President Duque discusses Colombia’s response to the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, the economic prospects for the region, and the future of relations with the United States.
RUBENSTEIN: OK. Can I have your attention please? I’m David Rubenstein. I have the honor of serving as chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. And on behalf of the Council, I’d like to welcome our members and guests today. We’re very pleased today to have the president of Colombia here as our special guests, President Duque. President Duque is not unfamiliar with Washington, D.C. He’s lived here for fourteen years, off and on. He got some of his graduate degrees here, from American University and George Washington University. He’s trained as a lawyer. And he has worked here as well at the Inter-American Development Bank, where he served as a senior officer in the cultural affairs area and also special advisor to the president of the bank on Colombia. He was elected in June of 2018 and assumed his office in August of 2018.
He will make some opening remarks and then following that I will come up and preside over some questions and then have anybody here that wants to ask a question will be able to do so. We will go until exactly 9:30. Everything is on the record. And so please when you do have a question stand up, identify yourself, your affiliation, and then ask a question not a long statement. That would be appreciated. And one question per person would be appreciated.
OK. It’s my honor to introduce the president of Colombia, President Duque. (Applause.)
DUQUE: Good morning. It’s a great pleasure for me to be here with you. I want to thank you, David, for your introduction. I want to welcome friends from different think tanks, former public servants, members of the International Development Bank organizations.
So my great purpose this morning is to, in ten minutes, try to describe where is Colombia heading to, and why it’s very important what’s taking place in Colombia nowadays. So after I finish that, we will open this session for Q&A.
But let me begin this morning by saying that Colombia is in the process of a great transformation. When I run for the presidency, I said that I wanted a Colombia based on three pillars. Legality, which is the rule of law. Entrepreneurship, which means that Colombia must embrace, as no time before, the entrepreneurial spirit, be able to call for more international investment in the country, transform its economy, look towards the fourth industrial revolution. And last, but not least, which is the major objective of our administration, close the social gaps.
So if I may put it in terms of an equation, what we always said is legality plus entrepreneurship equals fairness or closing the social gaps. That is the reason why since I embraced the cause of running for the presidency I said that Latin America is not divided between right and left. And Latin America is witnessing a political spectrum where there are two kinds of persons who are running countries—the demagogues and the pedagogues. The demagogues are those who on a permanent basis promise the holy land. We say in Spanish, pan para hoy, hambre para mañana. So they try to sell a society full of promises and, at the end, they end up destroying private industry. They end up destroying liberties. Weakening free media. Weakening any form of citizen participation.
And the pedagogues are the ones who orient society to big goals and big purposes. And they are aligned with promoting the entrepreneurial spirit, independent institutions, and obviously also motivate a permanent citizen participation. And I consider that our administration and Colombia itself is a good example of pedagogy. That’s why we have been able to implement very important policies. And that’s why, when you look at where was Colombia twenty years and where is it today, I think Colombia has been one of the most important success stories in Latin America.
I must also say that the achievements that Colombia has accomplished have also to do with a very important support from an international community and particularly, and I want to highlight this morning, that Colombia has received from the United States a very strong bipartisan and bicameral support when it comes to Congress in order to achieve many of the most important transformations. But since one year ago, our administration decided to move forward on the results. We decided that we wanted Colombia to become a high-income country. And that might not happen substantially in the next three years. You might ask why. Because Colombia has an income per capita of less than $7,000, while the rest of the OECD-member counties have incomes per capita that are above $30,000.
So the question is, how long would it take us to reach those levels of income. It’ll take us one hundred years growing at 1 percent. Or I can take us two decades or less if we grow above 5 percent. And that’s where we want Colombia to head. That’s what we want Colombia to embrace, to be able to grow and, with that growth, close the social gaps. So the first thing we did a year ago was that we wanted Colombia to differentiate from the rest of the countries in the region and adopt a competitive pro-business taxation policy. So instead of looking what happened in the past, where we had tax reforms, where the state always wanted to spend more, and they passed the check to the private sector with high levels of taxation that affected competitiveness, productivity, and they scared away the investment, we made the most important reforms in terms of lowering the corporate taxes to small, medium and large-sized corporations.
By that, just in one year, we have seen foreign direct investment in Colombia pass 24 percent. We have seen also that while Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to grow 0.5 percent this year, Colombia’s expected to grow above 3 percent. Why? Because we have given the right signals. We have also introduced important reforms in sectors like telcom and information technology, where we passed a bill so that by 2022, 70 percent of the Colombia population will have fast-speed internet and will be moving to 5G networks throughout the country. That’s why we also introduce a reform to cut red tape, and in one year we have been able to digitalize, eliminate, or minimize more than one thousand procedures that were heavily costly for the private sector development.
