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Other Norms 53

Published in Other Norms Written by January 28 2022 0

Colombia’s Controller-General announced today (January 28) that because of recent insurance payments to EPM by Mapfre, Axxa, Suramericana and SBS – collectively totaling US$1.1 billion -- all companies, politicians and officials who previously faced allegations of errors or omissions that supposedly contributed to a 2018 diversion-tunnel collapse at the US$5 billion Hidroituango hydroelectric project are now absolved of fiscal responsibility.

“The Controller's Office declares the property damage of COP$4.3 trillion [US$1.1 billion] in the Hidroituango case fully repaired,” according to the Controller’s official announcement.

“By virtue of this decision, the precautionary measures that weighed on those declared fiscally responsible are lifted” -- hence liberating 26 companies and individuals that previously were facing fiscal responsibility charges, according to the Controller.

Because of the Hidroituango insurance payments, the Controller “determined and declared that the damage has been fully repaired,” according to the official announcement.

In the wake of the Controller’s decision, Wall Street bond rater Fitch Ratings subsequently announced that it now sees financial liquidity improving not only for EPM (part-owner of Hidroituango) but also for the construction and consulting contractors at the Hidroituango project.

While Fitch now has a more positive view of EPM’s financial liquidity, the bond rater nevertheless has continued its “negative watch” alert because of “continued uncertainty regarding the permanent closure of Hidroituango's blocked water deviation tunnel since April 28, 2018, and final cost overruns of its Hidroituango project, which Fitch estimates to be US$1.73 billion or US$721,000 per megawatt (MW) as of December 2021. 

Hidroituango Progress Update

Immediately following the Controller’s announcement, EPM revealed that it is making significant progress on permanent closure of that collapsed diversion tunnel.

“In 2019, as a result of the tunnel-collapse contingency, the two floodgates installed for this diversion tunnel -- weighing 300 tons each -- were closed to prevent further passage of water,” according to EPM’s announcement.

“In recent days it became possible to enter the [collapsed] Auxiliary Deviation Gallery (GAD), very positive for the recovery of the project and for the tranquility of the downstream communities.

“With the pumping-out of the water that was in this tunnel area, it was possible to allow entry of sufficient personnel and machinery to carry out the proper cleaning and extraction of debris and mud. After the adaptation and cleaning of the GAD, the construction of the two definitive plugs -- 22 meters long -- will need to be installed there,” according to EPM.

In total, the Hidroituango project at year-end 2021 was 86.9% complete, with entry-into-operation of the first two generating units -- totalling 600-MW -- seen in the second half of 2022, according to EPM.

“The powerhouse shows considerable progress in its recovery, civil works and assembly of equipment,” according to EPM, while the water reservoir upstream of the dam and the engineered spillway “are closely monitored with permanent with special equipment and expert personnel,” the company added.

Published in Other Norms Written by January 13 2022 0

Medellin officially confirmed today (January 13) that it will switch to a two-digit “pico y placa” driving restriction scheme – from 5 am to 8 pm daily -- starting Monday, January 17, initially for a “pedagogic” period, until January 31.

Cars with plate numbers ending in 6 or 9 are restricted starting Monday, switching to numbers 2 and 3 on Tuesday, and so on (see chart, above).

Area Metropolitana de Valle de Aburra (AMVA, the metro-Medellin government coordinating agency) actually announced the new policy, indicating that the other neighboring municipalities north and south of Medellin likewise aim to adopt this scheme.

Initially, vehicles traveling on Las Palmas highway and the La 33 connection to Avenida Regional, plus the entire length of Avenida Regional, plus the La Iguana highway and its laterals (between Carrera 63 and Carrerra 80) will be exempted from controls, as will rural areas of Medellin, according to the announcement.

Published in Other Norms Written by December 07 2021 0

Colombia President Ivan Duque announced last night (December 6) that starting December 14, most international travelers 18-years-and-older to Colombia must present proof of COMPLETE vaccinations against Covid-19 – in part to help thwart the latest threat from the Omicron variant.

Following that announcement, Colombia Health Minister Fernando Ruiz announced this morning (December 7) that anyone failing to show proof of full vaccinations must in the alternative present proof of a negative result from the highly accurate PCR test within 72 hours of boarding a flight to Colombia.

