumigation of illegal crops, imposed by the United States, destroys our ecosystem and our biodiversity. A river of blood continues flowing under the bridges. Our people resist. It is the oldest war in our time, and one of the longest in human history. There is no definitive victor in this war but it worsens the material, cultural and ethical deterioration of Colombian society.

The Attorney General, Mario Iguarán, in an interview published the newspaper El Tiempo of October 19 of this year, declared in relation to the actual situation suffered by Colombia: "There is an unfortunate collusion of the paramilitary not only with the political class, but with the civil authorities, the armed forces and the judicial administrators, including the public prosecutors. It is as matter of financing political campaigns threatening voters and ransacking and sharing out the state as if it were booty. It is an offensive and unjustified handling of public resources and public employment. It is a criminal scene of such magnitude that even prosecutors and judges are tainted."

What are the causes of the present Colombian conflict? Since more than a century ago Colombia - because of its strategic geographical situation, its unlimited natural resources and its privileged biodiversity - is an objective of the United States that for decades has divided Colombians in a fratricidal war, combining the use of state and paramilitary violence with meager social programs. This process has only been possible due to a gigantic cover-up operation of national and international journalism. Then news is distorted to impose oblivion, since Colombia is the beachhead for the expansive military, political and economic dominance of Latin America by a power that completely and in many ways despises international law.

Colombia is a key in the process of breakdown of authoritarian power that feeds on war in this and other parts of the world. To reach a just peace to weaken that power, we require more than ever the solidarity of the community of nations of the world and especially of the European Union. Colombians cannot be condemned forever to suffer the tough wearing away of an arms buildup, while at the same time there is an increase of unemployment, hunger and displacement in the country. We, on the contrary, back the opening of talks on humanitarian interchange of prisoners between the Colombian state and the FARC, opening the way for a creative political dialogue, toward a negotiated political solution between the parts in the conflict, so that Colombia can have its first and definitive peace.

According to Amnesty International, more than 70% of political massacres and assassinations have been perpetrated by paramilitaries. Hundreds of peasants were murdered with power saws. But only a handful of paramilitaries will pay light penalties in a vacation center. In a wholly militarized and paramilitarized country, in which the human, social, economic and cultural rights of the people are violated on a daily basis and where a total impunity prevails, the war budget under the present government of Uribe Vélez has had an increase of 334%, from 2.5 trillion pesos to 8.6 trillion pesos for 2007.

Meanwhile, the Colombian government is arranging new taxes against culture and for war, embodied in the text of a new tax reform that will severely affect the art and cultural programs with the greatest national impact. As an example, there will be taxes of between 10% and 16% on poetry books and reviews, on writers' royalties and prizes granted to writers and poets, translations of poems and proofreading.

Authoritarianism attempts to strike culture because it is a power in itself, since it is formed by the values and symbols with which peoples identify in a given moment of human history. When the transforming values and emancipating cultural symbols are highlighted the unity of the peoples occurs, and their intellectual activity, their perceptions, their creations, their identity itself and their historical vocation are affirmed.

We must strengthen the collective historical memory of our peoples, developing a general cultural resistance, to bring the vision of a humanist horizon to fruition, in a united world of justice, beauty and solidarity. To arrive there it is necessary to strengthen the dialogue between poets, artists, intellectuals and scientists of the world and vigorously contribute to the intertwining of their projects, with the purpose of unchaining a powerful global movement of culture and human spirit, to face the future with a creative imagination.

However, not the political declarations but the transforming action of the peoples will transform this thorny human history. We must poeticize and accompany these actions and changes, which will be complex and painful. Creative languages and contents renew our sense and social perception, our thought and our creative dream of human history. Great historical transformations, as well as art and poetry, are destined to make the world younger.

The storm looks for the supreme hour. Let a powerful movement break all limits. Let each instant be a great wave of dreams that wells up to increase thirst, to oppose adverse reality and bring down death.

In the last decade of the twentieth century, only in the city of Medellín there were 45,000 violent deaths, more victims than in all Western Europe during the same period. The International Poetry Festival of Medellín was founded in 1991 amid a situation of terror that strangled all citizens. Bombs and car bombs exploded all over the city in the course of a war of the Medellín cartel against the Colombian state, when Medellín was marked as the world capital of drug trafficking. We then opposed poetry to extreme violence; we designed a dream machine to confront the perverse machinery of nightmare. For one can ask as the maquis poet René Char: "What is reality without the displacing energy of poetry?" Since then 747 poets from 132 countries of all continents have read their poems to hundreds of thousands of persons in Medellín and 34 other Colombian cities.

The International Poetry Festival of Medellín, through an energetic and massive poetic action, firmly exercises the rights of freedom of conscience, assembly and free speech, the right and the duty to contradict the reality of an authoritarian state, as a demand for the deepening of political and cultural democracy in Colombia, for a negotiated solution of the war and for the building of a country for life. 

