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Roberto Peckham

Colombia’s Financiera de Desarrollo Nacional (FDN, a national development bank) announced July 25 that its board of directors approved a 17-year term loan of up-to-COP$500 billion (US$173 million) for the “Mar 2” highway project linking Medellin to current and future Atlantic ports.

“The credit granted by the FDN represents 25% of the total financing of the project,” according to FDN. The Mar 2 project “also will have financing from the Chinese Development Bank, which will represent 37% of its total financing.”

FDN added that it’s “co-structuring” the loan package with Sumitomo Mitsui Bank and is leading a “search for additional resources in pesos and mobilization of sources for the project.”

“Mar 2” will connect with the under-construction “Mar 1” project west of Medellin, which includes a new, twin tunnel adjacent to the existing “West Tunnel” connecting Medellin to Santa Fe de Antioquia.

The Mar 2 project also links to the under-construction “Toyo” tunnel, which eventually will become the longest highway tunnel in Colombia.

Not only will “Mar 1” and “Mar 2” drastically improve freight transport between Medellin and Atlantic ports, but the projects also will improve connections to the “Transversal de las Américas” highway project along the Caribbean coast.

The “Mar 2” contract covers a total length of 277.7 kilometers, of which 17.7 kilometers involve new construction, 51.6 kilometers involve highway upgrades, 71.4 kilometers involve rehabilitation of existing roadway, and 137 kilometers involve highway operation and maintenance.

Thanks to the project, vehicles will cut about two hours of travel time between Medellin and Atlantic ports, with improvements in average speeds ranging from 60 to 80 kilometers per hour, up from 40 to 60 kilometers/hour currently, according to FDN.

Sponsors of the project include China Harbor Communication Construction (CHEC), with a 60% share, plus SP Ingenieros (20% share), Unica (15% share) and Termotecnica (5% share), according to FDN.

CHEC’s involvement represents “the first time that a Chinese company participates in a highway concession project in Colombia,” according to FDN.

CHEC is a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), the fourth-largest engineering and construction company in the world in terms of revenue, and the third largest transport infrastructure company in the world in terms of revenue and market capitalization, according to FDN.

Meanwhile, Medellin-based S.P. Ingenieros S.A.S., founded in 1983, “has been in charge of the construction, improvement and rehabilitation of more than 1,200 kilometers of roads and 14 kilometers of tunnels and bridges,” according to FDN.

Unica and Termotécnica – both subsidiaries of Bogota-based Ethuss Group -- are involved in numerous Colombian infrastructure projects, including the “Conexión Norte” highway in Antioquia as well as other projects including oil pipelines and airport construction.

On a related front, FDN also announced that it granted a bank guarantee to Termotécnica for up to COP$57 billion (US$17 million) “to support the equity contributions of both [Termotecnica] and Unica to the Mar 2 project,” according to FDN.


Cemex Latam Holdings -- a division of Mexico-based cement giant Cemex -- announced July 26 that second-quarter (2Q) 2018 operating earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for its Colombia operations dipped 4% year-on-year, to US$21.6 million.

Sales in 2Q 2018 in Colombia also dipped 5% year-on-year, to US$129 million, while operating cash flow dipped to US$22 million, from US$23 million in 2Q 2017, according to the company.

Colombian sales volumes of cement, concrete and aggregates all fell between 9% to 13% year-on-year, mainly because of weakness in Colombia’s construction sector, according to the company.

However, year-on-year deliveries of cement for highways and infrastructure sectors were actually improving during the latest quarter, the company added. Meanwhile, prices for gray cement in Colombia during 2Q 2018 rose 8% year-on-year (measured in Colombian pesos).

As for the current situation facing Cemex Colombia’s in-limbo cement plant at Maceo, Antioquia (see: "Cemex Colombia Loses Appeal on Price-Fixing; Former Execs Charged in Maceo Plant Scandal," Medellin Herald, June 22, 2018), Cemex revealed that it’s now trying to work-out a new lease-extension deal with Colombia’s Sociedad de Activos Especiales (SAE) for lands around the Maceo plant.