According to a separate December 6 announcement from Colombia’s Transport Ministry, Colombia expects to receive more than 1.2 million international passengers during the holiday season (from December 1 to January 10).

Meanwhile, all international or domestic travelers must fill-out the “CheckMig” application, and be in the airport three hours before any international flight or two hours before an in-country flight, according to the Ministry.

Colombian nationals and permanent residents must show that they have completed their Covid vaccinations at least 14 days prior to their flight, or else show a negative PCR test result within 72 hours of the flight.  Non-resident tourists to Colombia must have at least one shot and a negative PCR test result within 72 hours of the flight.

Once arriving here in Colombia, starting December 14, a new Ministry regulation requires all persons 18 years and older to show proof of COMPLETE vaccination in order to enter certain commercial or public spaces where “mass gatherings” occur. That includes bars, restaurants, cinemas, discoteques, concerts, casinos, sports events, amusement parks, museums and fairs, according to the Health Ministry.

Starting December 28, the same proof of complete vaccination applies to those 12 years and older, according to the Ministry.

Meanwhile, Colombia is fast approaching 60 million total vaccinations against Covid-19, with some 59.5 million already expected to have been vaccinated by the end of today (December 7), according to the Ministry. That means 70% of Colombians have gotten at least one shot -- far better than most other nations, and even matching that of the "advanced" United States.

Published in Other Norms Written by December 05 2021 0

Sinpro – the trade union representing most employees of Medellin-based utility giant EPM – and Cámara Colombiana de Infraestructura Seccional Antioquia (CCI-SA) announced December 5 that they have filed a lawsuit in a Cundinamarca Administrative Tribunal seeking to stop Colombia’s Controller-General from enforcing a COP$4.3 trillion (US$1.08 billion) fine that inevitably would delay construction of the US$5 billion Hidroituango hydroelectric project.

The EPM trade union and CCI-SA (which represents Antioquia’s infrastructure companies) say in their lawsuit that the Controller’s decision – if upheld by Colombia’s Council of State – will result in terminating the existing Hidroituango construction contracts, causing construction delays of at least another six to 12 months -- costing EPM an estimated COP$5.5 trillion (US$1.38 billion) in lost power sales and possibly threatening Hidroituango's very existence.

That COP$5.5 trillion loss would come in addition to the new loss of what had been favorable Hidroituango financing terms, as the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) just cancelled a US$450 million loan because of the Controller’s decision.

On a related front, former Antioquia Governor Sergio Fajardo just filed a separate lawsuit suit before an Interamerican Commission on Human Rights tribunal to overturn the Controller’s decision, claiming that the decision arose from the Controller’s own political corruption conspiracies.

Meanwhile, Sinpro and CCI-SA are asking the Cundinamarca court to suspend the Controller’s action until Hidroituango reaches full power capacity, now expected in 2025.

They also ask the court to block any move by the Controller that could result in future payments from project insurer Mapfre being given to the city of Medellin (currently directed by Hidroituango political critic Mayor Daniel Quintero) rather than to EPM for Hidroituango construction costs.

Published in Other Norms Written by November 26 2021 0

Colombia’s Controller-General (Contraloria General de la Nacion, CGR) announced this morning (November 26) finalization of CGR’s earlier-proposed COP$4.3 trillion (US$1.07 billion) fine against 28 individuals, politicians, insurers and companies that allegedly are responsible for the 2018 collapse of a diversion tunnel at the US$5 billion “Hidroituango” hydroelectric project in Antioquia.

The CGR’s final decision ironically came just hours after Hidroituango developer EPM publicly announced a tentative deal with its current construction contractors to continue building the project for at least another eight to 12 months -- all in order to ensure start-up of the first two generating units (out of a total eight) as planned and expected for late 2022.

However, the CGR fine presumably would require the contractors to abandon the project -- pending final confirmation by Colombia’s Council of State – potentially causing chaos and enormously costly delays in finalizing construction, which is already way-over the initial budget (roughly estimated at US$3 billion) and almost four years behind its initially scheduled start-up.

