There is No Festival in Cartagena

The following is an abbreviated translation of a post originally written in Spanish by Colombian journalist, Efraim Medina Reyes at

In the most recent issue of the magazine, Arcadia, a brief note appeared about the virtual event, No Hay Festival (There is No Festival) which, with the collaboration of some friends, I am organizing. The idea of making a magazine about the “dark side” of Cartagena and other cities along the Atlantic Coast came about over a year ago while conversing with the journalists Tadeo Martínez and Juan Manuel Buelvas. Writer and comic strip creator, Alfonso Múnera Cavadía was also interested by the topic. Due to the costs of the project and the difficulty of finding funders, it was shelved, but the dream remained intact and I decided that, before landing the project, we could at least take it for a virtual non-stop test flight which starts on Thursday January, 26 at the website of Fracaso Limitada (Limited Failure). The name was, of course, inspired by the “Hay Festival,” which is taking place this week in Cartagena and is our way of giving it an enthusiastic welcome and recognizing its importance to the city and country. Events like “Hay Festival” can generate positive press attention towards Colombia outside of its borders and are magnificent opportunities for those who are sufficiently privileged to attend the lectures, to listen, meet, and receive the autographs of excellent authors like Vikram Seth, Hanif Kureishi, or Balisario Betancur.

Our “No Hay Festival” will try to show, through a series of chronicles, reports, essays, and columns, the grave situation facing the other Cartagena. The Cartagena that doesn't make it into postcards nor international festivals. The city of the everyday Colombian, the environmental ruin, the unemployment, the displaced, the absolute misery, the sex work by minors … the desolate Cartagena, immobile and invisible which only receives such eminent personalities during election campaigning. With photographs, videos, and comic strips, “No Hay Festival” will have writers in the districts of Bazurto, Nelson Mandela, Zona Suroriental, Henequén, and Mis Cojones. Vistors to the page are free to leave comments and complaints to the different authors. Among those who have confirmed their participation in this first installment of “No Hay Festival” are Juan Manuel Roca, Daniel Samper Pizano, Alberto Salcedo, Heriberto Fiorillo, Alvaro Restrepo, Cristian Valencia, Alfonso Múnera Cavadia, Rómulo Bustos Aguirre, Daniel Samper Ospina, Miguel Iriarte, Andrés Felipe Solano, Alonso Sanchez, Antonio Ungar, Ricardo Silva, Ernesto McCausland, Tadeo Martínez, John Junieles, Juan Manuel Buelvas and Alvaro Suescún.

Returning to the theme of Hay Festival and certain messages which have been circulating online, I don't believe there is any reason to satanize it. It's just one more appointment of literary tourism's vast agenda and I say “tourism” because the writers of these events – apart from touring around – do little else. The routine is more or less the same: the international, national, and local writers repeat the same stories they've by now memorized, the moderators show their expertise in the subject matter, and at the end of the small talk, the public sighs in relief, applauds, and rushes for the cocktails and appetizers. There's no reason to hope for a literary meeting and less so if it is sponsored by the creator of Macondo [Gabriel García Márquez]. Like a beauty contest, the only thing left to put to test at a gathering of various writers is vanity. The rest will be left to the media whose efficacy of giving shape and depth to any matter can not be denied. Which is why, like I said before, the city and country will receive positive media attention abroad and perhaps a tourist or two will decide to visit us.

Cartageneros are accustomed these days to seeing authorities “clean” the central streets of their homelessness and cheap prostitutes. The only thing that has really bothered me, taking into account the philanthropic spirit that seems to enthuse Hay Festival and its powerful supporters, is the cost of entrance. In the majority of the literary festivals that I know about, the public can register for free. And even though it's probable that for tourists and Cartagena's small upper-class the ticket price isn't much more than a mere symbolic contribution, it must be remembered that Cartagena possesses the largest curtain of misery in all of Latin America and that 80% of its inhabitants are forced to survive with less than a dollar a day. I say this as a way of illustrating what the official event's own web page emphasizes: an event which brings with it, “the stamp of hedonism of Hay Festival” to our city.

With this article I hope to have responded to those who unjustly blame Hay Festival for being something more than a pleasure of hearing good and reputable writers in person. It would be an absurdity to demand that a simple literary festival discusses or is even interested in the endemic social diseases of Cartagena or the country; this task is our own and we should reinforce the spaces that already exist and create new ones to ensure their continuity. No Hay Festival is a small contribution to that end and we hope to shortly transmit it from the virtual world to the other Cartagena where the “stamp of hedonism” never finds its way.

Translation by David Sasaki

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