SAE supplanted the now-liquidated Direccion Nacional de Estupefacientes (DNE) agency, which originally had moved to seize lands around the plant because of alleged tax fraud by the former owner of the properties.

Since then, Cemex Colombia had enjoyed a temporary “lease contract” with DNE to continue construction and an eventual planned-but-not-yet-executed start-up for the plant. But that contract expired July 15, 2018.

“Despite the expiration of the validity of the lease agreement, Cemex Colombia estimates that the lease agreement has the benefit of a renewal prerogative that operates in accordance with the terms and conditions of the lease agreement and by the Ministry of Justice, and that we also have the right to continue using Maceo’s assets in accordance with the terms [of the original lease] until the end of the domain termination process,” according to Cemex Colombia.

“Although the SAE questions the validity of the documents signed by the DNE, the SAE and Cemex Colombia continue to work on a long-term scheme that allows the Maceo plant to be commissioned while the extinction-of-domain process [that is, the economic seizure of property assets due to the tax-fraud allegations] is resolved,” according to the company.


New York-based global high-tech consultancy Accenture on July 18 officially announced the opening of its “Advanced Technology Center” at Medellin’s “Ruta N” landing space, aiming to serve information technology (IT) customers throughout the Americas.

“The center’s professionals will work with clients in a wide range of industries, including finance, telecommunications, consumer goods, natural resources, mining and energy, using the latest technologies available in the market and smart tools to help customers seize opportunities, enter new markets, increase the speed of commercialization and outperform competitors,” according to the company.

The new Advanced Technology Center “includes software developers, consultants, technical specialists, data scientists and experts in artificial intelligence, automation of robotic processes and other innovative technologies,” Accenture added.

“Accenture plans to hire 500 people for the Center and for its other operations in Colombia this year, seeking not only experienced professionals, but also new talent recruited from local universities with which it has close ties.

“The company plans to build local teams with advanced skills in core and new technologies, and with expertise in the most advanced delivery models, such as Agile, continuous integration, DevOps and highly automated processes.”

“There is a great amount of technological talent in Medellin, and we are pleased to offer IT professionals the opportunity to develop their careers at Accenture. Those who join our team will have access to the latest technology and will receive training for personal and professional development opportunities, as well as expand their commercial, industrial, technical and leadership skills,” added  Marco Ribas, president of Accenture in Colombia.

Ruta N director Alejandro Franco added that Accenture already employs some 225 technical workers at Ruta N and that thanks to the new Advanced Technology Center, Accenture aims to generate some 1,000 more jobs here over the next two years.


Tango fanaticism in Medellin is perhaps second only to Buenos Aires -- and only partly because the world’s most famous tango singer Carlos Gardel tragically died in a plane accident here on June 24, 1935.

Since then, numerous tango clubs have sprung-up around Medellin, eventually prompting the city to organize the popular, annual Medellin Tango Festivals each June.

These events and venues draw thousands of national and international spectators and dozens of internationally famous tango stars (see "Medellin’s Annual Tango Festival Shines This Month," Medellin Herald, June 15, 2016, and "Tango in Medellin Continues to Thrive; Salon Malaga, Patio del Tango Local Favorites,” Medellin Herald, August 31, 2016).

This fame continues to grow in unexpected ways, as evidenced by a July 18, 2018 report in Portafolio, one of Colombia’s two major national business newspapers.

That report recounts the founding and growth of Medellin-based shoe-maker D’Raso, which specializes in shoes for tango, flamenco, jazz, salsa and ballet -- for customers in cities as far-flung as Paris, London, Madrid, Rome, New York, Montreal and Melbourne, where the company has specialist sales representatives.

According to the company, its hand-made shoes employ “exclusive designs evolved from quality and functionality,” tailor-made for each dancer.

“In our D’Raso shoes it is essential that all seams are resistant and that all its parts are reinforced, to ensure that the shoes between jumps and movements absorb shock and energy without breaking, of course, without losing the comfort and flexibility that our brand offers," according to the company.

“Our shoes make a difference by being specially designed to dance. Softness, flexibility, comfort and light weight allow you to more easily perform your pivot movements, turns, rotations, insteps, jumps among other movements.”

