Sunday, March 11, 2012

One last hurrah


Dispatch from the environment team

Al fin, Cartagena. While other policy teams were suiting up for meetings with the DEA, etc., the environment team was in a taxi in the midst of the other side of Cartagena—one that tourists rarely see. Rafael Nuñez is home to 13,000 of the poorest people in the city, which has one of the most extreme income disparities in the world. By 8 a.m. the heat was already settling heavy on the neighborhood, and we drove past a trash-covered shore and bustling fish market before finding what we thought was our final destination. 

It turns out that there are two sites for the non-profit Granitos de Paz in Rafael Nuñez, and we happened to have stumbled first upon the cuter one: a daycare center for hundreds of infants and pre-schoolers. The center had a nursery, a ‘dance studio’ with a full-wall mirror, an open-air cafeteria that served fresh meals, and lots of singing, clapping children. We were smitten.

We eventually were able to drag ourselves away to the site of our actual meeting, the Granitos de Paz office, run by the lovely and lively Diana Peña. There, we learned a bit more about the amazing work of Granitos de Paz, a non-profit that is leading micro-finance investment and urban agriculture development in the neighborhood. They have built 42 houses in Rafael Nuñez in the last eight years, and they teach families to grow crops in the narrow, sunny spaces behind their homes. Urban farmers of the neighborhood sell spearmint (for mojitos), basil, red pepper, eggplant, and cucumber to some of the fanciest hotels in Cartagena, and Granitos de Paz also offers cooking classes for growers to learn how to incorporate their fresh produce into meals at home. 

Off to the side of the office was a ‘senior center’ which might more accurately be described as a ‘dance club’ given all the boogying that was going down at 9 a.m. We ended our visit with a walk around the neighborhood to visit some of the neighborhood gardens and take in the luscious smells. Though tangential to our research topic on biofuels, the visit to Granitos de Paz certainly renewed our faith in the possibility for grassroots, environmentally inspiring economic development in Colombia. We were also all grateful to have found a place to retire/get down with some Latin beats in a few years.

- Allie

Friday, March 9, 2012

Some dispatches we didn't get to post earlier...

Dispatch from the business and trade team

Our last morning in Bogota started with a meeting at our hotel with Carlos Ocampo from the Centro Integral de Servicios Empresariales (CREAME). CREAME is an incubator that was founded in 1996 by 29 academic, business and governmental institutions. It serves to increase capacity of small and medium businesses by educating owners in order to increase their competitiveness on the global market. To accomplish that goal, CREAME provides training and resources for small businesses. Their services are in high demand in regions with few alternative economic development initiatives. They also connect businesses in similar industries, which allows for the sharing of best practices. CREAME gets its funding from the Ministry of Commerce and multinational corporations. 

After our meeting with Carlos we headed over to the Department of National Planning where we met up with the rest of the group. Not only was the meeting informative, but there was also an amazing view of downtown Bogota! It was the perfect way to end our time in Bogota.

- Kyasha

Dispatch from the environment team

The environment team spent our last morning in Bogotá with the first Minister of Environment and now a professor at Universidad de los Andes. We met with him at the beautiful U of A business school building and chatted about biofuels and environmental decision-making in Colombia. Our host is skeptical of the trickle-down effect of wealth in Colombia, noting that “for the last 50 years, we are the same.” He worries that Colombia’s agricultural policy—along with its promotion of mining and other industries—are contributing more to the concentration of wealth than its distribution. He also said that adequate environmental protections are elusive under a weak state and that, as of now, Colombia doesn’t have the minimum conditions to protect the environment vis-à-vis mining.

However, when it came to palm, the professor said that is was possible for the industry to go in the “environmentally right direction.” Though the environmental performance of the palm industry was atrocious in the 90s, when there was no water treatment, methodologies have improved significantly since then. Palm is planted in previously deforested areas but is not a driver of deforestation, and Colombia has enough arable land that palm is not competing with food crops. 

The major challenge in protecting Colombia’s unique ecosystems, the professor said, is not money, but political will. “In order to protect the Amazon Basin, you don’t need economic incentives,” he said, citing one example. “It’s a political decision about what the future of that region should be.” His recent book lays out an environmental vision for the agriculture frontier of Colombia. Meeting him left us with a sense of the importance of this kind of envisioning to environmental policy-making.

- Allie

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Homeward bound...

... but with lots left to do! We have many more pictures and stories to share in the coming weeks. And check back for our final reports in the last part of March.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Day 7: Group meetings and Universidad Technologica de Bolivar

IEDPers woke up to a much warmer, more humid climate this morning, having arrived in coastal Cartagena last night for our final day of meetings. Each group attended separate meetings in the morning but reconvened around mid-afternoon for a final hurrah at Universidad Technologica de Bolivar.

Our host explaining the history of the university.
Back when the university was founded in 1970 as a technological institute, Cartagena was a city of fewer than 350,000 inhabitants. Today, it is home to more than 1 million, and the university has grown along with it. In 2011 it joined a list of 20 other accredited universities in the country (a distinguished accomplishment). It is continually forming relationships with other universities and pushing to be a research institution.

