Cablegate: San Andres: Colombia's Caribbean Paradise Banks On


DE RUEHBO #2091/01 1621853
R 101853Z JUN 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 07 BOGOTA 8592

1. SUMMARY: San Andres, Colombia's Caribbean island
paradise, makes a living on tourists who come for the sun,
sand, surf and shopping. The island hosts over a thousand
visitors daily and looks to increase the number with
increased domestic visibility, a new convention center,
five-star hotel, and a renovated airport. With the
territorial dispute with Nicaragua all but resolved, the
small Colombian outpost is now turning its attention to the
complexities shared widely by its island neighbors, including
tension between locals and mainlanders, unemployment and

Pirates of the Caribbean

2. (SBU) Located almost 500 miles from mainland Colombia,
but only 150 miles off the Nicaraguan coast, the 15 square
mile island of San Andres with 90,000 inhabitants serves as
the capital for Colombia's San Andres and Providencia
Department. Governor Pedro Gallardo Forbes told econoff that
San Andres is now undeniably part of Colombia since the 2007
decision by the International Court of Justice means the end
of Nicaraguan claims to the islands of San Andres and
Providencia, although the ownership of some smaller islands
in the archipelago and the precise maritime border remain
uncertain. He also called the idea floated by some locals
that the Department should try to become an independent
country "a fantasy."

3. Native San Andrean "Raizales" call their island
"blessed," pointing to its' pristine beaches, large coral
reef and near-perfect weather. Chamber of Commerce President
Larry Zogby, however, called the island's duty free port
status something of a mixed blessing. While it permits
inexpensive imports on twice-weekly boats from Miami and
Panama, the island now has so many cars that many complain of
traffic jams. Governor Gallardo recently banned the import
of new vehicles unless the owner can show they destroyed
their old one.

4. No official definition of "Raizales" exists, but it
commonly refers to those who have lived in the islands for
multiple generations, come from a mixed
Afro-Caribbean/European heritage, often have English
surnames, and speak English as a first language (although the
influx of mainlanders in recent years means that Spanish has
become more prevalent). Raizales proudly point to "Henry
Morgan's Cave" as proof of their buccaneer background.
Locals note that smuggling duty-free U.S. electronics and
appliances from San Andres to the mainland, which constituted
one of the main sources of income until the early 1990s,
simply represented a continuation of their pirate heritage.

Tourism, Tourism, Tourism

5. (SBU) Zogby described the island's future as "tourism,
tourism, tourism." He noted that the number of visitors
increased by over 30 percent between 2001 to 2007, from
315,000 to 420,000. Zogby said tourism now employs virtually
the entire private sector workforce. While some tourists
still come for the shopping, as attested to by dozens of
duty-free perfume and liquor stores along the new mile-long
boardwalk, Zogby called sand, sun, and surf the main
attractions. He noted that the number of tourist related
businesses increased over the past few years, and expects the
trend to continue. UNESCO's designation of San Andres as a
Biosphere Reserve in 2000 boosted tourism by raising the
island's international profile, and Zogby expects the
island's domestic visibility to get a similar bump when it
hosts the national baseball, soccer and basketball
championships this November in a new, USD 3 million, sports
center. He added that the anticipated USD 12 million fiber
optic sub-sea cable from Nicaragua, which should be
functioning in 2009, will increase connectivity for the
island's businesses and reduce internet costs by 70 percent.

6. (SBU) Department Minister of Planning Claudia Cifuentes
acknowledged tourism's importance, but warned it had to be
balanced against environmental protection. Cifuentes said a
15-year court-ordered building moratorium based on
insufficient water, electricity and sewage infrastructure,

could soon be lifted since public facilities are now in much
better condition. However, without the moratorium Cifuentes
said the government would probably maintain a ban on new
construction within 100 feet of the shore. She added that
with 7,500 available hotel rooms, the government looks to
improve the quality of new facilities rather than simply
build more rooms. She pointed to a plan to build a USD 6
million convention center and adjoining five-star hotel
within the next year as the type of development the
government hopes to promote.