The family-owned company first ventured into footwear in 1962. But a succeeding generation --- led by current owner Robiro Ocampo (himself a tango dancer) – spotted an international market for specialist dancing shoes.

“The main characteristic of a D'Raso shoe is that it should be comfortable and should be adjusted to the foot as if it were a glove,” according to the company.

“When a shoe is not adjusted to the foot, this forces the dancer to make an extra effort to maintain posture while making turns or fast movements. We know how important it is for you to be comfortable when it comes to dancing, so our team is committed to do our best to meet your expectations, providing a product of excellent quality,” according to the company.


Medellin-based motorcycle assembler/wholesaler Auteco announced July 10 that it just opened a massive, 9,125-square-meters parts-distribution center in the neighboring suburb of Rionegro, Antioquia.

Auteco – born in Medellin in 1941 – currently builds and markets major motorcycle brands for all of Colombia, including Kawasaki, Bajaj, Kymco, KTM, and Stärker, the latter an electric-powered, zero-emissions motorcycle. The distribution center not only will handle parts distribution for those brands, but also for other major motorcycle brands including Victory.

The company also is a major supporter of  Medellin’s pioneering bilingual-education program for underprivileged children (see “Medellin’s Fundacion Marina Orth Seeks Volunteer English Teachers, Mentors, Donors,” February 20, 2017, Medellin Herald).

The new distribution center employs 218 workers and will handle 65,000 different parts and accessories, according to the company. The center also includes a novel “extended warehouse management” computerized logistics system, as well as an automated, vertical conveyor system, for which Auteco was a pioneer in all Colombia.

The center also includes 16 loading docks for trucks serving 1,400 retail destinations nation-wide. On average, the center each month will receive 35 shipping containers of various motorcycle parts, then handle 14,000 monthly requests for some 22,000 outgoing parts from the tens of thousands of individualized slots at the warehouse, according to the company.

 


Colombia’s science-investigation unit Colciencias announced July 16 that it’s teaming-up with government officials for a first-ever “BioExpedition” this month near Anorí, northeast Antioquia – an area forbidden to nature-lovers because of decades of FARC guerrilla violence.

According to the announcement (see: http://www.colciencias.gov.co/sites/default/files/upload/noticias/prototipo_ficha_municipal_anori_-_julio_12.pdf), the BioExpedition will involve 22 researchers from the Eafit, Antioquia and CES universities; three United Nations officials, five community leaders, five professionals from Colciencias and 10 former FARC guerrillas who will help guide the group.

The expedition opens an opportunity to “discover the natural richness of a territory that was unexplored by institutions and scientists as a consequence of the armed conflict,” according to Colciencias.

Anorí hosts 52,000 hectares of continuous tropical humid forest, with animal, plant and insect species that may even be unknown to science, according to the organization. The explorers aim to find and categorize amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles, orchids and butterflies, as well as produce a television documentary.

“The starting point of the BioExpedition will be the village of La Tirana, and a camp will be established to cover an area of investigation including the Anorí River, the Hiracales stream and the Nechí River,” according to Colciencias.

The Colombian Army will establish a unified command post to monitor daily the safety and health of the explorers, and “checkpoints will be placed in strategic locations,” according to the organization.

“This initiative [also] constitutes a key process for the design of strategies of [former guerrilla fighters] reincorporation and rural development around biodiversity,” according to Colciencias.


Medellin-based textile-fashion industry trade group Inexmoda reported July 26 that the just-concluded, 29th annual “Colombiamoda” show at Plaza Mayor generated sales deals worth US$169 million.

While that was about 6% short of what organizers had initially hoped for this year's edition, it's nevertheless a generally positive sign, given relatively weak economic conditions that have pinched regional clothing demand over the past couple of years, according to Inexmoda.

Some 500 entrepreneurs -- 84% Colombian nationals (with Antioquia the biggest single group) and 16% international – cut deals with some 11,000 buyers from 40 countries at this year's show. Ecuador (17% of international buyers), Mexico (15%) the United States (14%) and Peru (9%) were the biggest groups of foreign buyers, according to Inexmoda.

