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| 12/15/2009 12:00:00 AM

Minorities in Washington

Various African Colombians have been appointed to high level posts at the Washington embassy recently, breaking with an old omission in Colombia’s diplomatic service. For some it means justice, for others, it is nothing but opportunism .

In the past few months, an interesting phenomenon has been taking place in the Casa de Nariño, Colombia’s presidential palace, and the Chancellor’s office: the appointment of African –Colombians in important posts at the Washington embassy. For some analysts, this President Uribe’s decision doesn’t spring form a sincere desire to help black minorities in the country; but from a desire to prevent anybody in the United States from thinking that there is racism in Colombia, all the more when the first African American president, Barack Obama, is in his first year of office. Yet, others believe that no other Colombian president has tried to help the black community, until recently forgotten, in the way Uribe has. The incredible thing is both sides are, in one way or another, right on point.

Two of the appointments have been pertinent. One was that of general Luis Alberto Moore, as police aggregate. With 50 years, Moore holds a great deal of experience in a wide array of fields and, on top of everything, three years ago, he became the first African-Colombian General in the country. The other appointment is that of Natalia Peña, who since October works as the assistant of ambassador Carolina Barco. She is a 32 year old economist from Externado University, speaks and writes English fluently, and has ample experience in international commerce. Yet, the third post is currently being doubted. Lidia Mosquera, former secretary of Ethic Affairs for the Valle del Cauca administration, is being considered as a possible diplomat in Washington, but she hasn’t set foot in the American capital once it was known that her political godfather was former senator Juan Carlos Martinez, currently detained because of presumed associations with the paramilitary groups.

It is not the first time Uribe selects African Colombians for high ranging jobs. He had already designated other two minority figures. In may 2007, he named Paula Marcela Moreno as Minister of Culture and two months later, in what was considered a brisk decision, he named Andres Palacio as the Viceminister of Social Protection. “I want him to start tomorrow morning” ordered Uribe via telephone, from Washington, of all places, after an afternoon meeting with various African American congressmen. Yet, caution is in order. The initiative behind these appointments was not totally Uribe’s. He wanted to please African American Gregory Meeks, a democrat deputy, and wanted to send a message to the also African American democrat Charles Rangel, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Uribe meant both of them, as part of the Black Caucus at Congress (which controls nothing less than 40 out of the 435 seats) to give their approval for the FTA, which is still far from being voted in the Chamber and the Senate, where 100 members sit. Meeks, who always backs president Uribe, was pleased. Rangel was not. It was only logical: Uribe did not consider that the activists of the black communities in Colombia oppose the treaty and are frequent visitors in Rangel’s office.

While the president’s critics find it embarrassing that he names African Colombians just as a way to give in to pressures from Congress or simply to be fashionable in Obama times, his supporters affirm that those allegations are not true. They state that Paula Moreno’s appointment was the first for an African American (as minister) in Colombian history, and it happened before Barack Obama set foot in the White House. They say Uribe has invested millions in the Pacific Coast area, where most of the black communities live, and has backed Affirmative Action policies to help African Colombians become more competitive against the white population. And they assure that a young African Colombian child from a village in Chocó, may dream of one day becoming a minister or ambassador.

The issue is open to interpretation. The only certainty is that it is neither black or white.

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