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FBG wants to put on the table issues related to peace, education and equity

Interview - May 28, 2015

‘’I see a peaceful Colombia. I see a country where investment soars, because until now our main assets had been seized by the armed conflict’’.


Due to Colombia's outstanding international performance, the country has ranked first of Latin America in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index. Moreover, Fortune Magazine ranked Colombia as the seventh more interesting economy, investment wise. Considering the government's plan to attract investment and improve the country's situation, how do you see Colombia in 2018?

Fortunately, Colombia has improved its conditions during the past few years, to be attractive for foreign investment. Investment has been growing in Colombia, mainly because of improvement in security and social equality, as well as cooperation with allied countries. In the next years, I see a peaceful Colombia. I see a country where investment soars, because until now our main assets had been seized by the armed conflict. If Colombia, amidst a domestic armed conflict, was able to sustain the region's highest growth rates, the second job creation rates behind Ecuador and the second lowest inflation after Peru, we expect that in a couple of years –in the context of peace– these factors will sky-rocket, along economic growth and foreign investment. Experts are even saying that the country could increase its growth rate to about 1.5% and 2%.

Jonathan Powell –who has helped in Ireland's peace process and widely collaborated with the Spanish government in search for peace with ETA– has declared that Colombia is the only hope of building peace under international standards. What importance does this so-long desired peace have regarding Colombia's international image?

Colombia's peace process has wide support in the international community. Pope Francis, President Barack Obama, the European Union and many other leaders have expressed their unfading support for this process, which will hopefully come to fruition. There has not been an international leader who opposed this process. The international support is encouraging. Jonathan Powell's statement about this being the only conflict with a silver lining is related to the fact that, in 56 years, the country has never been so close to achieving peace.

For example, the FARCs have promised to help with the territory's demining a few days ago. They have already signed three out of five points in the negotiations agenda in La Habana. The third one entails the eradication of drug trafficking, which is one of the most severe afflictions Colombia has had to endure, and what has cast the negative image we have had for years. They have also committed to not recruiting minors. We are currently under an unilateral cease-fire agreement on behalf of the FARCs. There is a number of signals that makes this process truly encouraging, and that will come to fruition in no time.

You have always said that the cease-fire would be the last step towards peace. As President Santos has rightly declared in Madrid, the steps needed to realize the temporary cease of FARC bombings have already been taken. How irreversible is this process?

I believe we have reached a point of no return. Several political leaders, both national and international, agree on this topic. There is in negotiation processes a term called 'conflict de-escalation', where even if an immediate agreement is not reached, little by little the parties make an effort to reduce armed conflicts. The cease-fire to the FARCs by the government is now effective, which is a reflection on the momentum the process has reached and on the fact that it is reaching the last stages.

The Buen Gobierno Foundation, with its 20 years of history, is a space for thought and a meeting point towards a better Colombia for all. You have assumed the Foundation's direction, bringing some fresh air and a new point of view. What functions and responsibilities does the Foundation assume under your leadership?

The Buen Gobierno Foundation has been in existence for 20 years and has always been a convergence space between the public and the private sectors in order to have better governance under the parameters of efficiency, effectiveness and accountability. I assumed the Foundation's leadership to bring fresh air and to manage it in the way European and American think tanks are. The idea is to discuss fresh topics that the young population will find interesting. There is a wide between the young and politics in Colombia. The young have lost interest on how to manage local and national governments. I want to help reduce the gap that exists between the young and those who make the decisions in this country.

This is why at Buen Gobierno we deal with trending topics, new and fresh subjects, progressive ones, because we believe that Colombia needs to look ahead and not be stuck in the past as it happens so often in other think tanks. We discuss new and interesting subjects, we offer a debate and discussion space in order to have, little by little, a more progressive and modern Colombia.

Among all the Colombian trending topics is the Bogota subway, an urgent and historic need. When and how will the Bogota subway become a reality?

The Bogota subway has been in discussion for the past 30 years, so the first forum we did was on this topic. It was very successful because we managed to assemble all the sectors involved on the decision-making process regarding this issue. When the forum was over, the National Government and Bogota's Town Hall reached an agreement and finally decided to build the subway. There many ways to do it and there are many possible routes, but what is most important is that the decision has been made. We believe the subway is the best solution for Bogota's public transport issue, which has worsened in the last years. But we did not only discuss this issue, we also held a forum against drugs and the use of medicinal marihuana in Colombia. The Foundation wants to promote these initiatives, which we believe will make it easier for Colombia to take a step forward in the fight against drugs –which, by the way, has not been very effective so far. Despite the country's advances against drug trafficking, we have seen that the fight against drug use has failed not only in Colombia but also over the world.

We also have peace in mind. The Foundation offers a space to debate this topic, which undoubtedly is the most important one for Colombians at the moment. This is why we successfully held a forum in Madrid, in alliance with Spain's El Pais newspaper, so that the international community has more tools and is more informed regarding what is truly going on in Colombia. We believe the country's peace process will not only affect Colombians, but also our allies, as more investment opportunities will arise. We also discussed the problem on how to reduce drug trafficking between Colombia and Spain, which has traditionally been on shameful levels. This is why the Foundation wants not only to grow within Colombia, but also to make international alliances.

Like peace, the other axis of this government's second term is equity. In the forum "Colombian economy's future, towards a sustainable growth", the Colombian leaders' idea is that not only is economic growth mandatory, but also true development through equity. How important is equality for Colombia?