For the total 27,200 visitors to the show, highlights included demonstrations and fashion parades from 46 major fashion designers and 10 commercial brands, according to Inexmoda.

In this year’s special graphic-arts design section at the show, 25 artists “expressed the latest trends in finished product graphics,” via four special conferences and two workshops attended by 150 potential customers.

“Taking advantage of the digital transformation that is currently happening, for this edition of Colombiamoda, a ‘Business Agenda Platform’ was organized for the first time, featuring a web portal where 11,000 national and international buyers could make 409 appointments with the 500 exhibitors” at the show, according to Inexmoda.

A parallel “Business Conference of New Technologies” organized by Colombia’s Ministry of Technology, Information and Commerce and the ProColombia export agency brought together 30 exporters of information technology and digital content related to the fashion industry. These exporters connected with some 78 entrepreneurs in the industry, generating business expectations of US$1.1 million, according to Inexmoda.

Meanwhile, the Inexmoda "Knowledge Pavilion" – organized by Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana – attracted 12,138 live attendees 4,051 others via internet streaming for expert talks on the latest in fashion and consumer-demographic trends this year.

Besides generating hefty sales deals for clothing designers and manufacturers, the show also netted the city of Medellin an estimated US$9 million in hotel, restaurant and transportation revenues, according to Medellin’s Secretary of Industry and Tourism.

The 2018 edition of the show included the latest clothing designs from Exito's "Arkitect" brand at the opening, Isabel Henao designs at the closing, as well as renowned Andrés Pajón, Camilo Álvarez, Andrea Landa and SOY collections, “among the great figures on the catwalks of ‘La Semana de la Moda’ in Colombia,” according to the show organizer.

"Arkitect" fashion designer Custo Barcelona developed a line that "continues to democratize fashion, including clothing production 100% made-in-Colombia,” according to Inexmoda.

Other veteran designers on the fashion agenda this year included Diego Guarnizo and María Luisa Ortiz (presented by The Foundation for Women AVON); Andrés Pajón, Camilo Alvarez and Andrea Landa (presented by Chevrolet); and ALADO, celebrating 10 years of fashion-industry trajectory, according to the group.

Emerging designers featured at “El Cubo” included Geraldine Lustgarten, Kinira Swimwear, La Mar, Vana, Beat-a-bee and Afrikans, while other young designers such as Alexandra Bueno, Rocío Borré (with her trademark “Bahamamama” beach wear), María Alejandra Cajamarca (with her “Bahía María” swimwear) separately were featured at a “Nonstop Moda” event.

International clothing designer GEF returned to Colombiamoda this year, along with other major brands including Offcorss, Maaji, Ann Chery, Chamela, Trucco's Jeans, Carmen Steffens and People, according to Inexmoda.


The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) “Oro Legal” (legal gold) project management announced July 17 that toxic mercury dumping and processing has declined “significantly” among artisanal gold-mining operations in Bajo Cauca as well as Northeast Antioquia.

The agency noted that Colombia officially banned all further use of mercury in gold-mining activities as of July 15, 2018, following a five-year “transitional period” that started in 2013.

Socially responsible national and international gold miners in Colombia abolished mercury usage years ago. But some informal and criminal gold-mining operators here continue to dump toxic mercury, poisoning the environment, gold-processing workers and nearby populations.

Following the Colombian government’s mercury-phase-out transitional period, “some concerns arise regarding [the mercury-ban law’s] effectiveness,” according to USAID.

However, recent studies indicate a “significant reduction in the use of [mercury] in the Bajo Cauca Antioqueño and Northeast Antioquia mines, and there is also evidence of a decrease in [mercury vapor] emissions in the air in populated areas, as demonstrated by the comparative measurements made by USAID during the years 2016 and 2017,” according to the agency.

USAID’s “Legal Gold” study examined use of mercury in local gold mines, analyzed commercial movement of mercury, and measured mercury vapors in certain towns via a novel sampling protocol.

Samples were taken in 63 small mining production units located in Bajo Cauca and Northeast Antioquia, according to the agency.

“The mining units that received or receive accompaniment from the USAID Legal Gold program’s formalization process in the last two years have registered an approximate elimination of 7.8 tons of mercury in the department of Antioquia,” the agency reported.

