Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 3: The U.S. Embassy, World Bank and group meetings

Our first day of meetings was an overwhelming success, with each policy research group visiting a number of sites to interview experts and policymakers (read on for more). We also had two sessions in which the entire class participated: a briefing at the U.S. Embassy and a Q&A session at the World Bank.

Our visit to the Embassy began with a country briefing from the Deputy Chief of Mission, who has served in Colombia off-and-on since the late 1980s. As a result, he has observed the evolution of the U.S. partnership with Colombia since the very beginning of Plan Colombia. His perspective of this partnership -- and its role in managing Colombia's ongoing conflict -- was overwhelmingly positive. He and many of his embassy colleagues view Plan Colombia as a success.

The DCM credited part of the success to the U.S. for its contributions of money and expertise. But even the most well-intended foreign aid packages fail when the local government is not fully engaged in the policy. Thus, he said the success of Plan Colombia has really been the result of the Colombian's political will, commitment and willingness to eventually put their own money into the effort. Today, U.S. financing of Plan Colombia is shrinking, as the Colombian government takes over more control of its programs (a good thing). And together, the U.S. and Colombia are moving toward a whole-of-government approach that will emphasize economic development as much as law enforcement and counternarcotics.

The whole gang at the World Bank.

The other bookend in our day was the World Bank, where Bank experts also credited Colombian political will with many economic developments that have been made in the last few years. They called it "putting the government in the driver's seat." Colombia's tax structure, distribution of royalties from oil, and education system are in dire need of reform, however.

- Lindsay

Dispatch from the security team

The security policy team got off to a great start today at the U.S. Embassy. After the DCM's briefing, my fellow security operatives and I met with other embassy representatives to discuss security and narcotics issues in Colombia. One is the program officer of the Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) at the embassy, which has a large investment in various counternarcotics operations in Colombia. The other is a U.S. Army officer who is the operations and plans officer at the U.S. Military Group Colombia (MilGrp). Both offered background and insight on what the most pressing security issues are in Colombia; particularly the FARC and the Bacrims. They are two of the many bright professionals who we would want to spent more than just two hours with, but nonetheless, learned a great deal from.

The team's next mission was lunch with an LGBT rights lawyer. The social-policy team was gracious enough to let us piggyback on their discussion, and we also learned a great deal from him. A social policy expert and legal professional, he is also very knowledgeable on several human rights and security issues in Colombia, which we benefited from very much. His core focus, however, is policy addressing the gay and lesbian community.

We ended the day rejoining our other IEDP colleagues at the World Bank where we discussed various development issues -- particularly in public education -- in Colombia. As we are part of the International Economic Development Program, this discussion proved to be central in understanding the economic issues surrounding Colombia today and the many policies that continue to improve Colombia's economy.

- Neal

Dispatch from the business and trade team

Our first day of meetings got off to an exciting start at the US Embassy! The Business and Trade group learned further about the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) from two embassy staggers. The FTA has served to remove the barriers for Colombian goods in the US market. As one of the staffers elegantly explained, "free trade agreements act as a bridge between nations. Normally, the bridge has a tollbooth at each nation's entrance. The FTA removes that tollbooth. Yet, it is up to each nation whether they travel on the bridge..."

Jeff, Sophia, Kyasha, Sara, Mauricio, and Naveen (L to R)
In the afternoon our group headed to Fedesarrollo, where we were met by Mr. Mauricio Reina. He shared that textiles, apparel, shoes, coffee, graphics, horticulture and auto-parts are sectors that will all greatly benefit from the FTA.

Throughout the day we learned the steps that Colombia is taking to further strengthen its economy, including reformation of the tax system, justice system and royalty system. Infrastructure, health and education are sectors that require further development in order for Colombia to successfully trade on the international market. Tomorrow, we are meeting with the Minister of Trade. We're looking forward to hearing more about Colombia's trade relations around the world.