EPM’s latest forecast indicates that all eight generating units won’t be operating until 2025, with gradual, additional generating-unit start-ups in 2023 and 2024.

The CGR’s now-finalized charges of “gross negligence” hit construction companies Camargo Correa SA, Constructora Conconcreto and Coninsa Ramon H SA, as well as project designers and consultants including Integral SA, Ferrovial Agroman Chile, Sainc Ingenieros, Ingetec and Sedic.

Also hit by the charges are former Antioquia Governors Sergio Fajardo and Luis Alfredo Ramos, former Medellin Mayor Fabio Alonso Salazar, and several former EPM executives and former Hidroituango project board members.

Acquitted of a previous CGR charge of culpability is current (and former) Antioquia Governor Anibal Gaviria. However, the CGR now reinstates previously exempted culpability charges against project insurers Mapfre and Suramericana.

Given the latest addition of those two companies, the CGR charges now hit 28 different persons and companies.

While the CGR announcement doesn’t explicitly say how the total US$1.07 billion fine would be split among the parties, if it were to be portioned equally, then (theoretically, at least) every person and company each would be responsible for about US$38 million.

Meanwhile, EPM on November 25 had announced a “comprehensive preliminary agreement with the representatives of the CCCI [construction-contractor] consortium in charge of the main works in the Hidroituango hydroelectric project,” according to its press bulletin.

“This comprehensive pre-agreement will allow the contract, which expires on December 31 [2021], to be extended by eight more months from January 1, 2022, plus three months” to help guide new construction contractors during a contract hand-over period.

“The extension of the contract between EPM and the construction consortium CCCI would make it possible to guarantee the continuity of the works in the future hydroelectric plant and comply with the schedules foreseen for the start of the commercial operation of the first two power generation units in the second half of 2022. Both EPM and the CCCI consortium will carry out additional internal procedures that are necessary before signing the [final contract-extension] agreement,” according to EPM.

Published in Other Norms Written by November 16 2021 0

Colombia’s Health Ministry and President Ivan Duque jointly announced November 19 that starting December 1, 2021, people over 18 years old must show proof of COMPLETE Covid-19 vaccination in order to enter most places of mass gatherings.

The upcoming mandate -- a stricter version that replaces the existing mandate, which today only requires partial (one-shot) vaccinations -- specifically hits bars, cinemas, discotheques, dance venues, concerts, casinos, bingo halls, leisure activities, sports venues, amusement and theme parks, museums and fairs, according to the Ministry.

Also hit by the new mandate: hotel mass events (such as conferences), but not individual hotel-room stays. As a result, proof-of-vaccination “must be requested for private events, receptions or similar” but “not required for [individual] hosting services,” according to the rule.

To help explain the new rules, the Ministry posted this internet question-and-answer document (in Spanish), see: https://twitter.com/hashtag/CertificadoDigitalDeVacunaci%C3%B3n?src=hashtag_click.

Since last year, Colombia started issuing a standard “MiVacuna” proof-of-vaccination card to all receiving Covid-19 shots here.

However, people from other countries visiting Colombia and attending now-restricted mass events can likewise show other Covid-19 vaccination cards or electronic documents as issued by their home countries, according to the Ministry.

Commercial and public places hit by the new rule must request proof-of-vaccinations “as a requirement of entry to face-to-face events of a public or private nature that involve massive attendance,” according to the Ministry.

“The Ministry of Health in coordination with the Ministry of the Interior may extend this measure to other activities or sectors, in accordance with the evolution of the pandemic against Covid-19 and the progress of the national vaccination plan,” according to the document.

While children ages zero to 12 are exempted, those older than 12 also must show proof of vaccination starting November 30, 2021, according to the Ministry.

Either paper or digital proof-of-vaccination cards will be accepted.

Houses of religious worship won’t be hit by the mandate for ordinary services, but will be hit for weddings, funeral services or similar mass events, according to the document.

As for shopping centers, proof-of-vaccination “will only be requested in spaces where public or private events are held, as in the cinema area, or at theme parks,” according to the Ministry.

As for residential complexes, routine entries aren’t hit by the mandate, but “meetings that are held in the social or communal rooms of the residential complexes” are hit. “Likewise, in any event that takes place in the common areas such as social gatherings or celebration of novenas,” such residential complexes must require proofs-of-vaccinations.

