The Inter-American Dialogue’s Congressional Members Working Group met on September 17, 2008 to discuss the challenges facing Afro-Colombians. The event featured a delegation from Colombia including Paula Moreno, minister of culture of Colombia; Oscar Gamboa, manager of Intersectorial Commission for the Social and Economic Advancement of the Afro-Colombian Population; Christian Moreno Panesco, governor of the department of Cesar in Colombia; Judith Pinedo, mayor of the city of Cartagena, Colombia; and Silfrido Morales, a member of the Colombian Congress. Other participants included Ambassador Carolina Barco of Colombia, US State Department deputy assistant secretary for Andean affairs Christopher McMullen and director of Brazilian and Southern Cone affairs Milton Drucker, and Inter-American Foundation president Larry Palmer and vice-president of operations Linda Kolko. The dinner was co-sponsored by the Inter-American Foundation and the Inter-American Dialogue.
The discussion focused on the main challenges that Afro-Colombians face and how these could be addressed. Participants identified high levels of poverty, poor access to education, and a lack of political representation as some of the key issues that have affected the Afro-Colombian population historically and continue to today. In order to combat structural poverty, participants agreed on the need to pass legislation and implement socio-economic policies that are comprehensive and inclusive of minorities in Colombia.
Participants also recognized the importance of increased US-Colombia partnerships, including at the grassroots level, to support development initiatives in Afro-Colombian communities. Public and private entities should cooperate to create spaces for open dialogue that will invite Afro-Colombians to share their concerns and needs. This could also facilitate a closer relationship between Afro-Colombian communities and the Colombian government.
Participants considered a free-trade agreement with the United States both a great opportunity and a challenge for the Afro-Colombian population in Colombia. They expressed their belief that it would help create greater opportunities for social and economic development in all regions of Colombia, including the rural areas and urban business sectors. They emphasized the need to promote competitiveness and increase capacity for local industries to adapt to the global market.
Host: Representatives Gregory Meeks (D-NY)
Other Participating Members: Representatives Bill Delahunt (D-MA), Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL), Sam Farr (D-CA) and Diane Watson (D-CA)