The "Altamir"
Social currency in Medellin, Colombia

In neighborhoods of Medellin and Beautiful they use the system of barter: I can exchange a television for karate classes. In the market you can exchange Garcia Marquez's book for a cookbook; a caleidoscope for appointments with the psychoanalyst and there are those who pay school fees with roof repair. All vouchers in this novel market have one name, the Altamir.

Nestor Lopez Lopez
Correspondent of THE TIME
Medellin, Colombia


Altamir is the name of a neighborhood in the east of Medellin in which circulates the Altamir, such a hard and strong currency compared to Colombian pesos that five of them alone are enough to get a book of the Colombian Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Each altamir is approximately equal to a thousand pesos and it is used every weekend, during the exchange days that the inhabitants of this neighborhood invented for inter-exchanging everything without appealing to the weak national currency.

In this singular market all the goods are valued in Altamirs, because here it is not enough to have money but something, anything that another person needs. "We are full of things that if they don't serve us then they serve another", a motto by which their creators sustain themselves.

The new currency is a triangle of cardboard of five centimeters of high with an indigenous axe painted in the center and a nominal value of half, one, five and ten. In Altamira the program was founded by Guillermo Arroyave, small businessman; Jua Guillermo Echavarria, graduate in languages, Pablo Mayayo, artisan, and Jesús Antonio Hernandez, promoter of cooperatives, who united to start the Altamir.

Pablo Mayayo had found on the Internet the story of an Exchange Market in Buenos Aires, Argentina that began in 1995, and exposed the idea to the others. They made the first meetings and they created the "club of exchange".

One Sunday, 6 months ago, they set up a market in a green area of the neighborhood, the awnings rented from the artisans' association in exchange for some Altamirs.

As it happened, little by little children came, attracted by the books and the collections of stories, bringing their parents with them.

"We only start up with books, magazines, CDs, disks and cassettes. "To be able to arrive without silver and to be able to take a series of books, that they saw it as very crazy", Pablo Mayayo explains to the one whose collection of books cost 50 altamires.

In these markets, a Garcia Marquez novel can be exchanged for an as-yet unread novel or a cookbook. Or, a cassette by the baladista Beto Fernan, can be exchanged for the new rock groups and jazz music.

That day, between 8:00 in the morning and 5:00 in the afternoon the marketgoers exchanged about 3,500 objects--among them some 2,500 books--that would have cost more than 15 million Colombian pesos in the normal market.

Now in Altamira they plan to exchange services and knowledge to take advantage to all that that has something to offer in this urban neighbourhood of but of 6,000 inhabitants. The organizers are convinced that you can change classes of mathematics for hair cuts, and that it is possible to learn how to dance meringue and to pay with some massage sessions.

The first step is the creation of a directory in which began already to register dance professors, guitar an school teachers, mechanics, masseurs, doctors, cabinetmakers and therapists, among others.

Also in the municipality of Beautiful, to the north of Medellin, have been circulating a similar initiative from 1994, founded by John "gray-headed" Jairo and their friends of the corporation "Good Idea".

Every two months in the eco-parque "The Guzmana", now known in Beautiful Town as Park of the Exchange, 150 traders come together to host the community market.

"There is something that gets lost when we use the other money, and that is the strength of our communities which we sell for pesos. Instead, we prioritize the community: we all have what each other wants, and so we are all satisfied", says John Jairo to explain the difference between the two currencies.

"The exchange is made to value with the heart and not with the pocket, the goods and services that we exchange, without the breach normally seen between producer and consumer", continues John. "We are all producer's and consumer's.

This experience has been promoted in the whole city of Medellin and also in the city of Antioquia. There are already some clubs in process of consolidation in several neighborhoods of Medellin, and even, they are thinking of making an exchange among these ' nodes' into a city-wide exchange network.

What is most important, say the organizers, is that all the people leave happy and friends, without being too concerned about the monetary value of goods being exchanged.