So those things are in motion. We have also introduced the fourth industrial revolution centers and regulation. When the administration began, I remember I spoke to Klaus Schwab. And I said, I want the World Economic Forum to bring one of the fourth industrial revolution centers to our country. They said that was going to take long, but in fact in less than a year we have the first fourth industrial revolution center in a Spanish-speaking country. And it is based on AI, IOT, and blockchain. We have also put together a mission to develop the local capital markets with the support of Professor Rigobon from MIT. And 80 percent of the reforms that we’re about to embrace are based on executive orders and a couple of reforms that should be taken to Congress.
But those things are happening. And Colombia has also experienced in the last year the best years of the tourism sector. Last year we had 4.2 million non-resident visitors, the highest occupancy rates in fifteen years. So this year the numbers are going to be even better. And also, household consumption rates have reached the highest in forty-four months. Energy consumption, which is a good indicator of how the GDP is behaving, is growing at 4.1 percent—one of the highest of the last years. So I think Colombia is open for business, has embraced entrepreneurship, and looks towards the future as the country that wants to become the Silicon Valley of Latin America.
I met Marcelo Claure from SoftBank a couple of months ago. I saw him in New York City this week. And SoftBank, the largest technology investment bank in the world, has created a fund of $5 billion for Latin America. In the first visit to the region, he saw what’s taking place in Colombia. And they already invested one billion (dollars) in one single company in Colombia. And they’re looking at more companies and startups, or firms that have been in the market for three or four years, with a high potential of becoming what is so-called unicorns, which are companies that grow at three-digit levels, and very fast. So this is what Colombia looks like and want to look like in economic terms.
Now we need to see with clarity that any effort that we can make successfully on developing the private sector has to be connected with closing the social gaps. So I feel happy that in one year of our administration we have been able to give strong signals. The highest budget ever on education. The highest budget ever on health. We have granted what we call subsidies of interest rate and down payment for the poorest of the poor to acquire housing. And in one year, we have given more of those lines of credit and support than what was given in the last four years. And this also allows me to put the idea that it is not just the government giving the solutions, but it’s also allowing people to bankerize and change their lives. We have made a program so that people with just paying $120 per month, with a fixed line of credit in terms of interest and a fixed line in terms of monthly payment, can become owners of a house in less than fifteen years. Making this massively is going to be a major social success.
But we have also brought water and sanitation in one year to more than four hundred and fifty thousand Colombians. We have been able to take to sixteen thousand families for the first-time electricity, using individual solar panels. We have been able to see the first eighty thousand students, as we will see it in December, now we’re sixty-seven thousand, that will go for free to public universities, connected to the programs that will give them their skills so that they can be successful in times of the fourth industrial revolution. And in the same—at the same time, we’re making important reforms that are connected to entrepreneurship, but at the same time to closing the social gaps when it comes to energy.
We have been able to put together a reform that allows us to pass from less than sixty megawatts of installed capacity in non-conventional renewables to get to fifteen hundred by the end of our administration. And we will surpass the target. We passed the electric vehicle bill so that we have a cleaner transportation. We approved for the first time a circular economy policy in Latin America. We created the first national council against deforestation, and we have gotten deforestation to be reduced by 70 percent in just one year. And we have called for the Leticia Pact with other countries in the Amazon so that we can protect that very important sanctuary for biodiversity and for the world. So all this is happening. And it’s also connected with the rule of law.
I believe in peace, but in peace with legality. We’re not an administration that plays politics with peace. And I think the worst mistake that was committed in the last years in Colombia was that for political reasons the Colombians were divided between friends or enemies of peace. And in fact, we’re all friends of peace—with the exception of those who want to embrace terrorism and violence to express themselves or to intimidate the population. That’s why we have built a policy that is called peace with legality that is highly compromised of making a success story out of the reincorporation process of those who have left criminality, who have left their weapons, and want to engage into a path of legality, sharing with the rest of the Colombian population their lives.
