Cablegate: Deputy Chief of Mission's Visit to Barranquilla And


DE RUEHBO #3536/01 3092124
R 052122Z NOV 09



E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (U) The Deputy Chief of Mission, accompanied by USAID Mission
Director and other embassy officers, travelled to Barranquilla and
Cartagena on October 22-23, where he met with local political,
business, and community leaders; visited commercial enterprises;
and visited with beneficiaries of USAID-sponsored projects. In
Barranquilla, the DCM toured the Mars factory, the Port of
Barranquilla and a corporate social responsibility project. The
DCM visited the Mayor of Barranquilla Alejandro Char. The DCM also
met with various business leaders and members of the American
Chamber of Commerce. In Cartagena, the DCM attended a discussion
with Afro-Colombian academics, community leaders and students about
the challenges faced by the Afro-Colombian community. He also
hosted a lunch reception for U.S. historian David Bushnell, who was
attending a Colombian Bicentennial History Conference. End Summary.

Free Trade Agreement Critical to Bilateral Trade Relations for U.S.

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

2. (U) During an October 22 trip to Barranquilla, the DCM visited a
Mars pet food factory to observe its operations and review the
bilateral trade relationship from a U.S. company's perspective.
Rodolfo Arbelaez, Mars' commercial and supply regional manager,
noted that the majority of its capital and raw materials are
imported from the United States. Arbelaez highlighted plans to
expand pet food production, but cautioned that Colombian tariffs on
U.S. imports more than offset U.S. products cheaper costs. The
tariff driven differential may drive Mars to look for inputs from
within South America, despite their higher raw material and
shipping costs, unless a free trade agreement is signed between the
U.S. and Colombia.

USAID Assistance Promoting Income Generation Opportunities for
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

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

3. (U) The DCM and USAID Mission Director visited two beneficiaries
of USAID's program to support IDPs. Aminta Castro Antilla
produces glass fibers and ceramic inputs for industrial purposes,
and Carmen Rosa Arias produces sandals. They thanked the DCM for
USAID assistance that has successfully transformed their lives
since they arrived in Barranquilla fleeing violence. USAID
assistance was provided through Actuar Atl????ntico, a Colombian NGO
dedicated to generating employment to combat poverty and violence
in the Department of Atlantico. Between 2007 and 2009, the USAID
program provided 1,750 persons with access to health services, gave
job training to 307 heads of households and 50 youth, and supported
350 families with new or improved employment opportunities.

Port of Barranquilla Poised for Growth

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

4. (U) The Commercial Director of the Port of Barranquilla, Enrique
Carvajales, briefed the DCM, ECON officer, and Acting Commerical
Attache on the recent growth of the Port of Barranquilla, the
largest port facilities in Colombia. Seventy percent of the goods
that pass through the port are imports, the majority from the U.S.

Carvajales laid out the competitive advantages of the port.
Barranquilla is the most important industrial and commercial city
on the north coast of Colombia with infrastructure and supporting
services that promote trade. Barranquilla is also the most
important educational center in the North Coast with quality
universities and an educated and skilled labor force. Carvajales
noted that the port has the distinction of being the least affected
by the economic crisis with an insignificant decrease in the cargo
moving through the port. Carvajales noted that the port has an
$178 million investment plan over the next 25 years, much of which
will be in capital equipment including cranes and major upgrades to
security and tracking systems software. The Sociedad Portuaria
Regional de Barranquilla, which manages the port, also spends eight
percent of its total revenue on corporate social responsibility
projects through its foundation, Fundaport. The foundation assists
small businesses, supports youth programs against drug abuse, and
provides support to households with female heads.

Mayor of Barranquilla Emphasizes Projects to Improve Human and
Physical Capital

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

5. (U) Mayor of Barranquilla Alejandro Char thanked the DCM for
continuing U.S. support for projects including the bilingual
education programs funded through the American Chamber of Commerce
(AmCham) and USAID projects to support the IDPs. The Mayor
highlighted the progress that the city has made and the challenges
ahead. He claimed that Barranquilla had made great strides towards
ensuring that no children were outside the school system and that
every resident had a health insurance card. Along with the
emphasis on improving the human capital, the Mayor highlighted his
public works projects, especially the transformation of the public
transport system, which will replace older buses with low emission
ones. On the topic of security, he felt that violence related to
the actions of guerrillas and drug traffickers continued to be an
area of concern. He said that the extradition of the heads of
large drug outfits has resulted in small illegal armed groups
fighting over territory. He emphasized that his program of free
education and free lunch was essential to keeping kids off the
street and away from such groups.

