By Catalina Oquendo, EL PAÍS, América, August 10, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Juán González made that statement before more than 2,000 Colombian business owners, telling them that “we are navigating the change” that will come with the new government.

“For forty years, the United States has been doing everything possible to prevent the election of Gustavo Petro, and once he had been chosen, they have been doing everything possible to sabotage his projects. Those were Cold War policies.” That’s how Juan González, the native of Cartagena who has the ear of Joe Biden, the President of the United States, and is a White House advisor for the Western Hemisphere, opened his talk to more than 2,000 Colombian business owners.

Acknowledging a reality that other countries in the region have experienced directly has served González in stating that those policies “up to a certain point, for some people, are a justification for some revisionist perspectives that would characterize United States policy in the context as a local manifestation of Empire.”

The U.S. government official told the Colombian Business Congress (CEC in Spanish) that the relationship is different now. “Just as policies have to evolve, collaboration has to evolve as well. Since we recognize that this administration was chosen legitimately, based on that change, we, given the importance of Colombia, have prepared ourselves to navigate that change and to communicate our interests directly and constructively,” said González. He indicated his disposition to work with the President and with the private sector.

The statement by the man from Cartagena was made to an auditorium full of industries that are also trying to “navigate” the change that will be meant by the first leftist administration in Colombia. The Biden advisor made himself clear: “The ideology or the location of the political spectrum of an administration don’t matter. If the administration is elected democratically, we will go forward with points of common interest. We will also communicate our concerns.”

González has stated that Latin America is “a strategic preserve for the United States,” because it’s the region where there exist the greatest number of democratic countries, “it’s not at war” and “its stability and prosperity allow the United States to play a leading role at the global level.”

Just four days before, during his inaugural address, Petro criticized the drug policy in which the United States plays an essential role. “(The war on drugs) has left a million Latin Americans murdered in a period of 40 years, and what has it produced? Every year, 70,000 North Americans die from overdoses,” said President Petro, claiming that it was a failure because it “strengthened the mafias and weakened the governments.”

The Colombian President also unfurled the flag of energy transition, a point on which the United States appears to agree. Biden’s advisor said that the region was one of the most “inequitable in the context of political and economic concentration,”; that it isn’t adopting technologies as rapidly as it should; that it’s one of the “regions with the most dependence on traditional energy supplies while the world is in the process of a global energy transition. “Colombia is the culmination of all of those challenges, but it’s the one that offers the most possibility of overcoming the challenges. The President (Biden) has said that Colombia is the cornerstone of the Caribbean, because of its location,” he said.

As he was talking about energy transition, he said that Petro’s administration had invited them to take part in peace-related dialogs, even though he didn’t specify exactly whether they would be related to the implementation of the Peace Agreement that’s already going on, or to the dialogs with the ELN, the last active guerrillas in Colombia. “The administration has invited us to take part in the ethnic chapter of the Peace Agreement,” said González in a virtual message. He said that the United States is interested in that work because the Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities should not be “a chess piece in the armed conflict,” and he went on to say that “there is a lot of optimism” about working with the new administration.

“In fact, we are also looking for the opportunity to learn from the experiences of the Colombian people, and in continuing to demonstrate that the best thing for us is just to cultivate a bilateral relationship, because Colombia not only has regional impacts, but also global impacts, and it’s respected by the world,” he said.

Roy Barreras: “I came to make some guarantees”

The U.S. vision is just one of those that the more than 2,000 business owners are hearing at their meeting in the Cartagena Convention Center. They are meeting in the week in which the Gustavo Petro administration  introduced a tax reform bill, a bill to prohibit fracking, and there was discussion of energy transition, and changes in overtime work regulations, among other measures. In the Congress, which concludes this Friday, they will be discussing the challenges they will face with the new administration, as well as the geopolitical vulnerabilities in the world.

Leaders of industry have announced that they will be vigilant and constructive toward the policies of the Petro administration. “We will accompany the initiatives that Colombia requires, and with situations that deserve it, we will raise our constructive criticisms, certain that this will bring better decisions for the welfare of everyone,” indicated Carlos Ignacio Gallego, President of Nutressa Group and of the Board of Directors of Andi.

Gallego has enumerated the worldwide challenges like inflation, armed conflicts, and post-pandemic, and he has said that such an international context coincides with the new administration in Colombia. “I greet the new administration. We have the goal of building confidence to work with the new administration on the two-lane highway, the war on poverty, but to do it with private development. We business owners are defenders of human dignity, of values and of principles,” he said.

Bruce MacMaster, President of the National Business Association of Colombia (Andi in Spanish) also had a message for Petro. We hope to be able to have an open and sincere dialog with the administration, thinking of the future and the well-being of all Colombians,” MacMaster emphasized at the beginning of the event. It closes this Friday with President Gustavo Petro. This will be the first time that the public sees the President together with the business owners.

For now, the first look from the administration came in hearing the voice of Roy Barreras, the President of Congress and in the same party as Petro. The Senator did not give precise answers about the tax reform bill, which is the subject that the business owners are most interested in right now, but he did provide some tranquility, and stated that the transitions would be moderate and progressive. “It’s not the time to improvise,” he said.

“You can count on the Congress for equilibrium, and to provide for everyone the conditions for an intense dialog. We have a year for the most important reforms, and if those don’t pay attention to the voices of the two halves of Colombia, we will have failed. Providing support for everyone is my obligation, and that is what I came to tell you,” concluded Barreras.

The business owners are avidly expecting the details of the economic direction of the country this Thursday when José Antonio Ocampo, the Minister of Finance, presents Petro’s message to calm the fears of the business owners.

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