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July 07, 2009

The Eleventh Floor

As I may have mentioned before, I work on top floor of the 12-story Medellin city administration building. Because the mayor is often on this floor, there is tight security. In fact, there is no direct civilian elevator to the 12th floor and everybody except the mayor must exit on the 11th floor, climb the stairs, and pass an additional layer of security before entering my office.

Therefore, every day, I pass by the 11th floor at least twice. The 11th floor is home to the Personería, where people go to meet with government lawyers, mostly for human rights concerns. The lobby of the 11th floor is always full of people displaced by armed conflict and others whose fundamental human rights have been violated.

When I take the elevator, often the only people left after the 7th or 8th floor are me and some visitors to the Personería. Many of them have never used an elevator before.

They come with crumpled letters, some written on typewriters, that tell their stories. Their hope is that the letters will entitle them to some legal or financial help from the government. When they see that I have a mayor's office ID card, they immediately start sharing their stories with me and asking for my help. They've lost their homes, their land, their jobs, their families, mostly due to Colombia's armed conflict. There is little that I can do other than point them to the right office.

This is a city full of poor people who have endured devastating levels of violence for most of their lives. By some measures, Colombia has been at war for the past 61 years. Drug trafficking has devastated Medellin for much of the past 30 years. Having to go through the 11th floor is a hassle, but it is a nice break from the hours I spend in front of a computer. More importantly, my time on the floor below is a very direct reminder of who I'm working for.

Posted by Pablo Rojas at July 7, 2009 10:00 AM


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