Published in Other Norms Written by October 27 2021 0

EPM general manager Jorge Andres Carrillo revealed in a press conference here this morning (October 27) that it’s at least theoretically possible that the current Hidroituango construction contractors might continue their work well into 2022.

But that possibility of a temporary contract extension into 2022 remains to be confirmed, pending results of a follow-up meeting with the CCC Hidroituango consortium next week, Carrillo explained.

The driving factor is the expectation that Colombia’s Comptroller-General eventually will confirm its proposed COP$4.3 trillion (US$1.15 billion) fine against the construction contractors, part of a group of 26 individuals, companies and politicians named in the Comptroller’s lawsuit.

If the Comptroller confirms its charges, then the current contractors must abandon the Hidroituango project, under Colombian law.

However, the Comptroller’s expected final ruling is currently blocked by a 29th Circuit Court decision in Bogota, which arose from a counter-claim brought by one of the 26 defendants. That defendant is María Eugenia Ramos Villa, a former official in the administration of prior Antioquia Governor Sergio Fajardo.

Fajardo, along with the construction contractors and other former politicians, faces the same Comptroller allegations of “gross negligence” that supposedly caused a costly diversion-tunnel collapse at Hidroituango in 2018.

If however the Comptroller succeeds in overturning the 29th Circuit Court ruling before the December 31, 2021 expiration of the current Hidroituango construction contracts, then EPM will have to rush to seek replacement contractors -- with potentially enormous costs from resulting construction delays.

Such delays potentially could wind-up costing EPM hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, if expected counter-suits by the sacked contractors eventually prosper in some future court proceedings.

Since EPM has long expected that the Comptroller’s proposed fines eventually would be confirmed, Carrillo revealed that EPM has been working for more than one-year on a “plan B” to find replacement contractors.

So far, seven potential companies have shown relatively keen interest in bidding, but signing contracts with any such replacements will take many months, via a complex public-bidding process, he clarified.

Meanwhile, in a filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera oversight agency this morning, EPM revealed details of last night’s (October 26) meeting with the CCC Hidroituango Consortium, where the parties explored alternative schemes that potentially could reduce construction delays from an eventual switch of contractors.

However, in that meeting, the Consortium flatly rejected the idea of assigning their existing contracts to some new contractors.

Instead, EPM and the Consortium will try to come-up with some interim scheme whereby the contractors supposedly would continue building Hidroituango for some months in 2022 while (somehow) also cooperating with EPM’s replacement contractors – that is, assuming that the Comptroller’s final ruling will indeed be adverse to the existing contractors, and that this ruling isn’t quickly overturned by some other court proceeding.

On another front, the majority owners of the Hidroituango project – that is, the Antioquia departmental government and its development agency, IDEA – unveiled an October 26 letter to EPM, demanding that EPM pay any and all costs of switching contractors.

This could wind up costing EPM hundreds of millions of dollars on top of all the other potential costs of switching contractors, including the possibility of insurance claim denials and possible loss of US$450 million in finance from the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB).

What’s more, continuing delays in finishing the Hidroituango project theoretically could provoke an eventual, catastrophic event at the dam, since the spillway – currently handling the entire Cauca River flow – wasn’t designed specifically to handle such massive flows indefinitely, according to the departmental government’s complaint.

Despite all these threats, Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero this morning stated in a separate press conference that while EPM will continue to seek new contractors and pursue claims against Hidroituango project insurer Mapfre, the insurance policy wouldn’t cover costs for some unplanned diversion tunnels, some costly reinforcement works, portions of four-years of lost power sales, nor about US$200 million in deductibles.

As a result, the Mayor will continue with its parallel US$2.35 billion lawsuit against the contractors, in a separate proceeding to the Comptroller claims, he said.

Published in Other Norms Written by October 17 2021 0

Medellin-based Conconcreto President Juan Luis Aristizábal – head of one of the three principal contractors for the US$5 billion “Hidroituango” hydroelectric project here in Antioquia -- today contradicted disturbing damage claims being made by Colombia’s Comptroller General as well as Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero.

