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Published in general news Written by March 26 2020 0

The Mayor of Medellin and utilities giant EPM jointly announced March 25 the creation of “Fondo Abrazando con Amor” charity, whereby individuals and companies can donate funds to help Coronavirus victims within EPM’s area of operations.

Donations can be made to the fund’s Bancolombia “cuenta corriente,” account number 598-095455-40, according to EPM. The web page for "Fondo Abrazando con Amor" is available here: https://www.grupo-epm.com/site/fundacionepm/abrazando-con-amor.

“The EPM Foundation will be in charge of managing donations, benefitting groups of people or entities affected by the emergency as a result of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in the areas of influence of our business group,” according to EPM.

“People and institutions can make their donations or contributions through a QR code, transfer by PSE and other virtual channels authorized by the bank, in order to facilitate community support.

“The accumulated collection and execution of all donations and contributions received by the fund will be published on our website and on social networks of the EPM Foundation, as well as those of EPM and the Mayor's Office of Medellín,” the company added.

As of March 26, Colombia's Ministry of Health reported a nationwide total of 491 cases of Coronavirus, led by Bogota (187), Cali/Valle de Cauca (73) and Medellin (59).

So far, six Colombians have died from Coronavirus complications -- three in Bogota, one in Santa Marta, one in Cali and one in Cartagena, according to the Ministry. Another eight persons are reported to have recovered from the disease.

Published in general news Written by March 26 2020 0

Medellin-born multinational bottled-beverages manufacturing giant Postobon announced March 25 that it’s investing COP$9 billion (US$2.2 million) in the “#InnspiraMED” joint project developing special respirators for Coronavirus victims.

A day later (March 26), Medellin-based international table-salt ("Refisal") manufacturer/marketer Brinsa announced that it's adding COP$1 billion (US$251,000) to the project, with the result that "#InnspiraMED" starts with a COP$10 billion (US$2.5 million) funding source to push-along the project.

Later, the "#InnspiraMED" project revelead that Medellin-based banking giant Bancolombia also chipped-in another COP$321 million (US$80,000).

The #InnspiraMED project includes several leading Antioquian companies and research partners in multiple fields.

“With interdisciplinary teams, three prototypes are being developed that can be produced with materials and supplies available or easily available,” according to Medellin-based tech incubator Ruta N.

“#InnspiraMED is an initiative in which more than 50 actors from the science, technology and innovation ecosystem participate today, articulating Ruta N and [Colombia’s national industrial-commercial trade association] ANDI,” according to the organization.

“This investment is guided by one criterion: saving lives,” added Miguel Fernando Escobar, president of Postobón.

Among the Medellin-metro-based entities involved in the “#InnspiraMED" initiative: University of Antioquia-GIBIC; EIA University; Ruta N; ANDI; government of Antioquia; Hospital San Vicente Fundación; TECHFIT Digital Surgery; Sampedro Medical Industries; C2R Engineering SAS; HyS Automation and Control; Invertronic; 10X Thinking; Sofasa Renault; Auteco; Haceb; Los Pinos Metal Industries; CES University; EMCO SA; Las Americas Clinic; Santafé Foundation; Medellin Molds; Reflect; Meridiano SAS; Brinsa; and Ion Heat.

Published in general news Written by March 25 2020 0

Colombia President Ivan Duque announced March 25 that certain measures designed to contain the spread of Coronovirus will continue past the presumptive expiration of the national quarantine on April 13.

The announcement came on the heels of a March 25 bulletin from the Ministry of Health indicating that confirmed Coronavirus cases rose to 470 nationally, led by Bogota (170), Cali/Valle del Cauca (71) and Medellin/Antioquia (59). So far, eight persons have recovered from the disease.

According to the Ministry, four persons have died to date from complications related to Coronavirus, including a taxi driver in Cartagena who had mingled with infected Italian tourists; a 70-year-old woman in Cali exposed to the virus by a daughter who returned from a trip to Cuba; an 88-year-old man in Santa Marta who frequently interacted with tourists; and a 76-year-old man in Bogotá.

Meanwhile, between now and April 13, “we will evaluate the behavior of the pandemic curve and then make decisions on the measures and restrictions adopted,” President Duque said.

