During a September 24 AS/COA luncheon in his honor, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe emphasized the transformation achieved in his country under his administration. He vowed to work toward building confidence in the private sector to promote investment in Colombia as well as to maintain a prosperous, safe environment in which Colombians can secure good jobs. Uribe spelled out the three pillars of his administration: security, investment with a focus on social responsibility, and social cohesion.
“In security, we continue with advances but we need to do much more,” said Uribe, explaining that Colombia had experienced a reduction of total crimes by as much as 30 percent in the last year. He also pointed out that the murder rate dropped 50 percent over the last six years and continues to fall.
In July, a Colombian military operation rescued 14 hostages held by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, including three American contractors and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. Uribe praised the operation’s success but said he was committed to seeking the freedom for the hundreds of remaining hostages. “We need to continue fighting to eliminate this crime from Colombia and I wish this crime could be eradicated from all over the world,” said the president.
The reduction of violence against trade union officials has been a thorny subject between Democrats in U.S. Congress and the Colombian government during the past year’s negotiation of a bilateral free-trade agreement. Uribe gave details of the security guarantees given to nearly 2,000 trade union leaders. He also noted that sentences for assassins of trade unionists have been enforced during his administration and stressed that his government had worked to dismantle paramilitary organizations.
On the subject of investor confidence, Uribe was cautious when addressing worries over the slowdown of the global economy. In 2007, Colombia showed an impressive growth rate of 8.2 percent but the forecast for 2008 stands at less than 4 percent. On a positive note, Uribe highlighted the significant increases in investment rates, which reached as much as 27 percent while foreign direct investment topped $9 billion last year.
Uribe reminded the audience that Colombia offers guarantees to all investors and encourages the expansion of private enterprise, including new oil exploration contracts signed with state-owned Ecopetrol, which started to sell its shares at the New York Stock Exchange on September 18. Furthermore, Uribe asserted that Colombia does not tax investors for their earned dividends, making the country more attractive to new capital.