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Cablegate: Ambassador Brownfield's Visit to Quibds, Chocs On March

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV EAID EAGR PTER PREL ECON SOCI CO
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR BROWNFIELD'S VISIT TO QUIBDS, CHOCS ON MARCH
28, 2008

1. (U) SUMMARY. The Ambassador traveled on March 28 to the
predominately Afro-Colombian town of Quibds, Chocs to meet local
military, political and economic figures, civil society leaders, and
university students. Chocs is the department with the highest
percentage of Afro popolulation in Colombia-about 90%. The
Ambassador also visited USG-funded social and economic development
projects. His interlocutors underscored that improvements in the
regional security situation reflect increased confidence in the GOC
and provide opportunities for economic growth. The Ambassador
emphasized the USG's continued commitment to social programs and
initiatives in the region, the role of the private sector in
generating economic growth, and USG commitment to securing approval
of the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Colombia. End
Summary.

Improved Security Fuels Economic Growth
---------------------------------------
2. (U) During his March 28 trip to Quibdo, the Ambassador met with
Department of Chocs Secretary of the Interior Cristobal Cordoba
Mosquera and Quibds Mayor Francis Ceballos. Mosquera and Ceballos
agreed that the security situation in the region seemed to have
improved and that this could lead to economic growth. The meeting
was held the day after the arrest of nine lawyers associated with
the Governor's law firm on corruption charges. In his remarks to
the press, the Ambassador underscored that corruption was an issue
that Colombian institutions must address.

3. (SBU) Local Quibds Army commander, Colonel Luis Javier Perez
Orellanos and national police commander, Colonel Jos Javier Herrera
Velandi, presented the Ambassador with an overview of operations
and challenges within the Chocs Department. They noted that the
tropical jungle topography and the 479km Atrato River make the
region a haven for drug-trafficking and other operations by
Colombia's illegally armed groups. These security challenges are
exacerbated by underdeveloped transportation infrastructure, lack of
sufficient military presence and law enforcement riverine
capabilities, and the presence of two Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia (FARC) fronts (the 34th and 57th) that handle logistics
between Panama and FARC units throughout the rest of Colombia. In
spite of these challenges and substantive numbers of internally
displaced persons within this region, both civil society and public
security forces agreed that the overall security situation in the
region had improved, reflecting increased confidence in the GOC.

4. (U) Elsa Delgado, Executive Director of the Quibds Chamber of
Commerce, opened a luncheon and roundtable discussion with the
Chamber's board of directors by describing the challenges and
opportunities facing the economy in Chocs. Chamber President Martin
Sanchez and others stated that better infrastructure was needed to
advance the region's economic development. They noted the
importance of improved roads to the coast and the interior, as well
as construction of a Pacific coast port. The Ambassador encouraged
the private sector to generate economic growth, highlighted the
importance of corporate social responsibility programs, and
emphasized the USG's commitment to securing approval of the Free
Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Colombia.

USG Commitment to Social Programs
---------------------------------
5. (U) The Ambassador visited the Quibds Justice House-an
institution that combats domestic violence and promotes
community-based conflict resolution by providing access to all
government agencies at a single location. He met with its
Coordinator and representatives of key institutions including the
Regional Ombudsman's Office, Public Defender's Office, and the
Regional Prosecutor's Office and encouraged their efforts at
promoting peace in the region.

6. (U) The Ambassador also met representatives of five U.S. Agency
for International Development (USAID) supported civil society
organizations that advocate for Afro-Colombians, indigenous
communities, and women's and children's rights. They outlined
problems faced by communities in the region, including alleged human
rights violations by illegal armed groups, the challenges of limited
access to health and education services, food insecurity, and gender
and race discrimination.

7. (U) The Ambassador visited the Pedro Grau and Arola School to
highlight the USG's ongoing commitment to displaced and vulnerable
children and the importance of investing in education. The
Ambassador toured the school's vocational training center and
participated in a school-wide assembly in a multipurpose auditorium,

both of which were constructed with USAID funds. He encouraged the
students to take advantage of the school's educational and
vocational training opportunities and donated books and other
didactic materials to the school's library.

8. (U) The Ambassador also visited the Documentation Center of
Afro-Colombian Cultures at the Universidad Tecnolsgica del Chocs and
met twelve USG-funded Martin Luther King (MLK) Fellows for a
dialogue on bilateral relations and educational opportunities in the
United States.

Successful Press Coverage
-------------------------
9. (U) A television crew from Telemundo, the second-largest Spanish
language content producer in the world and second-largest SL TV
network in the United States, accompanied the Ambassador during his
visit to Quibds. Telemundo used their footage to create an
eight-minute documentary reflecting a day in the life of the
Ambassador. The piece aired on a prominent investigative news show
on a Colombian national television channel, Canal Uno, a week after
the Ambassador's visit. Colombia's major nationwide television
channels, RCN and Caracol, featured the Ambassador's visit on their
midday news broadcast, guaranteeing ample coverage of the visit.
Several broadcast outlets also reported the Ambassador's trip on the
evening news. His animated dialogue with a CNP police dog was a
particularly high moment in the report.

10. (U) Comment. Chocs is the poorest department in Colombia with
the highest proportion of Afro-Colombians. In social and economic
terms, when quality of life improves in Chocs, then Colombia has
truly begun to emerge from the dark days of the 1980's and 1990's.
We saw evidence of progress on this visit, but they still have a
long way to go. End comment.

BROWNFIELD

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