Cablegate: Staffdel Yeo Visit Highlights Importance of Political


DE RUEHKA #0937/01 2490512
R 050512Z SEP 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 82421

1. (U) SUMMARY: During their August 19 - 21 visit to Bangladesh,
StaffDel Yeo underscored the strong Congressional interest in
bilateral relations and stressed the importance of free and fair
parliamentary elections by the end of the year. The staff
delegation from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which was
led by Peter Yeo and included Manpreet Singh Anand and Brent
Woolfork, met with senior GOB officials, held discussions with
political and civil society leaders, visited the Cyclone
Sidr-affected areas to see USAID-funded recovery projects, and
visited an HIV/AIDS project in Dhaka. The Staffdel's local
interlocutors expressed appreciation for U.S. engagement and
support. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) Foreign Adviser Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury welcomed
Staffdel Yeo to Bangladesh, acknowledging the critical role that the
Congress plays in developing our bilateral relationship. Chowdhury
stressed Bangladesh's desire for enhanced market access for its
exports to the U.S., asking that his country not be penalized for
its success. Chowdhury claimed that Bangladesh paid $500 million in
duties on its $3.5 billion in exports to the U.S., which he said was
a much higher percentage than many other countries' exports are
charged. Looking into the future, Chowdhury focused on the
potential for Bangladesh to transform into a "giant Singapore or
Bangalore" in 50 years.

3. (SBU) The Staffdel emphasized the strong Congressional interest
in Bangladesh's ongoing democratic transition, culminating in
elections by the end of 2008. The Foreign Adviser reiterated the
Caretaker Government's (CTG) commitment to ensuring stability while
preparing for the return of parliamentary democracy. In response
to a question, the Foreign Adviser said that it would be difficult
for Bangladesh to lift the State of Emergency since its constitution
did not provide an alternative that would ensure stability.
Chowdhury expressed hope that Bangladesh's international partners
would understand the importance of maintaining security until and
during elections. Chowdhury also focused on the importance of
building strong institutions and explained the need to ensure
continuity of reforms begun by the CTG.

4. (SBU) In a separate meeting, Foreign Secretary Touhid Hossain
also highlighted the economic and trade dimension of the bilateral
relationship. Specifically, Hossain focused on the importance to
Bangladesh of continued GSP benefits. Referring to the New
Partnership for Development Act, Hossain acknowledged concerns by
some African countries, but expressed hope that the final bill would
not disadvantage Bangladesh. On politics, Hossain said he was
convinced that elections would take place on schedule, and pointed
to the successful August 4 elections and the Election Commission's
achievement in creating a photo voter's list as positive

5. (SBU) Responding to a question from the Staffdel, Hossain said
Bangladesh understood the importance of addressing worker rights
issues and the linkages to trade preferences. He said that
Bangladesh would be open to the idea of regional approaches to
addressing labor issues. Hossain also said that the GOB was looking
for ways to ensure that Bangladesh's expatriate workers were treated
better in destination countries. The Staffdel also noted the
continuing Congressional interest in the case of Salahuddin Shoaib
Chowdhury. Hossain said the GOB was aware of this interest and said
that he and the Home Secretary were trying to resolve the case.
Hossain clarified that Chowdhury no longer faces the death penalty,
even if convicted in the ongoing case.


6. (SBU) During his meeting with the Staffdel, Bangladesh's Chief
Election Commissioner A.T.M. Shamsul Huda outlined the Commission's
main achievements in implementing the electoral roadmap as well as
the remaining challenges. Huda emphasized the BEC's achievement in
registering Bangladesh's 80 million voters. Huda and the other
Commissioners outlined the key technical, logistical and cultural
challenges that they had overcome and emphasized the many benefits
to be derived from the massive registration effort.

7. (SBU) The Commissioners also discussed the August 4th local
elections, which were held in four of Bangladesh's major cities and

nine municipalities. The EC described these elections as a key
test of their capacity to administer elections using the new voter
list, and claimed the polls demonstrated how the state of emergency
might affect electoral contests. The Commissioners said that the
elections were generally successful and they highlighted the absence
of violence, freedom of nomination and campaigning, high voter
turnout, and respect for new electoral laws and regulations. They
were also candid in outlining some of the lessons learned and
improvements to be introduced, such as improved voter identification
and poll worker training.

