Photo by Tyler Meuter

On Thursday Jan. 5, the Office of International Initiatives in conjunction with the Office of Hispanic Initiatives welcomed the Ambassador of Colombia to the United States, Luis Carlos Villegas, to speak about U.S. Foreign policy in Colombia.

Villegas opens his talk by addressing the high level of academics of Tech. He mentioned the need for people to pursue higher education in a country like Colombia, “to solve new problems that will come, but not to create any.”

He then begins to talk about Colombia. Villegas has been traveling from Colombia to the United States for almost 38 years, so he is personally able to recall the changing perceptions of his country. “For many years, the perceptions of Colombia in this country was seen as a depressing tragedy,” he begins.

In recent years, however, Colombia has taken great strides in repairing the government and economy.

He discussed how this generation can say that “Colombia is a permanent source of good news,” something his generation and before would have a difficult time believing.

Besides taking the ambassador’s word, there is actual evidence that the country is improving. At the beginning of the 21st century, Colombia ranked seventh in GDP. Last December, Colombia ranked third following behind Brazil and Mexico.

This shows that Colombia’s GDP has grown by 5 times in the last 15 years. This has resulted in a better standard of living for the citizens of Colombia. In 1998, 6 out of 10 Colombians were below the poverty line. Now less than 3 Colombians out of 10 are below the poverty line.

The improvements seen in Colombia “produce growth in the economy, pressure on democracy, need to open the society to the world: world discussion, world trade, world investment, world security” and the ability to be able to compare themselves to the rest of the world. In the last year, Colombia has seen extraordinary sales in cars.

The country went from selling 50,000 cars to 350,000 cars and from 50,000 motorcycles to 600,000 motorcycles. Even the pet food market has grown.

In 2004, the pet food market was worth $65 million and last year it increased to $700 million dollars.

What exactly does this mean? It means that the country’s economy is doing better than it ever has and people are willing to invest in a higher quality of life.

Villegas concluded by saying, “So, Colombia has changed for good.” Colombia has gone from an isolated state with high rates of violence and crime in 1995 to an active member in world affairs. Villegas notes that while Colombia has come a long way, by no means are they done growing and improving.

Assuming Colombia becomes a developed country, Villegas says the next steps to take are to reform justice and similar changes to take the country to a new cultural stage and form more closeness among citizens. After this reform, the next issue to look at is economic equality.

Villegas believes that the government has an initial responsibility to provide opportunities for low-income families and the market will help in the future. Lastly, he believes in reducing crime in the country.

He mentions how crime and violence were dominant aspects in his generation’s life and how it is more of a distant memory for the current generation.