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A Conversation with Maria Angela Holguín, Foreign Minister of Colombia

By Rachel Sadon
June 1, 2011

Colombia has moved past drug trafficking and security as the dominant issues in its relationship with the United States, Colombia's Foreign Minister, María Ángela Holguín, said Wednesday.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Inter-American Dialogue, the Council of the Americas, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Holguín's remarks came a day after she met with her U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "For the first time, we didn't concentrate on the issue of drug trafficking," said Holguín, downplaying an issue that has historically been at the forefront of bilateral relations.

"Although we discussed security, we spoke about security in the region—in what we can do together to help Central America and the Caribbean—but not what is happening in Colombia exclusively." She added that Colombia has made great advances in this arena and can now focus on other matters that will generate the growth that the country needs.

Among those areas is a pending free-trade agreement with the United States, which was signed in 2006 but has languished due to domestic opposition in the U.S. Congress.  In April, U.S. President Barack Obama formalized an agreement with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to secure the FTA's passage. However, the White House last month threatened to delay the Colombia deal, as well as free-trade agreements with Panama and South Korea, unless congressional Republicans agree to renew the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program. The program, which lapsed in February, assists workers who have lost their jobs due to trade accords.

Nonetheless, at a joint press conference Tuesday with Holguín, Clinton expressed "full confidence" that the Colombia deal will happen, saying "I'm absolutely sure we're going to get it passed." "It's hard to find a country in the region that is more pro-America than Colombia and that is not going to change," Holguín said Wednesday, downplaying fears that the relationship between Bogotá and Washington would suffer if the agreement fails.

However, she added that Colombia is not going to "put all its eggs in one basket" again, citing the lesson learned after President Hugo Chávez broke relations with Colombia in 2008 and exports to Venezuela fell from more than $6 billion in 2008 to $1.4 billion in 2010. Colombia is looking to expand ties with other South American countries, integrate with its partners on the Pacific coast and expand ties to Asia. The Andean nation also is opening new embassies in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia as well as joint trade offices with Chile, as well as in Istanbul and Singapore.

Optimism about the decline in violence and accelerated economic growth has already been reflected in Colombia's credit rating. On Tuesday, Moody's Investors Service raised Colombia's sovereign-debt rating to investment grade, following a similar move by Standard & Poor's two months ago.