And in one year, with this policy, we can make the right comparisons, as I said it yesterday at an event that we had here in D.C., twenty years—twenty months of implementation passed before my oath of office. And we have been in office for thirteen months. When you look at how many collective productive projects were approved before our oath of office, just two. Today we’re twenty-nine. We have approved twenty-seven that are reaching more than fourteen hundred former members of FARC with alternatives for their lives. The regional focus development plans, which are the cornerstone of the integral support to the Colombian people, in those regions that were badly affected by terrorism, they saw that in twenty months of implementation before my administration only two of those plans were created. We have already finished sixteen. We make fourteen of those regional development plans happen by calling the people to get their takes, their prospects, their objectives.
And we have called the private sector to actively participate in what we call works for taxes. More than $150 million have been used to attend those communities. And we have been also able to put together the first national cadaster policy. That was crucial so that we can have a better policy framework for land titling formalization and to be able to differentiate the uses of land in favor of the most productive activities. We actually had a great support from the United States and USAID. I see here former Ambassador Whitaker who participated actively in that policy. Thank you for being here, Ambassador.
And we went to Mojana Sucre, a town that was brutalized for many years by paramilitaries and guerilla members. And we had the first massive land titling program ever performed in Colombia in a municipality. Not only we granted the titles, but we made the formalization available, but we also made the multipurpose cadaster so that we can use the land for the better needs of the people. So all those things are taking place in Colombia. And I can say that peace with legality is based on two very important principles: achieving a success story out of the reincorporation process, and be strong, hard, and bring to justice those who want to go back to criminality.
But we have challenges. Yes, we do. And one of the major challenges has to do with illegal crops, because I think the biggest failure of peace Colombia was that during peace Colombia the expansion of illegal crops grew at exponential levels. From 2015 to 2018, we passed from less than sixty thousand hectares of coca to more than two hundred thousand hectares when we assumed office. The manual eradication groups in Colombia that were above the one hundred number in the year 2010, when we assumed office there were only twenty-three. Today we have more than 110. And we have been able, for the first time in seven years, with our determination, to put an end to the exponential growth and start having a reduction. Why am I so insistent on this topic? Because with more coca there will always be less peace. Defeating illegal crops is crucial for the future of Colombia.
And there’s no silver bullet. It is not that we want to just find one single solution, but we have to combine them all in the right way. And that’s why we approved a policy called Route Future or Future Route that involves all the measures that are possible, which are eradication, substitution, alternative development, payment for environmental services, and obviously being able to have precision aerial spray when needed, and considering that many of the fields are full of landmines or are supported by snipers that are paid by the cartels. So we need to combine them all because we definitely need to get rid of narcotrafficking as the fuel of those illegal groups.
And last but not least, I must make a reference on Venezuela, because what’s happening in Venezuela is not only a threat to Colombia; it’s a threat to the regional security. The dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro has been supporting terrorist groups in their territory, and that’s only comparable with what the world saw with the Taliban regime supporting al-Qaida inside Afghanistan to plot against the United States and the world. Well, Maduro’s doing the same thing with terrorist groups in his territory. And that’s why I strongly support the bravery of interim president Juan Guaido and the National Assembly not only to finger-point and denounce, but also to offer all their collaboration to the Colombian authorities, so that we identify where those criminals are and that we can take them to justice.
But the other thing is that the regime has brutalized the people in a way that is only comparable with what we saw with Slobodan Milošević more than twenty years ago. So it is—it is a moral duty to denounce and to do whatever is needed so that dictatorship comes to an end. This is not—this is not a geopolitical debate. This is not—this is not a dispute between world powers. This is common sense. This is the defense of the values and principles that we share and that have been the cornerstone of our societies. So that’s why we need to do everything that is needed. And I welcome that this morning, that after the evidence that was shared by many countries in the United Nations General Assembly, a new investigations panel has been formed to not only investigate but be very assertive in their denouncements that can be put against Maduro and his inner circle.
But the effects of that brutal dictatorship is also the worst migration crisis Latin America has seen in its recent history. We have received 1.4 million Venezuelan brothers and sisters in Colombia. And, yes, it generates a fiscal stress, and it generates a social stress, but what we’re doing is what’s morally right. We have kept an orderly migration policy. We have been able to attend with health care, education, vaccination. We even recognize, the citizens of Colombia, more than twenty-five thousand children that were about to lose their nationality, the right to their nationality. Can this be sustainable? Obviously not. Having five thousand migrants in Colombia per day is not sustainable. But we know that for now we need to provide attention and we need to call other countries to support the attention of the migrants.
