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Cablegate: For Release: Into the Jungle: Ambassador Visits Amazonas

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #4066/01 3561422
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 221421Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1703
INFO RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS BOGOTA 004066

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EINV ECON PHUM MOPS SENV EAID SOCI SCUL PREL CO
SUBJECT: FOR RELEASE: INTO THE JUNGLE: AMBASSADOR VISITS AMAZONAS

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SUMMARY

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1. (SBU) The Ambassador traveled for the first time in his tenure
to the Amazonas Department and its capital, Leticia, on November 18
and 19. During his visit, he met with representatives from
indigenous communities, the local tourism sector, local,
department, and federal government officials, and NGO leaders about
the needs and challenges in the region. He also met with many
monkeys, including a grouchy alpha male. Most of the region's
needs centered around economic development with a focus on
ecotourism. While a select few organizations have managed to
balance conservation and local economic needs, a lack of thoughtful
planning for increased tourism demand could put the region's
treasures at risk. END SUMMARY.

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BALANCING CONSERVATION AND MODERN NEEDS

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2. (U) The Ambassador met with representatives from the
Ticuna-Cocama indigenous community in a "town hall"-type setting.
Community leaders expressed their concerns about preserving the
larger community's heritage and the importance of environmental
preservation in their region. As part of the USAID-sponsored
Initiative for the Conservation of the Andean Amazon (ICAA), the
community has received small grants aimed at strengthening
self-regulation, training women and youth about sustainable
fisheries, and improving community capacity to negotiate with
government entities. During their meeting with the Ambassador,
representatives cited the the need to preserve and sustain their
way of life through improved access to education and markets for
their handicrafts and traditional medicine.

3. (U) The Ambassador also visited a local public school that aims
to balance indigenous and modern culture through the educational
environment and curriculum. The Camilo Torres School serves
children mainly from the Ticuna-Cocama indigenous community. The
school's principal and the Leticia Secretary of Education
emphasized that in order for the children to succeed and preserve
their culture and surrounding environment, they must also be
well-educated in the languages and culture of their neighbors. The
students receive instruction not only in Spanish, but in
Portuguese, Ticuna, and some English. During the school visit, the
Ambassador donated a collection of books provided by the Public
Affairs Section (PAS) to assist in the school's successful
integrative support to indigenous communities.

4. (SBU) Cultural preservation in Amazonas is inextricably linked
to environmental conservation. Amacayacu National Park is the
centerpiece of conservation in the Colombian Amazon. The
Ambassador met with the Director of the park, Alexander Alfonso,
the Regional Director for the Amazon and the Orinoquia from the
Colombian National Parks Department, Rodrigo Botero, and Director
of the Omacha Foundation (NGO), Fernando Trujillo. The Amacayacu
National Park was created in 1975 and spans 293,500 hectares. The
park not only protects flora and fauna of the Amazon region, but
also is home to indigenous communities. The Ambassador visited a
rehabilitation center for seven species of monkeys that have been
rescued from exploitation in the international black market for
exotic animals. By staffing the center with local community
members trained to care for the monkeys, the park's management both
provides employment and protects the vulnerable flora and fauna in
the region.

5. (U) Another organization that effectively balances conservation
with the need for employment and education is the Omacha
Foundation. An environmental NGO, the foundation has worked
closely with communities in the Amazon region to protect the pink
dolphin (a rare species native to the Amazon) and to end the use of
its meat for bait. In order to protect and preserve the fauna of
the Amazon, the foundation has sponsored outreach programs to
schools, fishermen, the tourism sector, local authorities, and

researchers, on the importance of conserving Colombia's unique
aquatic species. Omacha has sponsored artisanal craft programs and
other sustainable eco-tourism programs that provide an economic
resource for local communities. The Ambassador met with the
director of the foundation, Dr. Trujillo, who detailed the NGO's
work and highlighted the importance of conserving the natural
resources of the area while developing income-generating projects
for the local community.

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WHOM DO WE ATTRACT? FINDING A PLAN FOR THE TOURISM INDUSTRY

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6. (U) The Amazonas Department is the largest department in
Colombia, but only has 48,000 inhabitants, 53% of whom live in
Leticia and Puerto Narino, municipalities located along a
116-kilometer slice of the Amazon River. The current economy of
Amazonas Department, which borders Brazil and Peru, contributes
less than .05% to Colombia's GDP. Local and department leaders
have been vocal about their desire to improve the economy through
the ecotourism sector, but have been unable to reach concrete
conclusions as to how to do this.

7. (SBU) During the Ambassador's visit he met with Jose Ricaurte
Rojas Guerrero, Mayor of Leticia; Maria Isabel Diaz, a
representative from the Amazonas Governor's office and the
Governor's wife; and leaders in the tourism industry. All parties
expressed the overwhelming need and desire for a strengthened
economic situation with additional opportunities to grow the
tourism sector, but differed in their overall vision for how to
best tap the Amazon's unique environment to attract tourists. The
Mayor requested the Ambassador's support in protecting Leticia and
the department of Amazonas from the migration of "outsiders," or
non-native individuals, to the region. The mayor suggested a plan
similar to that in the San Andres Islands, which would establish
clear residence requirements and promote the protection of the
communities in the region. This was suggested as an opportunity to
protect the local economy and provide preference to the natives of
the region.

8. (U) During a breakfast meeting, tourism industry leaders
stressed the importance of stimulating the ecotourism sector to
improve the local economy, but had different suggestions for an
approach to this. Everyone recognized that the area lacks
important infrastructure, with only 25 miles of paved roads and
insufficient hotel rooms to accommodate an increase in visitors,
but there was a lack of an overall plan on how to attract the
high-income "boutique" eco-tourists the group seemed to be
interested in attracting. The Chamber of Commerce is interested in
building a convention center in Leticia, which runs counter to the
tourism industry's interest in fewer, but higher-quality tourists.
All participants emphasized the importance of the international
community's involvement and resources to help them develop the
tourism sector. A proposal for a safari-type park was put forth to
the Ambassador. The Ambassador cautioned that any kind of safari
park or zoo would need to be carefully developed. In addition, the
Ambassador pointed out that if they wanted to capitalize on Leticia
as an area for ecotourism, a traditional zoo featuring caged
endangered Amazon animals would negatively impact that image.

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FIRST STEP: CROSS-BORDER COOPERATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE

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9. (SBU) Despite the discord in their views on tourism, all parties
agreed that infrastructure development and cross-border cooperation
were central to the region's growth. The military is leading this
effort. In contrast to much of the rest of Colombia, the
military's presence in Amazonas is mainly for cross-border
cooperation and training. About 90 minutes outside of Leticia, by
boat, is the GOC's Lancero jungle training school. The school is
modeled after the U.S. Army's Ranger school, and this campus is the
last stop before graduation. While visiting the school, the
Ambassador took a tour of the obstacle course and the training

facility. At the time of his visit there was one U.S. Army
representative enrolled in the course.

10. (U) While infrastructure is lacking in the Amazonas Department,
the Colombian Air Force (CAF) is currently constructing an air
force base on the same property as the civilian airport. The
increased capacity of the airport, with a longer runway, will allow
for additional commercial flights to utilize the airport.

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COMMENT

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11. (SBU) While all parties the Ambassador met with in Amazonas
expressed a strong desire to improve economic development and
increase ecotourism, no one put forward a plan to achieve these
goals. Furthermore, the desired goals varied from sector to
sector, causing some minor friction. As the Ambassador noted in
all of his meetings, the greater community's failure to create a
concrete plan would represent a lost economic opportunity for the
region. END COMMENT.

BROWNFIELD

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