Doral seeks partnership with Barranquilla, Colombia

In the global climate following World War II, as the Cold War heated up following a prolonged conflict in Korea, President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 held a White House conference in which proposed a citizen diplomacy initiative in response to the growing political and social tensions that threatened the world with a third war.

That proposed program is now a nonprofit corporation known as Sister Cities International and involves more than 2,000 cities, counties, and states in the U.S. partnering with cities in 136 countries per the organization’s website. The program is designed as a way for partnered cities to engage in social, cultural, and economic exchanges.

Earlier this month, Mayor Luigi Boria traveled to Barranquilla, Colombia, to meet with Barranquilla Mayor Elsa Noguera De La Espriella and signed a letter of intent to pursue a partnership between the two cities. This diplomatic trip was part of a celebration of American Airlines’ inaugural direct flight from Miami to Barranquilla.

The two parties are currently in the process of drafting an agreement under the Sister Cities International program. Doral officials estimate that the agreement will become official within the next two months.

In an official statement, Boria said: “The city of Doral is a major international hub for business and culture, renowned for its beauty and quality of life, much like Barranquilla. Our city is also home to many Colombians, linking us through commerce, culture, education, trade and family connections, and facilitated through frequent flights that connect our two cities.”

This is not the first time that Doral has attempted to enter into an international partnership.

In 2011, Doral and the Xizhi District of New Taipei City in Taiwan became sister cities, but the effects of the agreement were minimal. City officials, including Boria and Doral economic developer Manuel Pila, indicated that distance, language, and culture were significant hurdles in getting that partnership off the ground.

“Connectivity is a very important part of it. If you can’t get together easily, you can have a Sister Cities program, but it’s more difficult for it to mean something,” said Pila. “In this case, there’s physical and cultural connectivity.”

Though the two cities have been engaged in sporadic levels of conversation since 2008, both Boria and Pila indicated the 2014 Miss Universe Pageant as a “tipping point” for initiating more serious talks about partnership.

The 2014 Miss Universe, Paulina Vega, is a Barranquilla native.

“The reality is that we have so many things in common, that it just makes sense,” said Boria.

There is some concern among residents of Doral that increased focus on encouraging foreign investment shortchanges the interests of residents currently living in Doral, but Pila and Boria both said that they believe these kinds of agreements help local interests as opposed to hurting them.

“We have a lot of logistics companies here and they will be able to communicate better with Barranquilla. We will be creating more jobs, more facilities, and better education,” said Boria. “It’s an economic engine that is starting up.”

Sister Cities agreements are usually between cities of similar size and population, but in this case Doral — a city of approximately 50,000 residents according to 2013 estimates – is partnering with a city whose metro area population totals over 2 million people and is the 4th most populous in all of Colombia.

“What it provides is a kind of two-way opportunity for business and culture and education, which could lead directly to economic growth, jobs, trade opportunities, tourism,” said Pila.

The idea for a partnership was discussed during Doral’s May city zoning meeting and the council unanimously approved moving forward with the talks and the initiative has the support of members of council.

Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez said she understands fears that residents might have about added foreign investment, but that she has supported this and past Sister City initiatives.

“I think anything that promotes economic development, trade, and interaction between Doral and any country that has things to positive things offer us is something that is positive for our city and for our region,” said Rodriguez.