Government and private-sector management of the Coronavirus pandemic “does not end with quarantine,” he added.

“In that I want to be clear, so that we have managed expectations. It's not that on April 13 we will all be able to go outside, go to a concert, then go to a bar to celebrate. No. The controls will continue.

“On April 20, we will define whether children and young people can return to universities and schools, or whether they should remain in virtual [online] classes.”

As for social-distancing measures, Duque stated that “we will have to deepen them and strengthen hygiene measures.” Special isolation of people over 70 years of age, “which is the sector most vulnerable to attacks by this virus,” will continue until at least May 30.

Worker Protections

Meanwhile, on another front, President Duque stated that “the national government is not planning to support or promote mass layoffs, but rather protect the employment and well-being of workers.”

For the short term, “the government is working on a decree that would allow partial withdrawal of social-security savings, equivalent to a minimum wage, to help workers who face difficulties in specific cases,” he said.

However, some new, massive, long-term government unemployment insurance program – similar to systems in North America, Europe and Japan -- likely isn’t in the cards, he added.

“We know that we do not have the deep pockets that other economies have, but here we have all the will, all the creativity and all the patriotism so that, together, we will build a solution that allows us to go through this storm with the least possible social trauma,” he said.

“For example, for employees who will eventually be on [mandatory] vacation or even some who have had unpaid leave, what we expect today is to have a decree where a partial withdrawal of severance pay can be made, equivalent to the last salary, to be able to also overcome this difficulty,” he said.

New, US $1.47 Billion Emergency Fund Under ‘Decree 444’

On another front, Duque explained how a new, COP$6 trillion (US$1.47 billion) “Emergency Mitigation Fund” (FOME in Spanish initials)  via “Decree 444” will ensure continuing transfers from the national treasury to Colombia’s 32 departmental governments.

The FOME “does not authorize money for banks, but instead will meet the needs of 20 million Colombians in this emergency,” Duque stated.

The emergency funds will come from current Colombian government holdings in U.S. Treasury Bonds, which are already held in various banks.

“That money is [already] in banks and precisely what we want is that those resources, with projected [cash] flows to 2040, we can use for this social contingency,” Duque said.

Tapping these bonds rather than other government holdings is “precisely so as not to affect the strategic projects that are being carried out, precisely so that important projects that we have with territorial entities do not stop: the Metro de Bogotá, the ‘Regiotram,’ the Avenida 80 streetcar in Medellín; [highway] projects like Mar 1 and Mar 2 [in Antioquia], projects that are transcendental in the country, are not affected and can continue their course,” he added.

Meanwhile, departmental governments “have the right to tap savings from the Fonpet” -- that is, the National Pension Fund of the Territorial Entities, he added.

The National Federation of Departmental Governments and most departmental governors in Colombia “understood our idea, which is not to take away any resources from territorial entities,” Duque said.

Beyond tapping U.S. Treasury Bonds, Decree 444 also includes “additional measures such as the flexibility of royalty resources, budgets and the use of other collections to meet contingencies and public health measures in each of the regions,” Colombia’s Treasury Ministry added.

“The FOME will, as a loan, employ resources that have been saved in the Savings and Stabilization Fund (FAE) for times like this, as well as the resources of the National Pension Fund of Territorial Entities (FONPET) that will not be required until 2040," according to Treasury.

“Resources will be prioritized to meet the needs of the health sector, through the existing institutional framework, providing them with additional resources of more than COP$6 trillion (US$1.47 billion).

“One of the first expenses [from the fund] will be for buying additional tests to guarantee that the population has access to diagnostic tests, and also an important flow of resources so that our hospitals can increase their installed capacity, especially in intensive and intermediate-care units. Similarly, resources will be used to give additional help to doctors.

“Resources from the General System of Royalties -- to which the territorial entities are entitled at the time that monies are required -- are not committed [permanently]. These resources will be repaid, effective 2023.

“In the case of FONPET, these resources will be repaid in the next 10 years, which guarantees that the territorial entities can continue to comply with the payment of their pension obligations,” the Treasury Ministry concluded.

