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Outside the city, however, it is probably best known as the home of the Cali Cartel, which has long supplied a significant chunk of all the cocaine consumed around the world — and as one of the most violent cities in the Americas although homicide numbers have been dropping in the last few years.
The transformation comes at a time when Cali, as with Colombia as a whole, is desperately trying to leave behind its violent past — talks are advancing to end the year-old war between the government and the Farc rebel group — and to create a capital-, consumer- and tourist-friendly city that meets the demands of the newly signed Free Trade Agreement with the US.
The market was refurbished into an impressive modernist glass structure, but then demolished in , after which the neighbourhood was left to fend for itself. Impromptu commercial spaces sprang up where the market had been, selling fruit, vegetables and meat, and also herbs, magic potions and furniture. But El Calvario never regained its former glory. Slum clearance, the phase of the process before redevelopment, has long been used by governments throughout Europe and America in an effort to disarticulate centres of crime, jump-start the local economy and, in theory at least, improve the image of their cities.
The rag-and-bone men who comb the streets of the city eventually end up here, lugging garbage on their backs, by hand-trolleys or horse-drawn carts. Many also sleep on these streets, or in tiny rooms in backyards: temporary lodging for this large, floating population. Dealers have taken over several abandoned buildings from which they sell mostly basuco , the cheapest form of cocaine which is processed with sulphuric acid and kerosene and often mixed with marijuana or tobacco.
Oscar Murillo, a taxi driver in his 50s who refuses to drive through El Calvario, calls the addicts there the walking dead. The demolition process in El Calvario has already begun. The only structures that will be left alone are a church and a police precinct, which together occupy a whole block, smack in the middle of the area. Not everyone, however, feels that destroying these neighbourhoods will improve Cali, a city known for its laid-back spirit where people feel free to socialise on the street and in public spaces.