So that’s why in the one hand we support the Venezuelan people, and in the other hand we are working with the biggest coalition even seen in the region against a dictatorship with a diplomatic blockade, with the Lima Group, with the sanctions that have been introduced by the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. Now, I can say something. While Colombia has achieved of growing above 3 percent, having such an abundant flow of investment at times where we are facing such a migration challenge, it only demonstrates that the Colombian economy and its people are very resilient. We know that we must follow all this tracks that I mentioned today—legality plus entrepreneurship equals fairness or closing the social gaps.
So I’m very happy, as president of Colombia, to be here, to be able to share with you some of the things that we’re putting together for the future of our country. And I want to thank many of you who have looked at Colombia, worked for Colombia, worked with Colombia so that we are the nation that we are today. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
RUBENSTEIN: So thank you for your remarks. When you were previously living in Washington, you didn’t have a motorcade. Is it easier getting around with a motorcade now? (Laughter.)
DUQUE: I used to use the Metro, David, so I miss the Metro.
RUBENSTEIN: Really? OK. So let’s talk about Venezuela. Is it your view that Maduro is likely to survive? And do you have any view of whether military intervention by the United States would be appropriate or desirable?
DUQUE: The first thing, David, is, as I mentioned a while ago, the situation in Venezuela is really the most worrisome crisis that we have been in Latin American in many years. The level of brutality, the level of brutality and all the human rights violations that are being performed on a—on a permanent basis by the dictatorship, it’s only comparison to what we saw with Slobodan Milošević in former Yugoslavia. So the moral duty of all the countries is to get Maduro out of power, call for a transitional government, and also make a call for free elections. So that’s the first task. The second task is to deal with the migration crisis. We haven’t seen something of this magnitude. Four million people have left Venezuela in the last three years. We have received 1.4 million people, which is the equivalent of 3 percent of the Colombian population, in less than three years. So how can this come to an end? What it is that we can do?
I value that this week in the United Nations General Assembly, the TIAR, the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, was called and new sanctions and stronger sanctions were put in place. So I hope that the solution is going to be triggered by this stronger diplomatic blockade, and it is done in a peaceful way. And when I mean peaceful is that it will be up to the Venezuelan military and police to make the choice of their lives. Do they want to be in the right side of history, or do they want to continue brutalizing their country? I believe things are moving on the first—on the first side.
RUBENSTEIN: Support of Maduro, is that coming from Cuba and Russia? Is that where you see the military and financial support?
DUQUE: He has received a lot of support from the Cuban government for a long time. And they always play the same-old, same-old games. So they try to sell that they’re in a negotiation, they call the opposition. And every single time they do that, what they really start plotting is how do they affect more the opposition, how do they demonize the people in the opposition, how do they brutalize people in the opposition? So that’s why I’ve never trusted in those instruments. And I consider that Cuba, looking at what’s really happening in Venezuela, should move out in terms of not keeping the support they have for Maduro. We, the countries that are signatories of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, must also make a call to the Cubans not to keep on interfering to support a brutal regime. If we compare, as the evidence shows, that Maduro is the Milošević of Latin America, anyone who supports him is also an accomplice.
RUBENSTEIN: So when you were at the U.N., did you have a chance to see President Trump?
DUQUE: We had a very important meeting with President Trump and other heads of state of Latin America. And I liked about the meeting, first of all, the coordination. We are not looking at Venezuela, as I said, not as a geopolitical battleground. We are all there because we share the values of democracy and liberty. And what I also value is that presidents represent the unity of a country, even in times of heavy political debates. But when you look at what’s going on in the United States toward Venezuela, I see something that was very important in the case of Colombia—bipartisan support for the transition and the end of the dictatorship, bicameral support. And I think we have to keep it like that. And having the conversation with President Trump and the other presidents, and the other minister of foreign affairs showed me that we’re stronger than ever on the blockade—the diplomatic blockade. That we’re stronger than ever in terms of the right sanctions that we must put in place. So I consider that the next steps that started happening today with the opening of this new investigation commission by the United Nations and the sanctions that were approved yesterday make me be more optimistic on a daily basis.
RUBENSTEIN: Now, negotiations with the ELN have broken off. Do you assume that they—do you believe they might come back, or you think it’s just not likely?
DUQUE: Well, David—(laughs)—let me try to be very blunt.