Published in general news Written by March 25 2020 0

While nearly all Colombia residents (including all of metro Medellin and Antioquia) remain under a national quarantine until April 13, governments, companies, hospitals and health researchers meanwhile are taking more steps to try to contain and (eventually) conquer Coronavirus threats.

Among recent examples:

“Pico y cedula” restrictions on grocery shopping: While the national quarantine allows many people to venture from their homes for food, medicines, hospital visits, cash withdrawals or other emergencies, several municipalities around Medellin (including Envigado, the biggest adjacent suburb) have adopted “pico y cedula” restrictions that limit grocery trips to certain days that correspond to the last digit of each individual cedula (the Colombian national proof-of-residency or citizenship card).

Government cash grants helping the poor. Colombia President Ivan Duque on March 24 announced yet another temporary cash subsidy program (averaging COP$160,000 or around US$50) for Colombia’s poorest populations, many of which are temporarily out-of-work because of the national quarantine.

This subsidy is in addition to existing subsidies for the 2.6 million families in the “Families in Action” welfare program, plus the “Youth in Action” and “Elderly” subsidy programs which also will include another temporary bonus of about COP$334,000 (US$100), in addition to regular monthly subsidies.

VAT refunds to the poor: On a related front, President Duque reiterated that “a momentous step will be taken with the start of the VAT [19% value-added tax] refund, a program that will reach close to 1 million families.”

Utility connections regardless of recent non-payment: Medellin-based utility giant EPM announced that thousands of residences that had experienced service cutoffs for non-payment of bills in recent weeks are now getting all utility services restored during the Coronavirus crisis.

Cheaper respirators: Medellin-based universities and research institutes including Universidad EIA, the “Grupo de Investigación en Bioinstrumentación e Ingeniería Clínica” (GIBIC at Universidad de Antioquia) and Industrias Médicas Sampedro are cooperating on a joint research initiative organized by #InnspiraMED to develop a relatively low-cost respirator specifically for patients suffering from Coronavirus.

Three prototypes under development await human trials and government approvals before mass production could begin – with many months more before commercialization, the developers cautioned.

Medellin-born ANDI – the national industrial/commercial trade association – added that “more than 100 volunteers from 20 academic institutions, the business sector and the public came together under the coordination of ANDI and [Medellin-based tech incubator] Ruta N to work with #InnspiraMED on three prototypes that can be rapidly scaled.

“The initial objective is to produce 2,000 respirators at a cost of US$1,000 each, for which donations of US$2 million are required,” according to ANDI. (For more info, see: http://www.andi.com.co/Uploads/INSPIRAMED.pdf).

More protective masks: The government of Antioquia, the city of Medellin and more than 30 local Antioquia companies announced March 24 a new initiative to produce more than 20 million masks designed to protect against Coronavirus, of which 1 million masks would be donated to health workers and vulnerable populations.

Protective suits for health workers: Medellin-based insurance giant Sura announced that it’s working with local companies (including Compañia de Empaques and clothing maker Crystal) on a prototype protective suit for health workers at risk of exposure to Coronavirus.

Following press reports incorrectly suggesting that this suit is close to commercial production, Seguros SURA issued this statement: “Seguros Sura Colombia clarifies that the suit for the protection of health personnel attending the Covid-19 situation is in the prototype stage and is not ready for mass production.”

More dedicated hospital beds: Medellin-based business promotion group Proantioquia announced March 24 that charitable foundations affiliated with Medellin-based corporate giants Grupo Argos, Grupo Sura, Grupo Nutresa, Corbeta, and Fundación Fraternidad Medellín just donated COP$15.8 billion (US$3.8 million) to boost Medellin’s intensive care unit (ICU) capacity by 25% -- starting with the Fundacion San Vicente hospitals in Medellin and Rionegro, Antioquia.

On a parallel front, the city of Medellin just donated COP$3 billion (US$ 733,000) to IPS Hospital Universidad (operated by University of Antioquia) to double the number of ICU beds -- for a new total of 88. More such ICU expansions at more hospitals will be required in future, cautioned Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero.

Paid vacations: Employees at major companies including Home Center, Coltejer, Fabricato, Cementos Argos and thousands of construction workers at EPM's giant "Hidroituango" hydroelectric plant in Antioquia have been given paid leave during the national quarantine, helping to reduce the threat of infections.