- Kyasha

Dispatch from the social policy team

Today we met with USAID's Vulnerable Populations special task force at the U.S. Embassy to discuss measures USAID has taken to advocate on behalf of victims of Colombia's conflict, the indigenous population, and Afro-Colombians. We learned that one of USAID's biggest roles is to help manage the efforts of multiple NGOs and government agencies on behalf of these populations for more effective programming. Additionally, not only do they champion equal opportunity employment agreements and affirmative action measures, but they also seek to elevate the national discourse on race relations and discrimination through multimedia communication campaigns.

For lunch we met with one of Colombia's leading LGBT rights lawyers. Considering Colombia's conservative current administration, people were surprised to learn that Colombia has an exemplary record on LGBT rights. Same-sex marriage has been legalized by the federal government so that same-sex couples have equal rights and considerations under the law as heterosexual couples. The topic of discussion bounced between various pressing social and economic issues as our host touched on the use of tutelas as a means of ensuring the right to health, bandas criminales, and his thoughts on the U.S.'s somewhat contradictory narcotrafficking policies in Colombia.

- Ine

Dispatch from the environment team

The environment team spent the morning chatting with three experts at the U.S. Embassy. When it comes to promoting low emissions development (LED) in Colombia, we don’t have to convince them of anything, one staffer told us; Colombia is on board. As we found out in our afternoon meeting, biofuels were conceived of as part of the country’s ‘green production’ strategy under Pastraña’s administration when the then-president visited Indonesia and Malaysia and saw biofuel production as the future—he dreamed of 3 million hectares of palm plantations within 12 years. Today, Fedepalma, Colombia’s largest biofuel company, is a major recipient of clean development mechanism (CDM) funding—a good indicator of the industry’s role in LED. However, as the embassy officials told us, though Colombia has one of the most aggressive biofuel policies in the world, the industry faces friction in terms of infrastructure (transporting the fuels from production sites is a challenge) and commercial market conditions (palm oil is more profitable than biodiesel).

Our afternoon meeting with a human rights group that works in conflict zones, offered us a perspective on the darker side of the biofuel industry. Our host confirmed reports we’ve read that connect palm expansion to the displacement of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in rural regions. When we asked if the biofuel industry could benefit rural communities in any way, he responded definitively: no. He gave two reasons for his conviction: (1) Switching to palm production would require a cultural transformation which isn’t forthcoming, and that (2) palm is only profitable when grown on expansive plantations, so the industry is not conducive to small farmers. 

In the coming days, the environment team hopes to further parse the polar perspectives we’ve encountered on the biofuel industry and search for common ground.

- Allie
Dispatch from the human rights team

The Human Rights team commenced its research on developments in the subject following the demobilization process, the Justice and Peace Law, and documentation of historical memory. The groups assessed and researched the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy in Colombia and initiatives in this regard. The group met with experts in various aspects of U.S. involvement pertaining to the facilitation and initiation of human rights development in the Colombia.

Particularly relevant to the group's research are USAID programs such as the Early Warning System, aimed at detecting populations or communities vulnerable to human rights atrocities. Other USAID projects cover a wide range of human rights issues, including gender rights, technical support for legal practitioners, LGBT rights advocacy, legal aid through Justice Houses, and support for legal education institutions. The issue of sustainability in terms of Colombian ownership of human rights institutions and programs remains central to USAID’s efforts in the field, as evidenced from the creation and institutionalization of the Ombudsman’s Office.

The group’s second meeting of the day was with a legal and rights advocacy organization to explore in detail the issue of documentation, archivization, investigation, and litigation in emblematic cases. The group's research traced the roots of the Justice and Peace Law and human rights developments in context of the politics that underpinned and facilitated the processes, and looked at case studies of emblematic cases. The group sought to identify the avenues for continued human rights advocacy, as well as how NGO involvement has evolved between administrations and legislative developments. The group observed that - while much progress has been made in the justice project - particularly as evidenced in recent trials of military officers and the indictment of those involved in the parapolitics scandal, much still is left to be desired. While Law 975, the work of Grupo Memoria Historica, and recent progress holds promise for the future of human rights protection in the country, major problems remain in the form of institutionalized impunity,victim participation, and reparations processes.

- Emad

No comments:

Post a Comment