The New Zealander poet Michel Harlow said in Medellín in 2006: "When you have difficult governments, they try to eliminate your identity. And I believe that it is a good sign in Colombia that so many young people are interested in finding out who they really are". And he added: "People have an insatiable desire to belong to themselves again. And because they hunger so, they understand that art and poetry are the way to be oneself, to belong to oneself."

The German poet and philosopher Hans Magnus Enzensberger wrote: "This is all an enigma: all ask themselves how it is possible: a metropolis of violence burns with desire to listen to poetry... Maybe one must travel to the other end of the Earth to be free of that atmosphere of insensibility that prevails in our cultural scene, to be convinced that a few verses - who would have thought of it! - can still inspire a whole city, just as in Homeric times."

The mission of the International Poetry Festival is to contribute to the development of a language and a poetic conscience of nature, society and history, in millions of persons in the world.

The French poet Yves Bonnefoy said in interview for our review Prometeo: "If new festivals are created, it would be much better that it be in the circumstances of Medellín, that is to say, in the frontiers of evil, for it is in the line of battle against frauds and injustice that you have the greatest need for poetry."

The Alternative Nobel Prize 2006 granted to the International Poetry Festival of Medellín is a recognition of the historic role of poetry, in opposition to the culture of death that has its origin in the authoritarian spheres of transnational power. The poem is an exaltation of a vision of the future made for all. It sings loudly the transformation of the humanspirit and the struggle of peoples, for the certainty of an age without oppression.

We shall come back on the grass to intone the hymn of dawn. The unchained stone will again be light. In the great new times, ours will be the pulse of spring and of the farthest star. This and all the worlds will belong to all. The hour of a new life will shine: the triumph of life over death.

  Pictures
 Videos

Inauguración del 23 Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín

Inauguración del 22 Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín

Interviews

Interview with Fernando Rendón

(September 22, 2006)

Q: How did you conceive the idea of the Poetry Festival?

A: In circumstances of terror during the war between drug-traffickers and the Colombian state which ruled over Medellín in 1991. We clearly had two options: to flee or to face the situation. I proposed to some of my fellow poets the foundation of the International Poetry Festival of Medellín at the end of 1990. In this way we opposed beauty to terror, and we confronted poetry and death.


Q: What has made it such a success?

A: Poetry has a growing prestige in the world because it embodies the fundamental interests of people, their dignity, their aspirations to freedom, social justice and a harmonious peace. In an authoritarian and intolerant country such as Colombia, where free thought is penalized and we have no real freedom of expression or of assembly, the poets of the world have been the bearers of the poetic traditions, voices and thoughts of almost all the geographical regions of the earth. The spirit of dialogue of poetry has nurtured the spiritual resistance of the Colombian people against the adversity of an unjust state, and has opened new horizons for our menaced youth.


Q: There are different armed groups in Colombia who have often sabotaged attempts to build peace. Why have they never attacked the Festival?

A: The International Poetry Festival of Medellín has been respected by almost all the armed groups in the country. However, in 2003 paramilitary groups threatened the Prometeo group that annually summons and organises the Festival. We had notice of this threat through a telephone call from Hollman Lozano, an employee in the Peace Advisory Office of the Presidency, during the first World Summit for Peace in Colombia, organised by our work group. The paramilitary commander "Doble cero" ("Double Zero") said to Lozano literally: "We're going to fill their bodies with lead".


Q: Has the Festival been threatened in other ways, too?

A: The Festival has been threatened and put under pressure in many ways, but especially it has suffered economic repression by the State and former mayors of the city of Medellín, the present one, Sergio Fajardo, being the sole exception. The Colombian media have deliberately ignored the Festival on many occasions. Some of the newspapers, such as "El Mundo" of Medellín, have even demanded that the Mayor's Office of Medellín stop its financial assistance, because of our unbreakable political independence.

 
Q: Does Medellín become more peaceful during the Festival?

A: During decades, the Colombian people have proven their unswerving inclination toward life and peace with social justice. Naturally, the atmosphere of the city is deeply transformed during the months previous and after the Festival. However, the condition of social, cultural and spiritual decomposition caused by the actual corrupt Colombian political system and lack of a larger budget to project in a much wider scale our poetic proposal to the world have prevented us from developing our objectives even further.


Q: What makes poetry so attractive to so many people in Colombia?

A: Our people permanently desire peace, beauty, truth and justice, which constitute the natural yearning of all peoples on earth. Because of this, poetry, which legitimately represents this yearning, is appreciated in Medellín as life itself.

Contact

Right Livelihood Award Foundation

Head office:
Stockholmsvägen 23
122 62 Enskede
Sweden

Phone: +46 (0)8 70 20 340
Fax: +46 (0)8 70 20 338

Geneva office:
Maison de la Paix
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1202 Geneva
Switzerland

Phone: +41 (0)22 555 09 55

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