Among the research being conducted at the Universidad Technologica de Bolivar currently are studies of the various development plans that are being designed and enacted nationwide. There are 1,133 such plans -- 1 at the national level, 32 in the departments and 1,103 in municipalities. There appears to be considerable lack of coordination between the various plans, making for ineffective implementation.

Our guests at the university shared some yummy banana cake with us while we admired their beautiful campus -- comprising colorful buildings, tropical trees that danced in the wind, and lots and lots of sun. It made for a pleasant grande finale!

- Lindsay

Dispatch from the security team

Today was a strong finish for the security team as we wrapped up our investigation on the Colombian Bacrims at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency office in Cartagena. After passing through tight security checkpoints, we met with the Special Agent-In-Charge of the office who has been with the agency for more than 20 years, much of which he had served in Latin America. He explained the importance and the severity of the Bacrims to security in Colombia. He also explained to us how the Bacrims smuggle illicit narcotics out of the country, including the use of submersibles or "drug subs." These makeshift submarines can submerge up to 60 feet underwater carrying tons of illicit drugs on just one trip. The use of these submarines make it exceptionally difficult for law enforcement and military forces to detect and intercept drug trafficking in the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean.

Our host also described the extremely fragmented organization of some of the main Bacrim groups and how they can buy off entire communities in order to operate. After our meeting, we rode to lunch in an armored SUV courtesy of the DEA. That, ladies and gentlemen, is your tax dollars being put to good use!


Dispatch from the social policy team

The morning began with the Observatorio del Caribe, a think tank in Cartagena that focused on generating information on development issues and policies in the Caribbean Coast. Their biggest effort at the moment is launching their information system to collect data from various stakeholders and archive it in a central, accessible location online. They are also working with the government on a large food security program. Their work is important because the Caribbean coast of Colombia has been disconnected from the interior, and there are huge gaps in knowledge about the region for policymakers.

The next meeting was one of our more interesting ones. We had a roundtable discussion with several community organizers, UNDP workers, and municipal government representatives who work specifically on issues of Afro-descendants. Everyone had a lot to say about the challenges for Afro-descendants. People had different ideas on the politics of racial identification and its role in mobilizing. A Palenque student stood out among the activists explained the daily experience of racial discrimination and micro-aggressions Afro-descendants faced.

- Ine

Dispatch from the business and trade team

This morning the Business and Trade team accompanied the Social Policy group to the Observatorio del Caribe Colombiano. This think tank develops strategies for regional development by creating public knowledge. To that end they have created an online database on their website ( This system is called the Sistema de Indicadores de Desarrollo del Caribe (SID) which features indicators that chart the rates of development in the Caribbean region of Colombia.

After a lovely lunch in the sun our group headed to the Universidad Technologica de Bolivar for our very last IEDP meeting with the entire group.

- Kyasha

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Day 6: Department of Planning and group meetings

The groups spent the morning finishing their rounds of meetings in Bogota, visiting such sites as the Ministry of Defense and the National Planning Department. Around lunchtime, everyone gathered for a meeting at the Department of Evaluation of Public Policies.

The department is responsible for helping to prepare Colombia's National Development Plan, which is based on programs put forth every four years by candidates running for national office. (According to our host, Colombians vote on programs in national elections, rather than candidates themselves. The candidate who puts forth the program that gets selected is the one who runs it.) The department also monitors numerous indicators for the National Development Plan to assess its progress, output and outcomes.

Dorado's diagrams of the current and previous plans.
Under former president Uribe, our host said, the National Development Plan looked like a house with three pillars: security, investment and social cohesion. The roof held up by the pillars was the communitarian state. Uribe's strategy was the winning Colombia's war would attract investment and build trust in government institutions. Essentially, decreasing security problems would boost GDP and reduce poverty. Under President Santos, the NDP looks like a wheel with three spokes: socioeconomic growth, social equality, and security and justice.

Unlike Uribe, Santos puts particular focus on justice as a part of the administration's security efforts. He also acknowledges that foreign investment is just a small part of national growth, and narrowing the income gap requires improving the quality of education. All three parts of the wheel must be promoted simultaneously in order for the plan to progress. Although the two plans contain many of the same components, Santos's plan acknowledges developments in Colombian society.

- Lindsay

Dispatch from the social policy team

The morning began especially early with a last-minute meeting with the appointed government representative of Colombian Afro-descendents. He explained how he works as an advocate for Afro-descendant issues trying to get money to Colombia to support programs and projects addressing these issues.

We had the opportunity to meet with two of the former Ministry of Health's assistants who were integral in shaping some of the more recent health reforms. They offered insight into the thought process for some of these policies and gave an economist's perspective of the health care system.

Our next meeting was with the Monitoring and Evaluation team at the Department of National Planning. The team explained step-by-step how they monitored the progress of various policies and their policy evaluation techniques. They offered ongoing examples of monitoring and evaluation projects, including one dealing with Familias en Accion. When asked about how they monitor outcomes of policies by different ethnic groups, it became clear that this wasn't information that there was  lot of effort in pursuing. According to some employees, Afro-descendants are not considered a minority in Colombia, and the needs of Afro-descendants are similar to mestizos and white Colombians, unlike indigenous populations.

- Ine