Unfortunately, Colombia has a high level of inequality. When compared to neighboring countries we are third, which is a pitiful figure. In an unequal society, prosperity and growth are impossible. As the gap between socio-economical classes grows, the harder it is to lift people out of poverty, the harder it is for the country to grow and fully develop. One of the three government pillars is equality, along with peace and education. The three are closely related. The government has made a big effort in order to lower unemployment, which has been dropping for 55 uninterrupted months, helping to reduce inequality. The government has also succeeded in lifting thousands out of poverty and indigence. The figures are record.

The government is not satisfied yet, because they know there is much to do. There is still plenty of inequality and poverty in our country. The free housing plan aims to reduce the gap as well. When someone does not have access to a decent house and to basic health and nutrition conditions, it is almost impossible that they will lift from poverty. That is why all the programs the government has started that look to reduce inequality and poverty will certainly contribute to Colombia being a much more fair country and to progressing much faster.

The year 2014 ended with a 9.1% unemployment –which is under two digits–, an all-time low for the last 14 years. The government is thinking of reducing unemployment to 8.6%. Taking into consideration that the lower unemployment is, the harder it becomes to keep reducing it, how do you think this goal can be met?

In order to continue reducing unemployment, we need a robust, healthy economy above all, fiscal stability and spending accountability. To the extent companies and people are doing well in their businesses, they will be able to offer new jobs. This is a virtuous cycle: where there is a healthy economy, there is effortless job creation.

Another trending topic, related to the unemployment issue not only for the young but also for the totality of the Colombian population, is the fall in the price of crude oil. Somewhat of 25,000 jobs are estimated to be at risk in Colombia. What alternatives are there and how will the country solve this problem?

Many countries are asking the same question. Unfortunately, this situation is out of the hands of Colombia's government, being it phenomenon that affects every country in the world. Recently, the IMF published its growth projections, and stated that the Colombian economy will be undoubtedly affected –as will all the economies in the region–. But it also said that the impact will not be as strong as it will probably be in neighboring countries like Venezuela, Brazil or Argentina, due to Colombia's fiscal situation, sound economy and its shipshape state of affairs.

The US has been Colombia's main strategic partner, not only at a commercial level but also at a geopolitical one, as was demonstrated by President Obama himself when he declared he would fully collaborate with Colombia's peace process. How do you see Bernard Aronson's appointment as a special correspondent for the peace process?

I believe this is undeniably supportive and reassuring, both for the peace process as well as for the diplomatic relations between the US and Colombia. The latter has been traditionally the former's most important ally in the Southern Hemisphere. Relationships have never been better. The Secretary of State has recently stated that the Colombian government has played a crucial role in contemplating the restoration of relations between the US and Cuba. Colombia has always been an intermediary between the US and other conflicting countries, and we hope it stays that way. The special correspondent for the peace process, Bernard Aronson, is proof that the US supports such process, has a favorable view and wants to be part of it. Like the rest of the countries in the region, the US will also be benefitted when Colombia finally reaches a peace agreement, since investment opportunities will certainly multiply due to the reduction of drug trafficking and violence.

In the Seventh Summit of the Americas (2012), which took place in Cartagena de Indias, President Santos declared that another summit could not take place without including Cuba. Even though everyone expected this, achieving it would not be so easy and was not seen as possible. What does it mean that this finally came true?

It is of the utmost importance that American governments take a broad look on the tensions that have existed all these years. President Obama has said something we here quote quite often: 'When what one has been doing for 50 does not work, it is time to do something new'. This means something is wrong and it is time to change it. The same applies to the guerrilla and us. We have been in conflict for 56 years. If we keep doing the same, working on the same and in the same way, then we will not go anywhere. It is time for a different approach, both in the relationship of the Colombian state and the guerrilla as well as in the relationship between Cuba and the US. This position applies to both scenarios.

The US is Colombia's main commercial partner, and about one third of Colombian exports are destined to the US. Miami is key in this relationship, as this city is known as the gateway for South American economies into the US. How do you see commercial relationships, diversification and growth of Latin American companies through Miami?

Colombia is up to competing against American products. It is simply a matter of working hard in order to enter international markets. Colombia is on the right path, opening its economy, limiting restrictions and reducing tariffs. A country that cannot compete with its neighbors is doomed. The Free Trade Agreement with the US was a big step, both countries had been asking for it for a long time. Opportunities are unlimited, it is only a matter of adjusting the measures and thus Colombian products will have the chance to be sold in a country that has millions of inhabitants. A completely new market. We hope Colombians will seize this opportunity to grow and make themselves known.

Steve Jobs declared that it is innovation what differentiates leaders from followers. Can you name two skills you think you can contribute to the Foundation?

I am young, so I have a fresh look, a renewed one, and a little bit more updated than what an older leader could have. I think I can bring these components to the Foundation, as well as the tendency to summon different sectors, with which I try to maintain excellent relationships, be it entrepreneurs, politicians or journalists. Getting along with people is a must at the time of promoting changes.

Franz Kafka once said that youth is happy because it can see beauty, so no one who retains the ability to see beauty will never grow old. What has so far been the best advice your father has given you?

'Never regret what you have done, regret what you have missed on doing'. This means one must seize every opportunity they get, take all the roads possible. One might be wrong or not. Another phrase that has much to do with the previous one is 'You miss a 100% of the shots you don't take', meaning it is important to keep opportunities in mind, dive into the water and never be afraid to take a step forward.