DUQUE: When I assumed office, I said I was going to make an evaluation of the seventeen months that the previous administration had dialogue with ELN. And you know what the evaluation showed me? Do you know how many terrorist attacks they performed during those conversations? More than four hundred. More than one hundred people were killed, and more than ten people were kidnapped. That’s no peace willingness. So I said very clearly, if you really want to talk peace two conditions have to be met. The first one? The immediate release of all the kidnapped people. And the second? That you put an end to all your criminal activities. Why? Because if I engage on any form of dialogue or conversation while they keep on using violence, I will be legitimizing violence. So the first thing for them to acknowledge is that they are neither comparable nor equitable with the government. And if they really want to talk peace, the most important thing is that they recognize that they are on the wrong path, and that they have to put an end to their criminal activities.
You know what their response was? A bombing in January of this year in a police academy. They killed twenty-two cadets that were students, unarmed. And that, for me, just shows the brutality of ELN. That has also been supported by Maduro, that has their major campaigns in their territory. And also relates to the behavior that Cuba has, because some of the kingpins of ELN that were in Cuba that participated on the plotting, that also praised that they had participated in the plot of that terrorist act, should be send to Colombia on extradition and not being kept in Cuba with the support. So my conclusion about this is we really have to build peace, but peace has to built with legality. If we legitimize any form of violence, we will be creating new forms of violence every day.
RUBENSTEIN: Now, oil is important to your economy. And the United States we have developed new sources of oil, in effect, through using fracking. Is fracking something that is allowed in Colombia? And will that help your oil industry, if it’s allowed?
DUQUE: That is a great question, because the United States—let’s talk about what has happened in this country. The United States created a policy maybe twelve years ago so that nonconventional oil fields could come with an acceleration. And in fact, the United States has become not only self-sufficient in terms of reserves, but also has become the number-one producer in the world, thanks to that, and in combination with the other sources of exploration and exploitation. Now in the case of Colombia, I always said as a candidate that we cannot allow practices that would harm the environment, that would have negative effectives on biodiversity, that would produce a major damage to the ecosystem. So instead of going to the practices that we had from previous administration, which were that the authority for commercial exploitation was in place, we said, no. We’re going to put that on hold, but we’re going to call the environmentalists, and we’re going to call the people that are experts from the industry, and we will ask them to give us recommendations.
And you know, they made a very important report, an independent report, that said: Before we get into the debate whether these non-conventionals are used or not, let’s have some research pilots, so that out of the research pilots we can clearly know the impact and how to minimize it, how to manage it, and decide whether we really want to go that path or not. So I value that what we have done as of today is a good demonstration of soundness with the environment and also prudence in terms of the industry.
RUBENSTEIN: Now, in your country, you have a one-term limit on presidential service, is that right? You can only serve one term.
RUBENSTEIN: So you were elected when you were forty-three. So you’ll be in your forties before you—when you finish. So what are you going to do with the rest of your life? (Laughter.)
DUQUE: Well, I’ll talk to you about that in 2022. For now, I really want to make a difference in my country. And, you know, I’m a very predictable president. And my wife always tells me that. So I am—I am predictable because we have a government program, and every day I try to accomplish the objectives that I have there. So I will work to achieve all the proposals that we have there. And after 2022, I’ll call you so you can invite me again here and we can talk about what we accomplished.
RUBENSTEIN: OK. All right. So is being president of Colombia as much pleasure as you thought it was when you were running for it? Or is it more of a headache?
DUQUE: No, I always believed that having a possibility to work for your country is the greatest honor you can have. And being president of a country like Colombia, that is a country full of history, of great people, resilience, of regions, it makes me proud every day. And every day I just have the drive of trying to achieve as much as possible for the goodness of my people.
RUBENSTEIN: All right. Let’s have some questions. Right here. Stand up, identify yourself, and just one simple question.
Q: I’m Dan Runde. I’m at CSIS, a think tank here in town.
Colombia will play—
DUQUE: So you’re friends with Phil McLean?
DUQUE: Send him my best regard.
Q: Colombia will play a key role in electing the next president of the IDB. Can you share your thoughts about what Colombia will be looking for in the next IDB president?
DUQUE: Well, first of all, I feel very proud that Colombia has had a tremendous president with Luis Alberto Moreno. Luis Alberto was elected in 2005 and he is finishing his term next year. So I think his profile, in my opinion, has been very good for the bank and for the region. Why? Because I think you have to combine many characteristics. I remember a great book written by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard business professor. And she said that you have to meet the four Cs if you want to be a good leader. And that means coherence, congruence, competence, and caring. So I would put that as the characteristics.