7. Airport General Manager Ramon Emiliani told econoff that
25 percent of the tourists who visited San Andres in 2007
were from outside Colombia. Emiliani expects overall growth
to continue at 5-10 percent annually, and at a greater clip
for international visitors, many who travel to the less
developed island of Providencia. Twice weekly charter
flights from Montreal and Toronto bring Canadian visitors
during the winter season, and Emiliani expressed hope that
U.S. carriers may take advantage of the opportunity for
direct charter flights under the new U.S.-Colombia civil
aviation agreement (reftel). Emiliani said the airport will
undergo a USD 45 million renovation over the next five years
which will improve baggage handling and expand the runway and
terminal building.

Trouble in Paradise?

8. (SBU) Governor Gallardo described San Andres' three
biggest problems as: 1) tension with mainlanders who move to
the island for work; 2) crime; and 3) unemployment. Gallardo
said the 90,000 islanders divide evenly among three groups:
1) Raizales; 2) Residents born in San Andres but with
mainland parents; and 3) mainlanders recently arrived seeking
employment. While Raizales and residents generally get along
well, Gallardo said both groups sometimes resent newcomers
who work for low salaries, care less about maintaining the
environment, and are more likely to get into trouble.
Newcomers cannot, at least in theory, obtain a residency
permit to work unless their job has been certified as
critical. Gallardo admitted that the government has been lax
in enforcing this law. The fact that outsiders own most large
hotels exacerbates the tension.

9. (SBU) Gallardo called unemployment, estimated at 30
percent, a chronic problem. He said Raizales constituted the
bulk of the unemployed, particularly artisanal fishermen.
Department Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Marcos
Robinson noted that San Andres used to export fish, lobster,
and conch, but that overfishing and rising fuel costs
collapsed the industry. Robinson blamed overfishing mainly
on illegal poachers from other countries. Governor Gallardo
said he hopes to develop a "Marine Guardians" program to help
protect the Department's territorial waters (the boundaries
of which were not resolved by the International Court of
Justice decision) and employ out-of-work fishermen. Robinson
also noted that while San Andres historically exported fruits
and vegetables, they now import for local consumption and the
tourist market with shipping costs typically doubling costs.
Robinson hopes to expand agricultural production,
particularly of tropical fruits such as pineapple, papaya,
mangos and bananas, to help meet tourist demand and boost

10. (SBU) Gallardo said petty crime and delinquent gangs
were on the rise, and blamed unemployment and drugs. While
petty crime has not yet affected tourism, Gallardo worried
that it could. Gallardo has partnered with the national
government's social agency, Accion Social, to develop
rehabilitation programs for delinquents. Admiral Henry
Blain, Commander of the Department's naval forces, described
San Andres as a transit point for narcotics. He said boats
carrying drugs from Colombia sometimes rendezvous on the high
seas with locals who supply them with fuel in exchange for
cash or drugs. Blain believes his forces detection and
interception abilities have improved, but said patrolling the
Department's 100,000 square miles of territorial waters
remains a challenge.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Werewolf: Gordon Campbell On North Korea, Neo-Nazism, And Milo

With a bit of luck the planet won’t be devastated by nuclear war in the next few days. US President Donald Trump will have begun to fixate on some other way to gratify his self-esteem – maybe by invading Venezuela or starting a war with Iran. More>>

Victory Declared: New Stabilisation Funding From NZ As Mosul Is Retaken

New Zealand has congratulated the Iraqi government on the successful liberation of Mosul from ISIS after a long and hard-fought campaign. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Current US Moves Against North Korea

If Martians visited early last week, they’d probably be scratching their heads as to why North Korea was being treated as a potential trigger for global conflict... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On The Lessons From Corbyn’s Campaign

Leaving partisan politics aside – and ignoring Jeremy Corbyn’s sensational election campaign for a moment – it has to be said that Britain is now really up shit creek... More>>


Another US Court: Fourth Circuit Rules Muslim Ban Discriminatory

ACLU: Step by step, point by point, the court laid out what has been clear from the start: The president promised to ban Muslims from the United States, and his executive orders are an attempt to do just that. More>>