Regional bus terminals shuttered: Medellin just shut down its two major regional bus terminals (Terminal Norte and Terminal Sur) following the "puente" (three-day holiday) last weekend. The terminals had been allowed to operate until early March 24, enabling most travelers to return home just prior to the national quarantine that started on March 24.  However, Medellin's public "Metro" rail, bus, aerial-tram and road-tram systems remain open for the metro area.

Published in general news Written by March 21 2020 0

Colombia President Ivan Duque announced late last night (March 20) that the coronavirus quarantine on nearly all people and vehicles (already effective in Medellin and Antioquia) will be extended nationally through the first minute of April 13.

“Essential activities, such as access to health services, purchase of food and medicine, access to banking and postal services, provision of essential public services and security services, among others, will be guaranteed” during the quarantine, President Duque added in a tweet shortly after midnight today (March 21).

Similarly, Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero clarified that Medellin residents can continue to venture out for food and medicines, but only one person per family is allowed in order to reduce potential contamination at stores and pharmacies.

Antioquia Governor Anibal Gaviria added in a separate tweet that his government has organized an emergency meeting with mayors in Antioquia this morning (March 21) to answer questions and clarify the extent of restrictions.

“In development of the state of emergency, we will apply a mandatory preventive isolation for all Colombians, from next Tuesday, March 24 at 11:59 p.m., until Monday, April 13, at 00:00 hours,” President Duque stated in a televised press conference last night.

“This decision does not suspend or in any way alter the preventive isolation drills that are in progress” in Medellin, Antioquia and Bogota, he added.

The quarantine will be accompanied by flexibilities “guaranteeing the food supply, access to medicines, the adequate provision of essential public services, as well as of those indispensable for the functioning of society,” he said.

“Any group that feels that the implementation of this [quarantine] measure requires additional action to cover their special needs, we want them to know that we will have open lines to listen to them and so that no vulnerable Colombian is left out of the support network of the state and the society,” he added.

As of March 24, the Colombian Health Ministry recorded 378 confirmed cases of Coronavirus nationally, led by Bogota (120 cases). Medellin and Antioquia have reported 52 cases so far, according to the Ministry.

So far, six people have recovered from Coronavirus, while three have died. The three reported deaths  to date include a taxi driver in Cartagena who had transported a group of infected Italian tourists earlier this month, then a 70-year-old woman in Cali who was exposed to the virus by her daughter who had recently returned from a trip to Cuba, and finally an 88-year-old man in Santa Marta.

Published in general news Written by March 20 2020 0

Antioquia Governor Anibal Gaviria and Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero jointly announced March 19 a drastic quarantine for nearly all people, vehicles, restaurants, meetings, public spaces and many other activities starting at 7 pm Friday, March 20 (this evening), until 3 am Tuesday, March 24.

The quarantine aims to slash potential exposures to the deadly Coronavirus, the governor and mayor announced in a joint press conference. A copy of the order (in Spanish) is available here: https://www.antioquia.gov.co/images/PDF2/Decretos/2020/03-marzo/decreto-2020070001025-cuarentena-por-la-vida.pdf.  A few clarifications and additions were issued a few hours later, see: https://antioquia.gov.co/images/PDF2/Decretos/2020/03-marzo/2020070001026-modificacion.pdf .

In all, 125 municipalities in Antioquia department signed the quarantine order, endorsed by most of the business and academic community, according to the governor and the mayor.

Exceptions to the quarantine include police, fire and emergency services; public agency officials; civil defense; the Red Cross and relief agencies; officials of the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare; the Attorney General’s Office, and other agencies that fulfill police functions, according to the order.

“In addition, vehicles and surveillance, health and emergency medical personnel, vehicles or motorcycles intended for patient care and distribution of medicines, citizens requiring health care and their companions or caregivers, media and communication personnel will be exempt [along with] airport services carrying passengers that have previously scheduled flights, among others,” according to the order.

“This provision also contemplates the prohibition of the consumption of intoxicating drinks in open spaces and commercial establishments from 6 pm Thursday, March 19, until 6 am Saturday, May 30, 2020,” according to the order.