“This is due to the technical assistance provided in the field and to the [artisanal miner] formalization contracts or subcontracts established between owners and small-scale miners, which obliges the latter to process their material in zero-mercury [gold-processing] plants.

“However, due to cultural and economic situations of the small miner, mercury use still persists. Comparative studies indicate that, on average, in the three types of [artisanal] mining [open-pit, alluvial and mini-dredge] in 2016, for each gram of gold produced, 14 grams of mercury were used, while in 2017 the figure dropped to 6.15 grams to process one gram of gold.,” according to USAID.

“In December 2016, in order to establish a control on the importation and commercialization of mercury and all products that contain it, the national government issued Decree 2133 of 2016, which establishes the process and allowed quota for the importation of mercury.

“Likewise, the government determined that the import quota of mercury to the country for the period from September 16, 2017 to September 15, 2020 was stipulated at two tons per year, and this should be used for activities other than mining.

“This reduction in the import quota of mercury hindered the acquisition of this metal in the different municipalities and multiplied its real price. Before the controls, a kilogram of mercury was quoted at COP$220,000 [US$76], but today this figure amounts to COP$750,000 [US$260 ],” the agency added.

As for mercury-vapor air-pollution studies, the agency took air samples in gold-trading and processing centers in six municipalities of Antioquia and three of Chocó: Segovia, Remedios, El Bagre, Caucasia, Zaragoza, Santafé de Antioquia, Quibdó, Condoto and Istmina.

Over time, the investigators discovered the emergence of new mercury-vapor hot-spots "in the perimeter areas of the town, away from shopping areas and gold purchases,” according to the agency.

“The conclusion of this monitoring is that [mercury vapor pollution] declined in urban areas, which indicates less impact on public health, but a greater dispersion was detected in peripheral areas, a situation that makes [mercury pollution] control difficult,” added Peter Doyle, USAID’s legal-gold program director.

While government controls on the importation and commercialization of mercury along with prohibition of the burning of gold-processing amalgams in residential, commercial institutional areas has helped cut such pollution, more remains to be done.

“The progress in reducing mercury has been impressive and little recognized, but it is going to reach a point where some miners do not have the culture, technology and funding sources for [mercury] elimination [and these miners] will need more support to achieve elimination,” Doyle concluded.


EPM general manager Jorge Londoño de la Cuesta revealed in a July 11 press conference that engineers are making more progress in recovering the US$5 billion, 2.4-gigawatt “Hidroituango” hydroelectric dam project in Antioquia in the wake of a temporary emergency caused by a geological fault and a diversion-tunnel failure last May.

Thanks to falling water levels in the Cauca river – the result of the typical Colombia summer-dry-season starting in July – waters behind the dam have dropped to 380 meters above sea level, down nearly 14 meters from a peak in June. This will help accelerate engineering work and recovery efforts.

“According to hydrological forecasts, it is estimated that the reservoir will stabilize between elevations 370 meters above sea level and 375 meters above sea level” during the summer season, according to EPM.

Meanwhile, some relatively minor landslides above the intake gates for the tunnels leading to the machine room (where the generator turbines eventually will be located) prompted EPM to begin building a metallic-roof structure that will protect workers, machinery and equipment at the site, Londoño explained.

In that area, workers soon will install closure gates for the tunnels -- hence enabling EPM to enter and repair whatever damage might be found in the machine room powerhouse, which has been used temporarily to evacuate Cauca river water because of the diversion-tunnel failure last May.

“Once we complete the civil works and install the gates of [machine-room entry tunnels] 1 and 2, in about a month, we will be able to to close the flow of water through the powerhouse,” according to EPM.

Meanwhile, last Friday (July 6), EPM radar monitors detected a rock fall in a road tunnel leading to the machine house, “which caused a slight decrease in the flow of water through the discharge tunnels,” although subsequent flows are now stable, according to the company.

