Janine Keil serves as a Public Diplomacy Officer at theU.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia.
It started with a story about Starbucks and ended with a photo of Juan Valdez. It was a $60 million day. Let me explain…
I'm here on a temporary assignment in the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá and had the good fortune of accompanying Ambassador William R. Brownfield, Liliana Ayalde, Director of USAID in Bogotá, and various other USAID staff and contractors on a visit to a town called Chinchiná in Colombia’s coffee region for a signing ceremony to inaugurate a $60 million project supporting 30,000 hectares of specialty coffee, benefitting 25,000 of the country’s poorest coffee grower families.
Ambassador Brownfield addressed a crowd of more than 1,000 people in Chinchiná and shared the story of the fictional "Stanley Starbucks," a savvy businessman who realized Americans would be willing to pay more for a decent cup of coffee. Tying this story back to the importance of specialty coffee in Colombia, Ambassador Brownfield explained how investing in specialty coffee projects helps Colombian coffee growers develop a more lucrative product, a product exportable to coffee shops like Starbucks around the world.
And what celebration of Colombian coffee would be complete without a visit by Juan Valdez himself? The afternoon's event served the dual purpose of inaugurating the expansion of Chinchiná’s freeze-drying plant, and after President Uribe led a small group of VIPs through the new facilities, the whole crowd was treated to a beauty-pageant-like parade of women representing the world’s coffee-producing countries, with Juan Valdez right there in the center of the action.
Though it's hard to compete with the legendary Señor Valdez, Ambassador Brownfield held his own, drawing much attention from a flock of eager journalists and cameramen asking questions on topics ranging from the prospects for the Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement to the U.S. position on Colombia’s largest insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). When you're the U.S. Ambassador, a day dedicated to coffee is still a day when you must still be prepared to address any and every aspect of U.S. foreign policy.