Among other exceptions to the quarantine:

Vehicles, drivers and workers involved in transport and production of goods including food and medicines; health-care workers; ambulances; distributors of fuels; telecom and technical support workers; highway construction workers; public transit vehicles and drivers; pharmacies; supermarkets; gasoline stations; home-delivery service providers; farming and mining workers; veterinarians; rural residents that must travel for food and supplies; and mascot owners walking their dogs close to their residences.

The only restaurants allowed to operate during the quarantine are those inside hotels – and only for registered hotel guests, according to the order.

People 70 Years and Older: Quarantine Until May 30

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health announced March 19 that starting today (March 20) at 7 am until midnight May 30, 2020, most people 70 years and older are required to stay at home except for venturing out to buy food, medicines, get money, get health services or "in cases of force majeure or fortuitous event."

Other exceptions include those who still work at jobs, especially in health-care services, the Ministry added.

Published in general news Written by March 19 2020 0

Medellin and Colombia today face the same issues with Coronavirus as the entire planet -- and coping steps being taken here are virtually identical to every other nation and major city.

As of March 16, all foreigners have been banned from travelling to Colombia -- until further notice.

What’s more, starting this weekend (the last minute of March 22, at 11:59 pm), even Colombian nationals and residents currently outside of Colombia also will be prohibited from returning home for the next 30 days, as Colombian President Ivan Duque announced in a March 19 press conference.

While many Colombian citizens and residents have already returned to Colombia since the health crisis emerged in recent weeks, too many have failed to comply with quarantine and isolation requirements -- presenting great risk to all other Colombians, Duque added.  Hence the relatively drastic measure to ban even returnees for the next 30 days, he explained.

As of March 19, the Ministry of Health reported 128 confirmed cases of Coronavirus nationally, with Bogota accounting for most (53 cases), while metro Medellin including Antioquia department had just 11 cases.

According to the Ministry of Transport, nine foreign nationals so far have been deported shortly after arrival here for failure to comply with quarantine requirements.

New control measures include “random visiting brigades to verify that [mandatory quarantine] isolation is being met,” according to the Ministry.

“In addition, hotels throughout the country where foreigners are confined in preventive isolation have been reporting to Migración Colombia if [foreign visitors] have complied with the recommendation and if not, they will be deported.”

International arriving passengers “must make a declaration in writing of the places visited during the last 14 days and facilitate the taking of [body] temperature,” the Ministry added.

Public Utilities Operating Normally

According to Medellín-based public utilities giant EPM, all normal electric, water, gas, trash and sewer services are continuing normally.

In addition, construction continues on the 2.4-gigawatt “Hidroituango” hydroelectric plant in Antioquia, due for initial start-up at end-2021.

Customers can continue using Internet platforms for routine monthly payments and service calls for repairs and installations, according to EPM.

“In compliance with presidential guidelines -- and responsible individual actions such as frequent washing of hands with soap and water to avoid the spread of the coronavirus -- EPM takes action to provide access and connection to drinking water [even] for users who are currently suspended for non-payment,” according to the company.

“EPM invites you to use the virtual channels it offers free of charge to pay invoices, carry out procedures and report damages. On the internet: www.epm.com.co, Factura Web; Ema, virtual advisor and mobile app "EPM Estamos Aqui" for Android and IOS operating systems. Additionally, the Customer Service Line 444-4115 works 24 hours a day,” the company added.

Many EPM office workers are now telecommuting in order to reduce the chances of contact with potentially infected persons, the company added.

Industrial, Wholesale, Retail, Transport Associations Keep Economy Going

Meanwhile, Colombia’s major industrial, retail, transport and consumer trade associations are working with national, local and departmental government officials to ensure continuing supplies and services for crucial items including food, drugs and fuels.

According to a joint statement by the trade groups, the cooperative measures aim to ensure that “safe logistics mechanisms are allowed, so that companies and producers [can ensure that products] arrive efficiently at points of sale, including department stores, pharmacies, neighborhood stores, wholesale outlets and restaurants.

“We request the municipal authorities that even in scenarios of limited mobility or curfews, the transit of people in charge of marketing [and transporting] goods is facilitated, as well as cargo vehicles with food, fuel, sanitation, health, medicines and other basic necessities that allow the supply of the population and raw materials for production,” the trade groups added.

