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Prosperity In Colombia

Por Dialogo
julio 17, 2009

Colombia has prevailed despite being victimized by violent guerrillas and drug trafficking. While the country continues its fight to eradicate those conflicts, it also offers help to others dealing with similar threats. During a visit to U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Miami, Carolina Barco, Colombian ambassador to the U.S., spoke with DIÁLOGO about Colombia’s diplomatic role on an international level and its partners who have helped the country prosper. *_*DIÁLOGO: Colombia and the U.S. have traditionally been strong allies in the region. In your role as ambassador, how do you see that relationship in the future?*_* _Ambassador Barco:_ Like you say, Colombia and the U.S. have traditionally been very good allies and very good friends. Friends as states, as countries, as people; I feel this relationship is going to continue, like when we joined them in the Korean War. We have always shared democratic values, searching for peace and prosperity. So I see this as a relationship that will remain very strong. And with President Obama’s new government, we are certainly going to continue working on new opportunities. *_*DIÁLOGO: U.S. support for Colombia, particularly the Colombia Plan, has provoked some criticism. How important is this support for Colombia in continuing with its achievements?*_* _Ambassador Barco:_ To begin with, I would say the Colombia Plan has been a great accomplishment and a great success. And to prove it, just go to Colombia and speak with any Colombian who will tell you and will also radiate the optimism of our country, of our future and the possibility of having a more prosperous and peaceful country. And we owe that, to a great extent, to the Colombia Plan. I can provide data to show how that situation has progressed. In 1998, Colombia was in a very deep recession because the levels of violence associated with drugs made Colombians and foreigners lose faith in the country and not want to invest, so we entered a pronounced recession. After six years of the Colombia Plan and President Álvaro Uribe’s leadership, we have a country — until last year, before this global recession began — growing by 6 percent in annual foreign investment during the last four years. And despite last year’s economic difficulties, it was up to $8.5 billion. We are a country that has been able to shrink its poverty rate by 10 percent, has lowered insecurity levels by 40 percent, and its terrible affliction of kidnappings by 80 percent. *_*DIÁLOGO: You are here for a diplomatic meeting with Adm. James G. Stavridis, commander of U.S. Southern Command. How important is the relationship between diplomats and the military regarding security matters?*_* _Ambassador Barco:_ I believe security issues have to be viewed from a military as well as a diplomatic perspective, because they require military actions, as well as cooperation and calculation. Therefore, it is necessary to work in diplomatic environments, seeking cooperation and military environments to increase the capacity of each side and to work jointly to face the issues that allow for greater security. *_*DIÁLOGO: Colombia has undoubtedly had a very positive history tied to security and prosperity. Why has Colombia achieved better results than other nations with similar problems?*_* _Ambassador Barco:_ I believe it’s essential to understand the direct relationship between security and prosperity. The drug culture relies upon the advancement of corruption and violence. So when Colombia adopts very clear policies on improving the country’s security — strengthening the armed forces within the criterion of respect for human rights and to develop armed forces like we have today, which are respected by the people — it reduces insecurity and leads to renewed investment growth. Colombians have renewed faith in their country; they are investing again, and foreigners are visiting Colombia. As a result, the economy is growing. Unemployment has declined from 20 percent to 11 percent. *_*DIÁLOGO: Colombia has made significant progress in an era of combating mob leaders, violence and drug traffickers. What suggestions can you offer a country like Mexico, which is currently struggling with those same challenges?*_* _Ambassador Barco:_ We have the utmost respect for Mexico and President Felipe Calderón, and we offer our solidarity to confront the terrible problem that is the presence of narcotrafficking in his country. He’s known from the start that President Uribe has been ready to offer the support he values and to share with them the lessons we learned from a very complicated history of fighting narcotrafficking. I believe President Calderón’s leadership, the same leadership our presidents gave during their time, encourages citizens to take a strong stance against narcotrafficking. In Colombia’s case — regarding our police as well as our army — it is also very important to strengthen those institutions to battle drug trafficking. It is also crucial to strengthen the institutions of justice and those that allow us to fight narcotrafficking more effectively through intelligence and better-coordinated actions between the country’s different institutions. *_*DIÁLOGO: What lessons can Afghanistan learn from Colombia’s experience with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)?*_* _Ambassador Barco:_ We have invited members of their military to come to Colombia and observe our training. We plan on bringing our de-mining programs to them. Colombia has endured the tragedy of mines planted by the FARC, and we hope to share our experience with Afghanistan in identifying where their mines are and in addressing that challenge to the civilian population. I believe Colombia is aware that in the fight against drugs, it is essential to reinforce the presence of the state and to strengthen institutions. I believe it is also a very relevant lesson for Afghanistan, and we hope to be able to share it with them. It is part of the work we are doing, showing a greater state presence in different regions where there are drug problems. *_*DIÁLOGO: How do you see collaboration efforts of countries in the region against common threats, such as security?*_* _Ambassador Barco:_ Drug trafficking and security are global issues that do not affect just one nation. They always have regional ramifications and it becomes essential to work with the neighbors and with the region. In regards to narcotrafficking, we must consider the entire chain, from the countries that produce drugs to those in which they are trafficked and those that consume them. To be successful, we must look at production, processing, trafficking, precursors, weapons, laundering, all of these components, and each person and each country must assume the necessary responsibilities and policies. *_*DIÁLOGO: Your country doesn’t like the vision Hollywood has of Colombia because they always depict it negatively. Therefore, one of your goals is to improve Colombia’s international image. How are you going to achieve this?*_* _Ambassador Barco:_ I believe people’s perception of Colombia has changed a lot. However, that drug trafficking image persists. Unfortunately, I think two films about Pablo Escobar will be released this year, and this is likely to revive that image. People forget this happened more than 15 years ago. But on the other hand, I believe several successes like Operation Check have shone through, where we see our armed forces rescuing the hostages held in Colombia; where we see levels of security. Our tourism has increased. So I believe these are tangible ways to see that image has changed. *_*DIÁLOGO: What could other countries learn from Colombia?*_* _Ambassador Barco:_ Colombia is much more than just the fight against drug trafficking, and I always say that I long for the day when I can speak of that creative Colombia which boasts Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, one of its iconic writers, as well as other celebrated writers. Or to be able to speak of sculptors like Fernando Botero, to name just one, and singers like Shakira and Juanes, also just to name a couple. Colombia is very rich in biodiversity, very rich in culture, in its different regions. It is a country of hard working people, of happy people, who above all are friendly and welcoming to foreigners. I hope people from other countries who are starting to visit us learn from Colombia the marvel of a country that has had to face this tragedy of drugs, but is doing it in a very brave, very committed way and is prevailing. _Carolina Barco was appointed ambassador of Colombia to the U.S. in August 2006 by President Álvaro Uribe. Between August 2002 and August 2006, Barco was minister of Foreign Affairs. She has worked in the public sector as adviser to the ministries of development, culture and environment, as well as the National Planning Department and the Office of the Mayor of Bogotá. She has also worked as international cooperation adviser to the U.N. Development Program. Barco holds a bachelor’s degree in social and economic sciences and a masters in business administration and urban and regional planning._