“For the closure of the powerhouse, the company is working on a plan that includes closing a [Cauca River water] catchment gate and leaving a second gate open to allow [a required minimum] ecological flow to the Cauca River [downstream of the dam]. When the level of the reservoir [behind the dam] is very close to reaching the height of the engineered spillway at 401 meters above sea level, this second gate will be closed and the water flow through the machine house will be interrupted,” thus enabling EPM workers to enter and begin repairs -- hopefully before year-end 2018, Londoño added.

With both the diversion tunnel and the machine-house tunnels closed, that means that Cauca River waters will instead flow safely over the engineered spillway, avoiding water-flooding in tunnels.

Meanwhile, EPM continues works to raise the dam to 418 meters above sea level over the next few weeks, after which a specialist contractor -- Soletanche Bachy Cimas -- will begin injecting a special type of concrete (bentonite and cement) inside the dam, further reinforcing the works, he explained.

This reinforcement work is likely to be completed by year-end 2018 or the first few weeks of 2019, hence ensuring that the dam can withstand any floods that theoretically might happen once every 500 years, Londoño explained. Dam construction nevertheless will continue to 435 meters above sea level -- virtually eliminating any possible dam-overtopping by some theoretical, Biblical-style flood.

“For the definitive plugging of the right diversion tunnel and the auxiliary diversion system, EPM and the CCC Ituango construction consortium are advancing in technical and economic negotiations with [Houston-based] Halliburton, specialized in drilling for the oil industry," EPM added. "This company will finalize in the next weeks the engineering design to proceed with the contracting and execution phases,” according to EPM.

Final closure of that diversion tunnel is estimated to be completed around October, Londoño added.

As for EPM’s concurrent social work to help downstream populations in Puerto Valdivia -- temporarily moved to shelters far-above the river's edge during the emergency -- “of the 1,640 families that can receive financial support from EPM to temporarily rent a home and pay their monthly maintenance, 929 families already obtained this support and another 711 families are in the process of being processed. EPM has provided all the resources so that the evacuees have comprehensive attention in the current circumstances,” the company added.


Investment promotion agency Agencia de Cooperacion e Inversion de Medellin y el Area Metropolitana (ACI) announced July 10 that besides the under-construction, 220-room Hilton luxury hotel on Las Palmas and the recently completed, US$50 million Marriott hotel in El Poblado in Medellin, Antioquia soon will host another 34 new hotel projects in 2019.

Citing statistics from Colombian hotel trade association Cotelco, ACI explained that “Medellín went from having 176 hotels with 7,370 rooms in 2016, to 197 hotels and 8,628 rooms in 2018. By 2019, 34 new projects will be undertaken in the territory of Antioquia.”

“We are the department [Antioquia] with the most investment -- COP$674 billion [US$235 million] --in the construction of hotels in Colombia, directly generating more employment, as 56,640 workers in Medellín are employed by hotels,” added Johana Martínez, executive director of Cotelco’s Antioquia-Chocó chapter.

Among the new and under-construction hotels in Medellín: Decameron, Hilton, Travelers, Wyndham, Atton (US$30 million), Viaggio, La Quinta Inn, Marriott, Metro Hotel, City Express (US$42 million), Click Clack and Blue Doors, according to ACI.

Citing Colombian SITUR tourism-agency figures, ACI added that “the accelerated growth in hotels responds mainly to the demand for the sustained increase in the arrival of travelers to the city, with 735,570 visitors in 2017, of which 274,693 were foreigners, an increase of 4.8% over 2016.”

“Tourist growth and the great attraction for foreign investment offered by Medellín -- part of a city-region strategy -- are key elements for the September 24-25, 2018, realization of SAHIC [South American Hotel and Tourism Investment conference] here, one of the most important international events in the sector,” the agency added.

Besides business and convention tourism growth here, eco-tourism is also growing in Antioquia, according to Federico Guerra Hoyos, Secretary of Productivity and Competitiveness for the departmental government of Antioquia.

Antioquia “is one of the places with the greatest number of bird species in the world. All this natural beauty is very close to villages with hotel infrastructure, which, added to the host talent of the residents, make our territory an unforgettable place and a unique sensation,” Guerra added.


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About Medellin Herald

Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

Medellin Herald welcomes your editorial contributions, comments and story-idea suggestions. Send us a message using the "contact" section.

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