This post was written by Hatchet reporter Mabel Kabani.
Juan Carlos Pinzon, Colombia’s ambassador to the U.S., spoke with students and faculty members at the Elliott School of International Affairs Tuesday evening about Colombia’s transformation from unrest to peace.
As the former senior adviser to the executive director of the World Bank, Pinzon said he is familiar with D.C. and GW, specifically. He began his speech highlighting the benefits of attending a university in the U.S. capital.
Pinzon introduced basic facts about Colombia and then discussed the country’s recent political, economic and social transformation.
Here are some highlights from the ambassador’s talk:
1. Colombia’s decline
Although the Barometer of Happiness and Hope once ranked Colombia as the happiest nation in the world due to its “long-lasting democracy,” Pinzon said crime rates, homicides and drug trafficking made the country less peaceful about 20 years ago.
Around the same time, Colombia’s economy also began to destabilize and people fled the country in search of safer and more stable lifestyles, Pinzon said. Unemployment rates reached 21 percent and the country had negative GDP growth in the 1990’s.
“The entire social tissue of the nation was collapsing as opportunities to progress ran out,” Pinzon said.
“Plan Colombia,” a U.S. diplomatic and military project to battle drug cartels and guerrilla groups in Colombia, spurred real progress for the country, Pinzon said.
The program was successful because it secured and legitimized Colombian armed forces and strengthened the justice system, he said.
“This was critical to help us build development that is important for years to come,” Pinzon said.
3. Peace process
Pinzon said that Colombia’s current president, Juan Manuel Santos, has consistently pushed for peace: He wrote a peace accord that won him the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. The peace accord, which citizens recently voted against, called to include members of FARC – the most notorious guerrilla group – in Colombia’s parliament.
Santos thought this would give Colombia the chance for a new future, Pinzon said. Though the accord didn’t pass, it did “instill a new ideology in the minds of Colombians” about what it takes to achieve peace, he added.
4. Recent improvements
Twenty years ago, about 30,000 homicides occurred in a year, but now the homicide rate in Colombia has dropped to 13,000 per year, Pinzon said. He added that the number of rebel group members has dropped, and kidnapping numbers are lower than they have been in 20 years.
Pinzon said Colombia has been recognized as one of the top economic performers internationally and the country has been left out of the University of Mexico’s annual list of most violent countries in recent years.
“Things aren’t easy or fast and there is no timeline for when this will be over,” Pinzon said. “However, here is an opportunity for the end to finally result in a more stable, long term and extended peace.”