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Cablegate: Rep. Meeks Receives Recognition for Work On Afro-Colombian

VZCZCXYZ0133
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #3296/01 2891731
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 161730Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0413

UNCLAS BOGOTA 003296

CODEL
SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OVIP PGOV PREL PHUM ECON CO
SUBJECT: REP. MEEKS RECEIVES RECOGNITION FOR WORK ON AFRO-COLOMBIAN
ISSUES

REF: 09 BOGOTA 3143

SUMMARY

-------

1. (U) Representative Gregory Meeks visited Cali October 11-12 to
receive an award from the University Santiago of Cali (USC) for his
work promoting the rights of the Afro-Colombian community. He also
met with: Afro-Colombian Fulbright students; the Board of Directors
of USC; members of the Afro-Colombian Caucus; leaders of
Afro-Colombian organizations and the business community; and the
Mayor of Cali and Governor of Valle del Cauca. While many of the
Afro-Colombian leaders complained of continuing problems in their
communities, the Mayor and Governor disputed the need for
affirmative action policies. Charge d'Affaires (CDA), Bogota USAID
Mission Director, and Meeks' Chief of Staff Sophia King accompanied
the Congressman. End Summary.

USC PRESENTS TWO NEW INITIATIVES FOR AFRO-COLOMBIANS

--------------------------------------------- -------

2. (U) The Board of Directors of the University Santiago of Cali
presented two initiatives for promoting social inclusion:

-- a Master's program in Afro-American studies focused on the
history and culture of Afro-descendents through the Americas; and

-- an entrepreneurship program that gives seed money to young
Afro-Colombian entrepreneurs to start their business.

The Board of Directors also asked Congressman Meeks for help
creating exchange programs with U.S. universities.

MEEKS ENCOURAGES AFRO-COLOMBIAN STUDENTS TO PROMOTE CHANGE

--------------------------------------------- -------------

3. (U) On October 12, the USC awarded Congressman Meeks with a
medal for his work on Afro-Colombian issues. Before receiving the
medal, he delivered a speech to a group of 150 Afro-Colombian
students, joined by USC faculty members and community leaders. He
told the audience that positive change for Afro-Colombian rights
was possible and had already begun.

AFRO-COLOMBIAN CAUCUS EXPLAINS REASON FOR DELAYS

IN THE LAW OF EQUALITY AND OPPORTUNITY

--------------------------------------------- ----

4. (SBU) Congressman Meeks met with Representatives Franklin Legro,
Maria Isabel Urrutia, and Efren Palacios from the Afro-Colombian
Caucus, as well as the Executive Secretary, Cesar Garcia to discuss
the status of the Law on Equality and Opportunity for
Afro-Colombians. (Note: The Law on Equality and Opportunity is
supposed to implement the recommendations of the Intersectoral
Commission made public in May 2009. End Note.) Representative
Legro explained the introduction of the bill to Congress had been
delayed due to disagreements between the Vice President and
Ministry of Interior and Justice (MOIJ). He also noted that the
pre-electoral campaign season was making it difficult to get any
bill passed through Congress and it would be very difficult to get
the law passed this legislative term.

NEED FOR COMMUNICATION BETWEEN

AFRO-COLOMBIAN GROUPS AND POLITICAL REPS.

-----------------------------------------

5. (U) Congressman Meeks met with a group of twelve Afro-Colombian
leaders from civil society and eight from the business community.
Each meeting highlighted the need for more communication among the
Afro-Colombian Caucus, civil society, and business community. Many
of the members of civil society and the business community
complained that their concerns were not listened to by the national
government.

6. (U) Afro-Colombian leaders complained about lack of funding and
responsiveness from the national government, land titling problems,
displacement, and the persistence of discrimination. Business
leaders were frustrated by a lack of access to credit and economic
opportunities. The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA)
briefly came up and while most business leaders were supportive,
one leader expressed concern that, once the FTA passes, the
national government will not feel the political pressure from
Washington to accede to Afro-Colombian demands.

MAYOR/GOVERNOR DISPUTE NEED FOR AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

--------------------------------------------- -----

7. (SBU) During dinner with Cali Mayor Jorge Ivan Ospina and
Governor of the Valle del Cauca Department Juan Carlos Abadia,
Congressman Meeks discussed affirmative action, drugs, and the FTA.
Both the Mayor and the Governor disputed the need for racial based
affirmative action policies. The Governor asserted that everyone
in the Valle del Cauca Department was treated equally under the
law. He claimed 45% of the senior officials working in the
departmental government were of Afro-descent. The Mayor argued
that affirmative action policies didn't make sense when they were
based on race. He instead argued they should be based on
geographic location. After an in-depth discussion, both conceded
that they might have taken too narrow a view of the problem and
said they would again review their policies with an eye toward
promoting greater inclusion.

8. (SBU) The Mayor confirmed that drug consumption was up in Cali,
as was violence due to drug trafficking. He mentioned that in the
last two weeks there had been 35 homicides all related to drug
trafficking. He asked for more help with dealing with this
problem, as it was too big to deal with at the city level. The
Governor mentioned the recent confiscation in Buenaventura done in
coordination with the United States, but also asked for more help
in combating drug traffickers in Valle del Cauca.

9. (SBU) Both the Mayor and Governor expressed concerns with the
FTA. The Mayor, a physician and former hospital administrator,
feared that the FTA would hinder pharmaceutical companies'
production of generic drugs. The Governor told us the FTA would
weaken the ability of labor unions to negotiate for higher labor
standards. CDA responded that the FTA favorably addresses both of
those issues, and encouraged the two officials to review the text
of the agreement. He added that Colombia had already lost foreign
direct investment in comparison to those countries in the region,
like Peru and Chile, which had a ratified FTA with the United
States.

10. (U) CODEL Meeks cleared this message.
NICHOLS

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