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Cablegate: Ambassador's Barranquilla Visit Focuses On

VZCZCXYZ0025
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #4008/01 3101806
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 051806Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5398
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 8471
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1268
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ NOV LIMA 6707
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 2597
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 7403

UNCLAS BOGOTA 004008

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL ECON PGOV EAID CO
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR'S BARRANQUILLA VISIT FOCUSES ON
POSITIVE RELATIONS WITH ATLANTIC COAST

1. (U) SUMMARY. During an October 30 visit to Barranquilla,
Ambassador Brownfield discussed a range of themes --
including U.S.-Colombia relations, U.S. elections, the global
financial crisis, corporate social responsibility, and sports
diplomacy -- with a wide array of interlocutors. The
Ambassador met with a group of University students, the
Governor of Atlantico, and the Mayor of Barranquilla. He
also visited a USAID-supported fruit-packing facility and
addressed invited guests at the tenth anniversary celebration
of the Barranquilla branch of the Colombian-American Chamber
of Commerce. END SUMMARY.

UNIVERSITY STUDENTS ASK ABOUT FTA AND FARC
------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) During a half-hour address to about 150 students at
the Universidad del Norte, the Ambassador spoke about the
U.S. electoral college system and the increasing diversity
and importance of the Hispanic vote in the U.S. He noted
that U.S.-Colombian cooperation is rooted in each country's
interest in fighting violence, drug-trafficking, and
terrorism, and in promoting greater trade and investment.
For this reason, regardless of the outcome of the election,
strong cooperation and friendly relations will continue.
Students raised concerns about the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade
Agreement, the impact of the financial crisis, and the future
of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

AMBASSADOR STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF ENGLISH EDUCATION
--------------------------------------------- ------

3. (SBU) Over lunch with Atlantico Governor Eduardo Verano
and 20 of his advisors and private sector supporters, the
Governor outlined why the Department of Atlantico is an
attractive destination for foreign investment, particularly
in the tourism and agroindustrial sectors. The Governor also
noted the priority he attached to sports, in particular to
renovating and expanding Tomas Arrieta baseball stadium.
Finally, the Governor noted Atlantico's progress on
education, including more exchanges, so called "intelligent
classrooms" and a greater number of bilingual education
programs. The Ambassador applauded Atlantico's efforts and
pointed out the potential for cooperation with several
U.S.-based Foundations, such as the "One Laptop per Child"
Program. The Ambassador also noted opportunities for
collaboration on English language education with the BNC,
Fulbright Program, former Peace Corps volunteers in Colombia,
and perhaps American teachers during their summer breaks. He
stressed the importance of raising the profile of
English-language education through advertising campaigns with
famous English-speaking Barranquilleros, such as baseball
player Edgar Renteria or entertainer Shakira.

4. (SBU) Barranquilla Mayor Alejandro Char, whom recent polls
showed to be the most popular mayor in Colombia, told the
Ambassador that Barranquilla has the lowest or perhaps second
lowest homicide rate in the country at 18 per 100,000
inhabitants. Char also emphasized how he had cleaned up
corruption in the city by choosing most members of his
cabinet from the private sector. While Mayor Char said
Barranquilla had not felt effects of the financial crisis, he
nonetheless stressed the need for greater investment in the
city. Char outlined several public works projects currently
in process, including a highway, which will ring the city,
drainage which will bring sewer water to a treatment
facility, instead of allowing it to enter the Magdalena
River, and the construction of a convention center as part of
a plan to revitalize the city center. The Ambassador
applauded the Mayor's plans and reiterated his desire for a
Colombian baseball league on the North Coast with strong
links to Major League Baseball. He also noted the importance
of involving the private sector in large social-oriented
goals, such as expanded English-language education.

PASSION FRUIT: A PROFITABLE ALTERNATIVE
---------------------------------------

5. (U) The Ambassador visited the Atlantic Bottling Company,
Compania Envasadora del Atlantico (CEA), a fruit-packing
facility, which started out 20 years ago exporting three
containers annually and now exports 1,300 containers of
packaged fruit and fruit products, more than one-third of
which go to the U.S. Over 2,000 Colombian families sell
their fruit to CEA. The Ambassador spoke with several
farmers, who, with technical assistance from USAID, now grow

passion fruit as an alternative to coca or poppy. The
farmers explained that passion fruit is also more profitable
and stable than coffee or cacao. The Ambassador pointed out
the power that these farmers' examples can have on others to
do the same.

AMCHAM BARRANQUILLA CELEBRATES TEN YEARS
----------------------------------------

6. (U) Ambassador Brownfield gave the keynote address at the
Tenth Anniversary Celebration of the Barranquilla branch of
the Colombian-American Chamber of Commerce. Of the five
Colombian branches of the Amcham, Barranquilla is the newest
and has grown the fastest, expanding from eight original
members to 130 today. Amcham Barranquilla used the event to
launch its corporate social responsibility program entitled
"Bilingual Export Platform of Barranquilla, Atlantico," which
will focus on giving scholarships and educational materials
to help students learn English. The Ambassador acknowledged
the tremendous work of Amcham Barranquilla and noted how the
new program was a win-win for the private sector, which would
benefit from more English-speaking employees, increasing its
competitiveness, and for the educational institutions, which
receive greater resources for teaching their students English.

POSITIVE PRESS COVERAGE
-----------------------

7. (U) The Ambassador's visit received extensive local print
and broadcast coverage, which served to emphasize USG
soft-side support to the Atlantico Region. PAS organized an
exclusive interview with Barranquilla's leading daily, El
Heraldo (Liberal Party-oriented editorial line; readership:
357,900) which ran a positive story focusing on U.S.
elections. Diario La Libertad (readership: 105,000) ran a
story about the visit to CEA and highlighted USAID's work
with MIDAS. RCN Radio (listeners: 607,300) featured the
Ambassador's remarks at the Universidad del Norte and his
visit to CEA.
BROWNFIELD

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