In a wide-ranging interview with El Colombiano -- Medellin’s biggest mainstream daily newspaper – Aristizábal points out that neither Conconcreto nor any of the 26 officials, politicians and companies named in the Comptroller’s COP$4.3 trillion (US$1.15 billion) damages claim over supposed “gross negligence” at the Hidroituango project have been given a chance to provide contravening evidence.

What’s even more disturbing is that there are indications that the Comptroller seems headed toward confirming its charges against the contractors in the next few weeks -- without ever hearing evidence from the accused, Aristizábal suggested.

Hence this Kafkaesque scheme – hearing only from the prosecution and almost nothing from the defense – could resemble a banana-republic kangaroo-court procedure, or Soviet communist dictator Josef Stalin’s murderous “show trials” of the 1930s -- rather than what people and companies in real democracies, such as in North America or Europe, deserve and ought to expect.

Even more ironic is that neither the Comptroller nor Medellin Mayor Quintero have any knowledge or experience in civil engineering, let alone hydroelectric dam-building. Yet both somehow are claiming to know the causes of the diversion-tunnel collapse at Hidroituango, which all engineering studies so far haven’t been able to prove conclusively.

If the Comptroller confirms its damage claims, then EPM must -- under Colombian law -- terminate the existing contracts of the affected Hidroituango builders and designers, then find and get-up-to-speed some unknown replacement contractors -- hence delaying the project likely for many months beyond the current June 2022 scheduled start-up of the first power turbines.

Such delays could cost EPM huge fines not only for failure to provide power to the national grid -- as it has legally promised by June 2022 -- but also untold hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues from lost power sales because of inevitable delays from training new contractors.

Then there’s an enormously costly US$450 million loan pre-payment obligation to the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) if the project fails to come on-line by June 2022.

What’s more, these fines and costs would come in addition to possibly hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in counter-claims that probably will be brought by contractors, along with civil torts brought against EPM by lawyers representing persons temporarily displaced downstream of Hidroituango as a result of the 2018 tunnel-collapse incident.

And as a final wound, Hidroituango project insurer Mapfre possibly could cancel all further insurance payments beyond the US$350 million already paid to EPM, and – potentially – demand repayment of what it has already paid, citing the Comptroller’s finding of “gross negligence” and Mayor Quintero’s repeated, unsubstantiated claims of “corruption” and mismanagement.

Following a pattern, Mayor Quintero continues making wild, unsubstantiated claims against the Hidroituango contractors, former EPM officials and former Antioquia elected officials.

The latest pot-shot claim from Quintero – made last week without offering a single shred of evidence -- is that the contractors used substandard construction materials and made reckless design and execution decisions, which supposedly led to the costly 2018 collapse of a diversion tunnel at Hidroituango.

In addition, Quintero now claims that Mapfre and lesser insurers have just decided to exclude insurance payments for diversion tunnels, for some required stabilization works, for much of future lost-power sales and for other Hidroituango project costs that collectively would total roughly US$1 billion.

But if Quintero and the Comptroller are successful in their campaign to blame the main contractors and some former officials and former politicians for the tunnel collapse – resulting in a mandatory switch of contractors, enormously costly delays and inevitable counter-lawsuits – then EPM could lose far more than the US$1 billion that supposedly has been excluded from insurance payments.

To date, Mapfre has not stated publicly what it plans to exclude from insurance payments, nor explain how much it had planned to pay EPM for supposedly covered losses at Hidroituango.

But many leading engineering firms, trade associations, trade unions, public-advocacy organizations -- and now even Colombia President Ivan Duque -- have publicly stated that the correct way forward for recovering Hidroituango damage costs ought to be via negotiations with insurers, rather than blaming contractors.

However, according to Conconcreto President Aristizábal, if blame must be placed on anyone, then the correct target ought to be EPM itself, rather than its contractors, as Aristizábal explained in the El Colombiano interview published today. This would mirror public statements made by some legal experts that Mayor Quintero's US$2.85 billion parallel lawsuit against Hidroituango contractors actually could wind-up as a case of EPM suing itself.

In the interview, Aristizábal pointed out that Conconcreto wasn’t involved in designing nor building the diversion tunnels, which actually were designed and then demanded by EPM, the general contractor for Hidroituango.

