Colombian Ambassador to the United States, Carolina Barco, met with local reporters and with leaders of the Minnesota Colombian community on September 3rd in Minneapolis restaurant Maria’s Café. Ambassador Barco was in the Twin Cities as a guest to the Republican National Convention in St Paul.
In her first visit to the Twin Cities, Barco answered questions posed by reporters and members of the local Colombian community. Guests were invited by Minnesota State Senator Patricia Torres Ray, and hosted by Maria’s Café owner Maria Hoyos. Both Senator Torres Ray and Maria Hoyos are originally from Colombia.
Barco, answering questions from the audience, said that she did not think that opening a Colombian consulate in the Twin Cities in the near future would be realistic, but assured audience that the Colombian government is working to improve phone service to consulate or embassy callers. She acknowledged that much could be done to improve consulate service with better technology.
She also answered several questions about the pending free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia. The free trade agreement was approved twice by the Colombian congress, but has been stalled in the US Congress, because of concerns by Democratic leaders about alleged human and labor rights violations in Colombia. Union leaders have blamed the Alvaro Uribe government in Colombia for not doing enough to stop union leader’s killings in recent years. This comes after the United States has approved free trade agreements in the last two decades with Canada, Mexico, Chile, Central America and the Caribbean and Peru.
Barco argued that a Free Trade agreement would benefit both Colombia and the United States and that it would produce over 700,000 jobs. She also said that studies have shown that for each job created in Colombia by the trade pact 1.6 jobs would be created in the United States. The ambassador added that the free trade agreement would help Colombian small business export products to a large US market, benefit financial transactions in both countries and help exports in both countries. She also acknowledged that while some agricultural products in Colombia would benefit, others that compete with the US could suffer.
She said that the government should help those displaced by the pact, since trade agreements have winners and losers. Barco stressed that there would be more winners than losers in both Colombia and the US. She also argued that human rights violations and the murders of union leaders have dramatically been reduced during the Uribe administration and that the deaths of union leaders reflected the huge murder rate that Colombia has suffered in the past. The ambassador said the murder rate in Colombia has decreased dramatically in the past few years form 33,000 to 17,000 or over 40%.
Answering questions about Democrats’ concerns about the pact, she said that many of their concerns on labor and environmental provisions were addressed the second time the Colombian congress passed the free trade agreement and that she hopes that the US congress will pass the agreement before the end of the year.
Barco stressed that Colombians’ success in drastically reducing crime and terrorism has made Colombia a great place for tourism and investment. She encouraged Minnesotans to visit Colombia and see for themselves the beauty that Colombia has to offer.