Cablegate: Lower House Plenary Session Tries to Focus On

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. (SBU) Summary: The House of Representatives held an
historic plenary session September 7-8 on the island of San
Andres, the capital of Colombia's smallest Department, San
Andres and Providencia. Despite impassioned and
nationalistic statements about Nicaraguan incursions into
Colombian territorial waters delivered by many of the 61
members of Congress who attended the session, the biggest
challenge for the department is development. End Summary.

Special Congressional Session Focuses on
San Andres and Providencia

2. (U) Poloff accompanied 61 members of Congress
(technically a quorum for formal deliberations) to San
Andres, the largest of Colombia's islands in the Western
Caribbean and the capital of Colombia's smallest Department,
San Andres and Providencia, September 7-8 for the first-ever
session of the House held outside of Bogota. The session was
convened by Speaker Julio Gallardo Archbold (Conservative), a
native of San Andres, to focus attention on local and
territorial issues. Prior to the session, Gallardo posed a
series of written questions to various Ministers, including
Treasury, Finance, Agriculture, Social Protection, and
Energy. Only Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla attended.
The others sent representatives, which Gallardo noted in his
opening remarks.

--------------------------------------------- --
Some Progress Made on Development, More Needed
--------------------------------------------- --

3. (U) Ministry representatives reported on progress on
various development projects required by Law 915 of 2004.
(Note: The law mandates economic and social development
initiatives for the islands. End Note.) This included
increased air service from the mainland, including a new
flight to the island of Providencia, as well as the expected
completion of the Department's first large hospital in
January 2007. The representative from the Ministry of Public
Services announced an investment of more than 24 billion
pesos (roughly USD 11 billion) in new water and sewer systems.

4. (U) Because San Andres and Providencia have been duty
free ports since 1953, trade and economic issues took center
stage. Gallardo criticized the GOC for failing to consider
the impact of trade policy decisions on San Andres and
Providencia. He was particularly concerned that recent GOC
actions limiting Chinese imports conflicted with the
Department's duty free status. Other economic discussions
focused on investment in agriculture, traditional fishing and
education. The Agriculture Ministry representative had
little positive to report. Similarly, the Education Ministry
representative noted that investment in bilingual education
on the islands, required by law, was being hampered by a lack
of appropriate curriculum and qualified teachers.

5. (SBU) After a tour of the island on September 8, many
members of Congress noted the poor condition of most housing
and disrepair of the roads. Governor Susanie Davis Bryan,
among other local officials, criticized the inattention of
the GOC. Unemployment is high and tourism, which provides
most jobs and investment, has declined in recent years.
Investment in other employment-producing sectors, especially
fishing, has been minimal, they said. Many locals noted
their isolation from traditional Colombian culture given
their Anglo-African roots.

--------------------------------------------- ------------
Complaints Over Alleged Nicaraguan Territorial Incursions
--------------------------------------------- ------------

6. (SBU) During the special session, Gallardo and others
made forceful statements regarding Colombian sovereignty over
the Department, which includes the islands of San Andres,
Providencia and Santa Catalina, as well as several smaller,
uninhabited islands, during the nearly seven hours of live
televised coverage. Both President Gallardo and Congressman
Juan Hurtado (a fellow Conservative) made impassioned
speeches noting that "San Andres and Providencia are part of
Colombia!" (Note: An International Court of Justice decision
in late 2004 found that the islands were part of Colombia,
consistent with the Barcenas-Esguerra Treaty, signed by both
countries in 1928 and ratified in 1930. As a consequence of
this decision, and the application of several provisions of
the Convention on the Law of the Sea, Nicaragua's exclusive
economic zone is, in some places, limited to only 55 nautical
miles from its coast instead of the standard 200 miles. End
Note.) According to Gallardo and other members of Congress,
frequent incursions by Nicaraguan fishermen into Colombian
waters continue.

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