8. (SBU) During a reception hosted by the Ambassador, the Staffdel
were able to discuss political developments with representatives
from a cross-section of Bangladesh's political parties, as well as
representatives of civil society and the business community. On the
whole, the politicians expressed guarded optimism regarding the
prospects for elections.

9. (U) The StaffDel traveled to Sarankhola, in southern Bangladesh,
to visit the Sidr-affected region to see the ongoing relief effort.
During their visit, they were able to see four ongoing
USAID-supported projects: a CARE Shelter Reconstruction project; a
GOB-constructed Cyclone Shelter; a WFP Emergency Food Distribution
site; the Leaders of Influence program (involving religious and
community leaders) and a local government program. The Staffdel
visited the first few CARE-constructed houses built as part of the
medium term support for rebuilding livelihoods and reducing
vulnerability for families affected by Cyclone Sidr. USAID is
funding construction of approximately 850 houses for families who
lost their homes in the recent cyclone. The delegation members
observed the actual food distribution process while visiting WFP's
general food distribution site. They also handed over the food
rations to beneficiaries. This USG supported program, implemented by
the WFP, helps to meet the immediate food needs of people affected
by Cyclone Sidr. Later, the visitors met informally with officials
from Rupantar, a USAID-funded NGO that implements some Sidr relief
and rehabilitation activities. The Staffdel also met with the Muslim
religious leader (Imams) who have received training under the
USAID-funded Leaders of Influence program to learn from and actively
participate in the development efforts of Bangladesh.

10. (U) USAID implementing partners had an opportunity to describe
their efforts in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, as well as
the long-term reconstruction plans for the region. The StaffDel was
also briefed on interagency cooperation in relief efforts, including
Defense funding for the construction of new cyclone shelters. This
visit was an opportunity for the Staffdel to learn how USG supported
the medium term reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in the
aftermath of Cyclone Sidr and how the recently appropriated
emergency supplemental funds will be used to further reconstruction
efforts. The $ 77.5 million approved for long term reconstruction
efforts will help rebuild the livelihoods and productive assets of
affected communities, such as reestablishing the fishing industry
and creating jobs through Cash for Work programs. Long term
reconstruction efforts will include restoration of fish and shrimp
ponds, assistance to the GOB through a flood shelter planning and
management program (so that disaster shelters are mapped and built
in areas where they are most needed), and provision of nutrition for
children and mothers in the cyclone-affected region. The shelters
will serve as schools and community centers when not needed for

11. (U) The StaffDel also visited a drop-in center in Dhaka for
injecting drug users, the population group in Bangladesh with the
highest prevalence of HIV, which is still less than 5% of estimated
total users. Padakhep, a local NGO, implements the activity with a
Global Fund grant managed by Save the Children. These grants and
partnerships demonstrate the GOB's trust in the private sector to
assist in critical health service delivery. At the center, the
visitors interacted with both staff and drug users to get a better
understanding of the nature of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Bangladesh
and of the type of services and interventions which have been
designed to mitigate the spread of the disease.

12. (U) At a dinner hosted by the USAID Director, the StaffDel had
an opportunity to learn more about the development climate and to
exchange ideas with the multilateral and bilateral donor community

including UNDP, the World Bank, ADB, WFP, CIDA and the Netherlands
and with major implementing partners such as CARE and Grameen
Shakti. The dinner guests explained the active donor coordination
mechanisms in Bangladesh, and emphasized how these proved critical
in the aftermath of the cyclone to ensure the most effective use of


13. (SBU) The StaffDel's visit came at a perfect time, with the
next four months vital to ensuring the return to a stable,
participatory democracy. The StaffDel's message on the restoration
of democracy was well-received, with all interlocutors agreeing that
the elections must proceed in a fair and transparent manner. This
visit was also an excellent opportunity to again highlight the
leading USG role in providing assistance following Cyclone Sidr, as
well as our commitment to continue to help restore livelihoods over
the longer term.

14. (U) The Staffdel has cleared this cable.


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