Banking Measures

Meanwhile, Colombia’s biggest bank – Medellin-based Bancolombia – announced that it likewise is taking measures to reduce risks while also enabling relatively easy banking via its Internet portals.

“Our clients can rely upon apps including ‘Personas,’ ‘Sucursal Virtual Personas,’ ‘Sucursal Virtual Empresas,’ ‘Sucursal Virtual Pymes,’ ‘App Pymes,’ ‘Bancolombia a la Mano’ and ‘Nequi’ to carry out various transactions,” according to Bancolombia.

“We encourage the use of contactless payment methods such as the ‘sticker,’ debit/credit cards, and ‘QR’ payment, which enables greater security by having full control of your cards or cell phone to make payments in commercial establishments and mass transportation systems.

“For the network of offices or places where physical contact is essential, we have reinforced cleaning cycles in branches, ATMs and kiosks, following all the recommendations on disinfection procedures provided by the health authorities.

“We have implemented a preventive protocol to protect clients, users and employees, with measures such as: telecommuting, travel restrictions and [avoidance of] participation and development of mass events,” the company added.

Published in general news Written by January 23 2020 0

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) “Oro Legal” (Legal Gold) project in Antioquia announced January 23 that between the September 2016 launch of the project and October 2019, dozens of formerly artisanal miners in the project produced 2.9 tons of gold worth more than US$112 million.

“The results of gold sales and the payment of income taxes, social security and royalties to the state by small and medium-sized ‘mining production units (‘UPM’ in Spanish initials) of Antioquia and Chocó -- accompanied by the Legal Gold Program of USAID -- are demonstrating that formalization is a good business for both small and medium-sized miners and for the country,” according to USAID.

These formerly illegal miners paid US$8 million (COP$26 billion) in taxes to the state, helping Antioquia fund numerous programs that benefit the citizenry.

“Additionally, with the transition to legality, the use of 40.4 tons of mercury was avoided in the activities of [purifying] the mineral -- and a dynamic of modernization of exploitation processes was generated through compliance with high technical, environmental and business standards,” according to USAID.

“Another benefit offered by formalization processes is the possibility of exporting gold. This is the case of the UPM Tenerife, Río Rayo, Puerto Escondido and La Troja [miners], which are one step away from becoming the first of the Lower Cauca Antioqueño producers to export gold to Switzerland with the ‘Responsible Gold’ seal.

“This [certification] will allow them to receive a better price for the gold produced and an additional prize of US$ 1,000 per kilo, which they can invest in environmental and social projects,” USAID added.

Published in general news Written by December 19 2019 0

Medellin-based power giant EPM announced December18 that it successfully closed the second of two massive flood-prevention doors in the “auxiliary diversion tunnel” (“GAD” in Spanish initials) at the US$5 billion, 2.4-gigawatt “Hidroituango” hydropower project.

The “GAD” had collapsed in April 2018, which forced EPM to divert Cauca River water through the dam’s machine room, causing hundreds of millions of dollars of losses from delays in power sales and related, temporary infrastructure damage -- for which the company is starting to receive substantial insurance compensation.

“EPM successfully completed the final maneuver of the closing of the [300-tons] second gate of the Auxiliary Diversion Gallery, GAD, after more than nine months of preparation and having closed the first gate on May 29,” according to the company.

“With the two gates properly closed, this pre-plugging of the GAD reduces the risks for the communities downstream of the dam works and enables the continuation of the recovery process of the Hidroituango hydroelectric project,” according to EPM.

The latest gate closure “allows the entry of personnel, machinery and other necessary resources,” while also enabling a planned pouring of a permanent concrete plug in the GAD during first-half 2020, according to the company.

Meanwhile, EPM continues to make progress toward plugging of the nearby “right diversion tunnel,” which also was damaged along a 400-meters-long stretch. This work includes construction of a new bypass channel due for completion by mid-2020, according to EPM.

“Once the GAD and the right diversion tunnel are technically plugged in mid-2020, any risk [of leakage or collapse]  will be reduced,” hence enabling Colombia’s National Disaster Risk Management Unit (UNGRD) to drop its existing "flood-warning" status-alert level to a relatively low level, EPM 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.

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