6. (SBU) The DCM asked the Mayor about his views on President
Uribe's re-election prospects. The Mayor responded that he was
very grateful for the support that he has received from President
Uribe and that Uribe may be the best President the country has ever
had. However, he expressed concern about the long-term
institutional consequences of amending the constitution one more
time. The Mayor maintained that he strongly supports U.S.
assistance and use of Colombian military bases, offering his
support for any U.S. operations in Barranquilla.

DCM Meets with Business Leaders and American Chamber of Commerce

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

7. (U) Barranquilla AmCham Director Victoria Ibanez and the AmCham
board hosted a reception for embassy officials. AmCham members
stressed the positive business climate in the city, underscoring
strong prospects for growth. The contrast between Colombia's
economic policies and others in the region had led to strong
investment by companies formerly based in Venezuela and Ecuador.
Panama, however, was a major competitor for investment. Several
AmCham members expressed concern about Colombia's relations with
Venezuela, which had already harmed exports from Colombia's north
coast. They also feared that bellicose rhetoric from Venezuela
could lead to an actual armed conflict. Ibanez reviewed
Barranquilla AmCham's programs to train English teachers and

promote corporate social responsibility. The DCM thanked AmCham
members for their leadership in improving ethical business
practices and applauded the local business community for its
commitment to these objectives.

USG sponsored Good Governance Program Trains Private and Public
Sector Employees

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

8. (U) The DCM addressed a class of 55 people taking a course
entitled "Mastering Good Governance, Ethics and Sustainability for
your Business." This was part of AmCham Barranquilla's Good
(Corporate) Governance Program (GGP) sponsored by the U.S.
Department of Commerce, through the International Trade
Administration (ITA). The students are mostly mid-level managers
in private companies along with a few public sector employees. The
DCM discussed the U.S. financial crisis as an example of the large
and long term consequences of many individuals in discrete parts of
the economy choosing to avert their eyes from the ethical course of
action when it conflicted with short term profit motives.

Corporate Social Responsibility Project Improves Childhood

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

9. (U) The DCM traveled to a small school in a poor neighborhood of
Barranquilla to donate books and learn about the Promigas
Foundation's successful corporate social responsibility project,
which strives to improve the quality of elementary and pre-school
education for community children. The natural gas company Promigas
(52% owned by Houston-based Ashmore Energy International)
established the Foundation over ten years ago. The Foundation has
assisted 500 official educational institutions and trained 2,000
teachers, benefiting over 200,000 students. The DCM encouraged the
Foundation's director to find ways to measure the benefits of the
program to refine and replicate its techniques. The DCM shared the
Embassy book donation with a group of students and highlighted the
importance of education.

Afro-Colombian Academics, Civil Society Leaders in Cartagena

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

10. (U) The DCM met with Afro-Colombian academics, community
leaders and students at the University of Cartagena. The community
presented challenges that they face in the economic, social and
cultural spheres and discussed how many Afro-Colombians refuse to
self-identify themselves because of the apparent stigma attached
with this identity. They emphasized the importance of educational
and research initiatives that highlight the achievements of the
Afro-Colombian community in Colombia's history. The DCM commended
the leaders on their work in their community's cause and reiterated
USG commitment to helping them achieve their goals.

US historian David Bushnell


11. (U) DCM hosted a lunch in honor of U.S. historian and former

Fulbright scholar David Bushnell, who specializes in Colombian
history and is one of the most prolific twentieth century writers
on the subject. A select group of participants attending the
Bicentennial History Conference as well as members of the city
government, private sector and University of Cartagena attended.
David Bushnell was visiting Colombia to participate in an
international seminar on Colombian history (Encuentro con Nuestra
Historia) organized by the President's Office as one of many
activities organized between July 2009 and 2010 to celebrate
Colombia's Bicentennial in Cartagena. During the conference,
Professor Bushnell addressed audiences in Cartagena on the subject
of elections and political representation in Colombia. Bushnell
also touched on these themes during the lunch and also spoke about
his perceptions in the social and political changes in Colombia
over the past 60 years.


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