LA JOLLA – Colombia is pushing back against terrorists and drug cartels that once

dominated the country to emerge as a regional economic powerhouse built on foreign investment and trade, Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. Gabriel Silva Lujan said during an April 24 presentation at the Institute of the Americas.

Just three weeks before the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement goes into effect, Silva told an audience of almost 80 that his country “is ready to enter a phase of rapid growth and expansion.”

A Texas-size country of 46 million, Colombia has the third largest economy in South America. [inset side=left] “The new Colombia is different…Colombia has built democratic institutions.” Ambassador Gabriel Silva Luján[/inset]Colombia is also a booming economy on a global scale – its economy is larger than the economies of countries such as Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal, Singapore and Hong Kong.

“When people think about Colombia the first three words that come up are: drugs, terrorism and violence,” Silva said.“The new Colombia is different.  We still have problems like other countries, but the profound changes Colombia has experienced have created new opportunities and new trends.”

As the country has moved to control and suppress terrorists and drug traffickers, “Colombia has built democratic institutions,” Silva said.  “On the economic front, Colombia bet heavily on the market economy, private initiatives, foreign investment and trade”.

Colombia’s economy is growing at an annual rate of almost 6% and has one of the best managed economies in the Americas, Silva said. The country’s debt to GDP is 27 percent. By comparison, the U.S. debt to GDP is 73 percent.

Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. Gabriel Silva Luján with Jazmin Cifuentes at the Institute of the Americas. Photo by Lee Tablewski

Those economic gains have improved the livelihood of Colombians. Per capita income grew from $5,800 per person in 2000 to over $10,000 per person in 2011, Silva said.

“We had this marvelous confluence of events, of having our people ready and willing to fight back, of having leaders who were decisive and who made decisions on the institutional and economic levels synergy to make all this happen.”

The result, Silva said, is that “people are living better, buying more and we have a growing middle class.”

As the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement goes into effect on May 15, the two countries “are partners on an equal footing,” he said. “This generates mutual respect and symmetry between our countries.

“Twenty years ago, the only issue the United States and Colombia talked about was drug, drugs and more drugs,” said Silva.  “My interlocutors then were the FBI, the DEA, the Department of Justice, the Attorney General.  If I asked for an appointment with the Energy Secretary, I was never able to get it.

“Now, this is completely different,” he said. “Colombia is a country that not only sits at the table of the most relevant discussions in bi-national relations, but also at the global level. Colombia is a country that wants to be a constructive force in the hemisphere.”

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