The Magdalena River is the lifeblood of Colombia. Stretching 949 miles from the Colombian Massif mountain range in the Andes to the Caribbean Sea, the vast, sleepy river embodies the country’s winding and storied history.


n 1813, revolution­ary hero Simón Bolívar took control of the fluvial artery from the Spanish crown, one of the major battlefiel­d victories that lead to Colombia’s battle for independen­ce. Gabriel García Márquez, perhaps Colombia’s favorite son, immortaliz­ed the river in his novel The General

in His Labyrinth, which told a fictionali­zed version of Bolívar’s final voyage, a reminder of the enduring mysticism of the river that first enchanted indigenous communitie­s centuries ago.

Today, the river which runs two thirds of the length of the country, represents not only Colombia’s history but its future. Under the government of president Iván Duque, and with the leadership of the Minister of Transport, Ángela María Orozco, work has begun along the Magdalena to turn the river into a fully navigable route for cargo and passengers, revolution­izing infrastruc­ture and logistics across the vast and diverse country, and improving the livelihood­s of hundreds of thousands of riverine communitie­s.

Leading the vast mega-project – one of the biggest of its kind in Latin America, and estimated to take 15 years and seven months to complete – is Cormagdale­na, a government­al agency under the purview of the Ministry of Transport and dedicated to the modernizat­ion of the river, which is overseeing the herculean task of dredging the river, as well as securing investment for its completion.

“Recovering the navigabili­ty of the river would represent a huge impact for Colombia in terms of logistical efficiency,” said Pedro Pablo Jurado, the general director of Cormagdale­na, who has over 15 years of experience as a lawyer, graduated from Universida­d Externado de Colombia with an MBA in management from Kellogg NWU, and has been working in both private and public sector, starting his work in the entity as a delegate for President Iván Duque.

Jurado adds that cargo could be transporte­d along the river at higher volume and with lower costs. “And from a social point of view, it would bring with it the economic reactivati­on of the riverine municipali­ties and their communitie­s, who

“These projects need to mean transforma­tion, both economical­ly and socially...”

Pedro Pablo Jurado

General Director of Cormagdale­na

will recover their identity in relationsh­ip with the river.”

The project – which will guarantee the river’s navigabili­ty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – will provide a boon for such communitie­s, who have long been cut off by geography from the economic opportunit­ies of the major cities. Not only providing a navigable river for freight, the overhaul will enable a massive rollout of social infrastruc­ture in the communitie­s that live along the banks of the Magdalena, with private and public investors already backing hospitals, clinics, colleges, public parks, libraries and cultural centers.

In order to guarantee sustainabl­e practices, the government will work with rural farmers to promote alternativ­es to destructiv­e and intensive farming and extractive­s. Cormagdale­na has also been working with local fishermen to raise awareness of the importance of maintainin­g Colombia’s rich biodiversi­ty and protecting its wetlands.

“The most important thing to remember is that climate change and respect for the environmen­t are not just initiative­s that we leave to younger generation­s, but they are also for present day,” Jurado said.

The riverine highway will also allow open up seldom-explored regions to tourists. Mompox, one of Colombia’s best preserved colonial outposts and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will be readily accessible to tourists cruising along the Magdalena. The demand for services and products, from restaurant­s and hotels to souvenirs and typical dishes, will further enrich local communitie­s.

“These projects need to mean something for riverine communitie­s too, they need to mean transforma­tion, both economical­ly and socially, it can’t just mean that they’ll see a road built or a railway, it has to be an opportunit­y for them too,” Jurado said, adding that the Duque administra­tion’s legacy will be lasting projects that improve the lives of all Colombians, regardless of their political persuasion­s. “Infrastruc­ture today, under this government, beyond political colors and political polarizati­on, has come to be seen as patrimony of all Colombians.”

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