“We are not responsible for the design, or the selection of materials, or the decisions that are made around all these activities,” Aristizábal stated in the interview. “We execute the construction, with the designer's guidelines, it is approved by the controller and received by our contractor EPM. All the works that we execute were supervised by the controller, approved by the designer, received by EPM and paid for by them.”

So, if anyone is to blame for the diversion tunnel collapse, then the blame ought to be put on EPM, which specified and approved all design, engineering and execution at Hidroituango, he said.

As a result, the Comptroller “should be investigating EPM. Furthermore, the resources managed by EPM are public resources. We are not fiscal agents because they did not give us an advance and because the money we received from EPM was a payment for services,” Aristizábal concluded, citing the Comptroller's responsibility for investigating public entities.

On another ominous note, Aristizabal pointed-out that Conconcreto’s principal stockholder is France-based Vinci. Hence the eyes of foreign investors are now fixed on the outcome of the current legal claims, which if adverse to some of Antioquia’s biggest and historically prestigious companies could discourage crucial foreign investment that generates tens of thousands of jobs, vital infrastructure development, huge tax revenues and economic progress for all Colombia, Aristizábal added.

Published in Other Norms Written by September 03 2021 0

Medellin’s Mobility Secretariat this afternoon (September 3) finally unveiled its long-awaited rules on the upcoming “pico y placa” driving restrictions that start Monday, September 6.

Under the new rules (see: https://www.medellin.gov.co/irj/go/km/docs/pccdesign/medellin/Temas/NuestroGobierno/Publicaciones/Shared%20Content/Documentos/2021/Decreto-0730-de-2021-Pico-y-Placa.pdf), starting September 6, cars and light trucks (under 3.5 tons) with license plates ending in 0 are banned from circulation from 5 am to 8 pm.

The following day (September 7), cars and light trucks with plates ending in 1 are banned, then cars with plates ending in 2 are banned on September 8, and so-on.

The climbing-numbers rotation starts all over again on Monday, September 20, with the same numerical sequences -- plate numbers variously ending from 0 to 9 -- banned from circulation each corresponding day from Monday through Friday (see chart, above).

For the first two weeks (through September 17), the restrictions are “educational,” but starting September 20, the longstanding, historic “pico y placa” fines begin, according to the Secretariat.

Certain routes that pass through the entire Medellin metro area are exempted from the restrictions, including Autopista Sur, Avenida Regional and the parallel Avenida Occidental (the highways that run alongside Rio Medellin); Avenida 33 from Rio Medellin to its connection at Las Palmas; Avenida Las Palmas; and La Iguaná.

Also exempt are the eastward/westward roads alongside the La Iguaná stream between Avenues 63 and 80, and the east-to-westward segment of highway from the Horacio Toro bridge connection to La Iguana heading westward.

Exempt vehicles include fully electric and hybrid-electric cars; compressed-natural-gas-fueled cars; ambulances; buses; heavy trucks; public service vehicles; fire trucks; wreckers; health/medicines transport vehicles; and all types of emergency vehicles. Food/perishables transport vehicles also can be exempted if properly registered.

Enforcement will be especially strict on 40 heavily-trafficked, inner-city road routes as specified in the new regulation. But rural Medellin’s outlying, rural routes are exempt.

As for motorcycles, their “pico y placa” restrictions start October 4, the new rules show. Motorcycles making home-deliveries will be exempted.

AMVA Cities Follow Medellin's Lead

Hours after Medellin formally announced its pico-y-placa rules, Area Metropolitana del Valle de Aburra (AMVA) -- the coordinating agency for the 10 cities in metro Medellin -- unveiled its parallel guidance for the whole metro area (see: https://www.metropol.gov.co/Paginas/Noticias/pico-y-placa-empezara-a-regir-a-partir-del-6-de-septiembre.aspx).

That regional guidance includes internet links to each of the individual city regulations, which mainly follow the Medellin rules. For example, all 10 cities incorporate the 5 am-to-8 pm daily driving bans on individual vehicles, the same day/plate number rotations, and the same exclusions for certain vehicles (such as electric/hybrid vehicles, natural-gas vehicles, buses, etcetera). 

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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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