Cablegate: Panama Usaid Boosts Sustainable Development In

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Now in its second year, the USAID-funded Darien
Development program can boast significant achievements.
The local community sees the USAID programs as the most
successful aid effort in the area. It has boosted micro
enterprises, improved market access, and advanced
sustainable forestry in the region. The three-year, $6
million dollar program is nearing its ending point in FY
2006. End Summary.

Successful USAID Efforts Reach More Darien Communities
--------------------------------------------- ----------
2. (U) On Tuesday, August 2, POLINTERN met with USAID
Officials to discuss the Agency's ongoing work in Darien
Province. USAID originally selected 55 communities to
take part in its Darien Program, although that number has
grown to 63. Communities selected are small and
isolated, with populations comprising rural dwellers,
indigenous groups (Embera, Wounann, Kuna, and Choco),
Afro-Darienitas and Colombian refugees. In an effort to
determine local needs and development goals, USAID
representatives sit down to plan ideas with community
leaders. USAID provides materials, technical assistance,
and training to build, for example, aqueducts, schools,
tree nurseries, etc. while communities provide their own
labor. Additionally, USAID has assisted fledgling micro
enterprises to sell handicrafts and artisan products.

3. Among many achievements, rehabilitation of market
roads has helped residents of remote villages reach
Meteti, the Darien's biggest town, in two days instead of
three, encouraging more economic exchange on both ends.
USAID also helps farmers to manage, warehouse, and export
a popular root crop called nyame. Best from the Darien,
the root is used for soups and purees. USAID is
promoting eco-tourism as another income generator for
parts of the province. Moreover, USAID is working with
indigenous communities to promote sustainable community
forestry and cattle ranching in an effort to slow

Darien Gap Poses Security and Transportation Constraints
--------------------------------------------- --
4. (SBU) USAID selects communities along passable roads
and navigable rivers to more easily meet with leaders and
provide construction materials. USAID has some programs
within 50 kilometers of the Colombian border. In part,
the choice of locations is due to the Darien Gap in the
Pan-American Highway. However, President Martin Torrijos
has been non-committal in public regarding Colombian
President Uribe's request to complete the Panamanian
Highway through the Darien Gap. In private, senior GOP
officials tell us that approval of the Colombian proposal
is unlikely.

5. (SBU) Security issues in the Darien near the Colombian
border involve the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC) and other paramilitary groups crossing into the
border regions. Chu stated that USAID has avoided
involving communities near the border in the Darien
Program due to the security threat to project
implementers. She noted that communities closer to the
border sell goods and livestock to FARC members. She
claimed that trade is a purely economic exchange not due
to sympathy with the FARC. However, the trade attracts a
greater FARC presence and risks occasional threats from
opposition paramilitary forces operating in the area such
as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

Security Regarding Police Redeployment
6. (SBU) Recently, PNP Director Perez redeployed police
from the Darien region to help quell recent strikes in
Panama City against President Torrijos' Social Security
reforms. Chu said this had not affected local security
because few of the communities where USAID operates have
a daily police presence. As Embassy has reported
elsewhere, however, these deployments have placed a
strain on the PNP including morale of units stationed in

The Outlook for Future Programs: Deforestation
Jeopardizes San Miguel's Shrimpers
7. (SBU) USAID officials noted that the Gulf of San
Miguel, an inlet of the Gulf of Panama on the Pacific
Coast, is of particular importance to Panama as it is
home to nearly 80% of Panama's shrimping industry.
Deforestation in this area could have an impact on
coastal water quality, dealing a serious blow to the
shrimpers. However, neither public officials nor the
private sector have made watershed protection a priority.
USAID has no current plans for San Miguel but would like
to support a potential program spearheaded by a local
business, NGO, etc.

8. (SBU) Programs that encourage lasting infrastructure
in the Darien such as roads and water pipelines are
essential for the economic and political integration of
this isolated area. Those priorities are even more
relevant considering that President Torrijos and other
GOP officials have made it clear they will make no
decision in the short-term to complete the Darien Gap in
the Pan-American Highway System. In addition, a greater
capacity to interact with larger, neighboring communities
is a key defense for smaller communities against possible
spillover from the Colombian conflict. During
POLINTERN's July 14 trip to the Darien, most villages on
the Metiti Police map showed a pushpin indicating drug
trafficking, people trafficking, FARC presence, or AUC

9. (SBU) Deforestation is obvious in and around the Pan-
American Highway. The tree line has receded visibly from
the road while livestock and ranches dot much of the
landscape. Not only does this pose a continuing risk to
the region's ecology, it could also hinder Panama's
attempt to mirror Costa Rica's eco-tourism boom.


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