Ambassador of Colombia to the United States Juan Carlos Pinzón called for collaboration between Colombia and the United States to combat climate change, promote development and protect democracy at a Stanford in Government event on Friday. Pinzón’s visit this year marks the bicentennial celebration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Colombia.
Pinzón, a previous presidential candidate who also served as Colombia’s Minister of Defense from 2011 to 2015, outlined the history of diplomatic visits and trade between Colombia and the United States. Upwards of 30% of coffee imports, 60% of rose imports and more than 90% of tilapia imports to the U.S. originate in Colombia, he said.
“Every time you have a tilapia, the chances that you are having a Colombian tilapia is extremely high,” said Pinzón.
Pinzón added that Colombia is the most biodiverse nation in the world per square mile, and underscored the country’s commitment to combating climate change.
“Colombia historically has been a clean energy country, because most of our sources of energy have been coming from hydropower,” said Pinzón.
Several students asked Pinzón about the economic and political challenges the country is currently facing. Colombia has suffered periods of violence and poverty throughout its history, such as during a 52-year civil war that implicated drug cartels and claimed more than 220,000 lives. Most recently, the sharpest decline in the country’s GDP growth rate occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, according to Pinzón.
“We need to be more effective on the redistribution policy, so if we get another external shock again, like another pandemic, or something else, the social safety net is better prepared to take care of the people,” said Pinzón.
Pinzón praised American investment in Colombian infrastructure, healthcare, security and counter-narcotic efforts, noting that the American donation of six million COVID-19 vaccines has assisted Colombia’s economic growth.
“I think that if we can work together here, the power we will create for the good of our people, to increase economic growth, to have stability all around the region, will be huge,” said Pinzón.
On March 10, in celebration of bicentennial relations, U.S. President Biden and Colombian President Iván Duque issued a joint statement announcing that Colombia would be designated as a “Major Non-NATO Ally” and that the two countries would continue collaboration on promoting the rule of law and migrant protections in Latin America.
Pinzón asserted that Colombia is the first Latin American country to establish a “policy of interest” on artificial intelligence and is helping Colombian entrepreneurs secure venture capital funding. Nevertheless, he recognized the challenges that technology, particularly social media, has presented for democracy in Colombia, the United States and around the world.
“[Autocratic governments] have used social media disinformation as a tool to weaken their counterparts: we, the democracies,” said Pinzón. “We captured a Russian operative in Colombia in a joint operation with the United States a month and a half ago. We have evidence of cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns from Venezuela, from Eastern Europe and from Russia.”
The first round of the Colombian presidential election will take place on May 29, 2022. Pinzón underscored the importance of defending democracy as the date approaches, and noted that cooperative efforts with the United States have unveiled the parallel risks of internal electoral interference by drug cartels and external interference by foreign governments.
“We don’t want the Colombian people to be biased by either disinformation, cyber attacks, or even manipulation of the software that is supposed to be counting the votes,” said Pinzón, “and we have to be careful not to allow drug money, criminal money, cartel money, mafia money, to be biasing the will of the Columbian people.”
Pinzón also hoped to share the rich diversity of Colombian culture with the Stanford community, presenting photographs of festivals, singers, dancers and bustling cities.
“Every Colombian that you talk to will tell you a personal story on how violence has touched him, his family, or someone very significant to them,” said Pinzón. “But what has somehow allowed Colombia to move forward and to thrive has been the special sentiment of music, happiness and all kinds of festivals and events that have continued to run the country, even during very hard times.”