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Cablegate: Ambassador's Trip Highlights Increasingly Strong Usg

VZCZCXYZ0007
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #2922/01 2532157
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 102157Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0595
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 9130
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 2884
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ SEP LIMA 0060
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 0057
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 4324
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 2921
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO

UNCLAS BOGOTA 002922

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID ECON ETRD PGOV PHUM OEXC SOCI CO

SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR'S TRIP HIGHLIGHTS INCREASINGLY STRONG USG
ENGAGEMENT WITH COLOMBIA'S CARIBBEAN COAST

SUMMARY

1. (U) On August 25, the Ambassador gave the opening address to the
tenth annual Fulbright conference on hemispheric relations at the
Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla. He also inaugurated a U.S.
Department of Commerce-sponsored corporate good governance program
and met with leaders of the Caribbean region's government, private
sector and Afro-Colombian community. END SUMMARY.

AMBASSADOR AFFIRMS STRENGTH OF BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP

2. (U) The Ambassador traveled on August 25 to Barranquilla to give
the opening address to the tenth annual Catedra
Fulbright-Universidad del Norte conference. The conference, covered
live by local and national media, showcased the extensive
collaboration between U.S. and Colombian academics that Fulbright
Colombia facilitates throughout the country. Fulbright Colombia
Director Ann Mason highlighted Fulbright's efforts to expand its
presence in Colombia beyond the major cities from which it has
historically drawn most of its scholars. She noted that for the
first time the Caribbean is one of the best represented regions
among Fulbright's recently awarded grantees. Fulbright Colombia's
total number of scholarships has increased by 80% in the last five
years and its Colombian participants are increasingly from diverse
regions and socio-economic backgrounds. In his remarks, Universidad
del Norte Rector Jesus Ferro Bayona praised USG support for academic
exchanges as critical to the U.S.-Colombia bilateral relationship
and to hemispheric relations in general.

3. (U) The Ambassador addressed an audience of approximately 250
Colombian and U.S. academics and students. His remarks focused on
how Secretary of State Clinton's vision of a new architecture of
diplomacy will affect the U.S.-Colombia bilateral relationship. He
emphasized the strong relationship between the United States and
Colombia is based on shared national goals that transcend changes in
administrations. He also affirmed continued U.S. support for
Colombia's fight against terrorism, for resolution to the internal
armed conflict and for passage of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA),
pending the resolution of labor and human rights issues. He
concluded by noting that despite the global economic crisis, poverty
in Colombia is at a record low and foreign trade and investment are
at record highs.

AMCHAM BARRANQUILLA PROMOTES CORPORATE GOOD GOVERNANCE


4. (U) The Ambassador presided over the opening of the U.S.
Department of Commerce-sponsored corporate good governance program
at AmCham Barranquilla. In his remarks to an audience of
approximately 60 business and government leaders, including
Atlantico Governor Eduardo Verano, the Ambassador emphasized the
importance of ethics and transparency in both business and
governmental activities, and of attracting investment by promoting a
positive environment for business. Guests voiced concerns about the
perceived lack of progress of the FTA and whether it will pass under
the current U.S. Congress.

CARIBBEAN AFRO-COLOMBIANS SEEK GREATER U.S. SUPPORT

5. (SBU) The Ambassador met at the Barranquilla Binational Center
(BNC) with nine leaders of the Caribbean Afro-Colombian communities
to discuss the impact of current USG programs geared towards them.
The participants represented departmental (state) and local
governments, as well as non-governmental organizations from four
departments. The Ambassador and the participants agreed that
although USG, Colombian and private initiatives have helped
development, the approximately 1.4 million Afro-Colombians on the
Caribbean coast continue to suffer from poverty, poor education,
limited access to public services, and lack of political
representation.

6. (SBU) The participants cited various impediments to economic
development including insufficient political organization and
representation, persistent and institutionalized racial
discrimination and lack of land titles. The region's growing
tourism and real estate industries are putting competing demands on
land to which Afro-Colombians claim an ancestral right. Colombian
law provides for collective land titling to Afro-Colombian
communities. Under these provisions, over five million hectares
have already been collectively titled to the Afro-Colombian
communities on Colombia's Pacific coast. Some participants
expressed frustration over what they believe to be an unbalanced
focus by Colombian and foreign government assistance on the needs of

Afro-Colombians in the Pacific region.

7. (SBU) The Ambassador encouraged the meeting's participants to
seek partnerships with AmCham Barranquilla and the BNC for
entrepreneurial and business training and educational programs.
Many of the participants noted that weak entrepreneurial skills and
limited commercialization of their products are problems that
training could help resolve. The Afro-Colombian communities' lack
of access to credit, capital, and domestic and international markets
also hinders economic development. They believe that with better
training and access, their communities would be well poised to take
advantage of the eventual passage of the FTA, which they expect to
benefit the Caribbean region significantly.


EMBASSY-SUPPORTED SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAMS EXPAND


8. (U) Also at the BNC, the Ambassador announced the expansion of
the Department of State-funded "College Horizons" scholarship
program for outstanding, economically disadvantaged high school
students. The College Horizons program has already served 50
Afro-Colombian students since 2007 in Tumaco and Buenaventura. The
Ambassador urged the Afro-Colombian leaders to promote College
Horizons and the BNC's other targeted scholarship programs within
their communities. He encouraged them to continue to share feedback
on USG programs with their Embassy contacts.


BROAD POSITIVE PRESS COVERAGE


9. (U) Press coverage of the visit was extensive and very positive.
Almost all events were open to the press and included a press gaggle
with the Ambassador. Resulting coverage included stories in leading
national and regional papers, TV and radio. There were 15 media
placements in all. Among these were 2 articles in Colombia's second
leading national newspaper, El Espectador (576,400 daily readers)
titled "U.S. Support" and "10 Years of Catedra Fulbright." RCN
Radio's website (12 million avg. mthly hits) ran a story titled,
"U.S. Ambassador Opens Catedra Fulbright in Uninorte University."
La Libertad (Barranquilla local paper) ran a front page story with
the headline, "Support to Colombia Stands Firm" referring to the
United States' long-standing support to Colombia. Telecaribe
(Caribbean regional TV channel, est. 550,000 viewers) covered the
Ambassador presenting an award to Colombian Police Commander Colonel
Henry Rubio for his outstanding service as the Deputy Director of
Diplomatic Protection. Fulbright Colombia contacts reported that
they were very pleased with the media coverage of the conference.

BROWNFIELD

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