Ask the Ambassador -- Colombia: Ask U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William R. Brownfield a question online.Jane Carpenter-Rock serves as an Assistant Information Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia.
Embassy Bogotá has hosted scores of Congressional Delegations and cabinet-level visitors on their tours around Colombia to asses the merits of passing the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The Public Affairs Section (PAS) has been heavily involved in each visit, generating national and international press coverage and accompanying the delegations on all their travels. As an Assistant Information Officer, I have been on over eight of these trips alone. As an Embassy press office, we had seen it all before. But when word came that Secretary Rice would be bringing a Congressional delegation to Colombia during her visit, the whole Embassy was immediately excited and knew this visit would be different. As a press section, we knew this was a great opportunity to demonstrate to the U.S. Congress and the world the dramatic transformation that has occurred in Colombia.
From the moment Secretary Rice’s trip was announced, everyone was aware of its historic implications. For one, this would be the first visit by a U.S. Secretary of State to Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city. It is a city that once had the misfortune of being labeled “the most dangerous city on earth,” but after a dramatic transformation, it is now one of the most prosperous and hopeful cities in Latin America. And who can resist its beautiful Parque Lleras and its amazing nightlife! Also, this would be one of the first instances that Secretary Rice would host a congressional delegation during her international travel.
The Secretary’s visit was from January 24 – 25, and she was accompanied by WHA A/S Thomas Shannon, EB A/S Daniel Sullivan, and nine members of Congress: Melissa Bean (D-IL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Jane Harman (D-CA), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Ron Klein (D-FL), Rick Larson (D-WA), Solomon Ortiz (D-TX), Ed Perlmutter (D-CA), and David Scott (D-GA). Upon arrival, the delegation was greeted with cheers from the citizens of Medellin who spontaneously gathered in the streets and at various venues to catch a glimpse of the delegation. As one of the traveling press members later reported, “They smiled, waved, applauded and saluted -- from poor people in front of brick shanties to richer ones from office balconies….What was behind it? It was spontaneous, and maybe some were just gawkers. But there was no mistaking the happiness people showed that the American Congress was coming to see their city, and would perhaps hear their pleas for free trade.”
We organized press coverage for all of the Secretary’s public events, including a visit to Parque Explora, a unique hands-on science and technology museum in the heart of the city; a tour of El Trigal, a USAID supported flower farm that employs Colombians displaced by violence; meetings with pro- and anti-FTA labor union officials; a reception with local business leaders; and finally, a live press conference with President Uribe that included over 70 members of the national and international media. This was the first press conference in recent memory that President Uribe conducted with a U.S. cabinet official. After the press conference, President Uribe surprised everyone with a special performance by his prize-winning paso fino horses that trot in a way unique to Antioquia, the department of which Medellin is the capital and Uribe’s ancestral home. It was a fun way to conclude the trip.
In the end, we here at the Embassy hope that the Secretary and her delegation had an enjoyable and productive visit and that their visit and our efforts will help pass the Free Trade Agreement.