And we also need to have at the IDB somebody that has a development vision for the whole region. It’s not about economics—just about economics. It’s also about the regional development goals, the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s about the environment. And it’s about the capacity to bring together the private sector, the public sector, the civil society. So I hope that those characteristics are met. as a country that is going to share the assembly, we have to be obviously impartial. But I hope the candidates that will be presented meet those characteristics. And I think Luis Alberto has showed that those characteristics have allowed him to modernize the bank, not only by putting the agenda on climate change, gender equality, infrastructure, water and storage, but at the same time to be able to orient the bank in the contribution to the fourth industrial revolution, to the creative industries of many countries of Latin America. So I think I’ll respond to your question like that.
RUBENSTEIN: And right here, stand up.
DUQUE: Stephen Donehoo.
Q: From McLarty Associates. Thank you, sir. (Laughter.)
DUQUE: No, the marketing part is yours, not mine. (Laughter.)
Q: Colombia assumes the rotating presidency of the Pacific Alliance this year. What are your plans and what will your agenda be to try to drive the other four countries and maybe five countries by the end of your term there to adopt similar policies to those that you have for the business sector?
DUQUE: Well, the first thing is that this year Sebastián is going to be the pro tempore presidency. And we will take it next year. But there are four things that I like about where the alliance is heading to. The first thing is having Ecuador inside the alliance—inside the alliance is a must. So we had the great meeting in Lima, and we’re all very enthused that Ecuador can become a member. I see President Lenín Moreno also working hard to achieve that. And I think that gives a very strong power to the alliance, specifically in South America.
The second thing is, and I gave that opinion last year, that we have to think more of us as allies, and not just as partners. And by that, means that if we’re going to engage on negotiations we have to think as a whole alliance and not just the peer interest of any specific country. And we had that debate, for example, with the military, because we were going to have the discussions with New Zealand, you know, and so that New Zealand can become another member of the alliance, with Australia and other countries.
And I made the case. I said, you know, a country like Colombia is not willing to open the milk sector at this moment. It represents 25 percent of our agricultural GDP, and it generates a lot of employment in the country, and it has been some—like a contention wall on inequality in the rural areas. So it’s not just for the sake of protection; it’s for the sake also of national security, but food security. So I valued that my colleagues said, OK, we understand, and we decided to go together as allies and understand that if there’s something that harms a country we have to be able to coordinate better. So I just give you that particular example. And if we keep on working as allies, I think we’ll be much stronger.
The third thing is how do we integrate the capital markets in a—in a more organized and rapid way. We had the MILA. The MILA was created with a great vision. But we need to have more IPOs. We need to move more investment, cross-border investment in the local capital markets. We need to have corporate governance regulation in a better way. So we put that in the agenda. We hope that during Sebastian’s presidency we can accelerate this. And that’s part of my agenda when I assume the temporary presidency.
And last but not least has to do with how do we harmonize regulation on sensible sectors—infrastructure, energy, water storage, ports. So that, I think, is going to be the next stage of the alliance. How do we pass more from trade to smart regulation and that we can harmonize our regulation? The good thing about this is that Mexico is an OECD country, Colombia is an OECD country, Peru wants to become an OECD country. So I also believe OECD frameworks are going to be instrumental to achieve those objectives.
Thank you so much.
RUBENSTEIN: Your predecessor negotiated an agreement with the FARC. On balance, are you supportive of that agreement? And are you implementing it now as you intended to, or not?
DUQUE: David, as I said in my—in my remarks, we are not playing politics with peace. I believe it was a mistake—a historical, big mistake in Colombia—to divide the population between friends and enemies of peace for political purposes. So the first thing is that we, all Colombians, have to work to build a peace policy. We call it peace with legality. And that means everything that can be made a success story on reincorporation, we all have to follow it. Everything that can be a success story in terms of bringing the states to the places where there wasn’t the right presence, we have to do it.
But we have to be very clear that we have to correct the things that were not going well. And by that is that we have to punish those who want to go back to criminality, and by that is that we need to do something very fast to put an end to the illegal crops exponential growth over the last years. And I think we’re moving in the right direction.
And the third thing is that we really have to be more effective on getting the victims repaired with the assets of those who said they were going to give their assets for reparation. And it’s not working enough.
So my conclusion is today Colombia is assuming the challenge of peace with legality, but I think the message we’ve gotten from the EU, the message we got from the U.N., the message we have gotten from the United States, the messages we have gotten from the international community is that we’re heading in the right direction. And it is because we have put legality as the right element that needs to be combined with peace.
RUBENSTEIN: OK. Back here. Stand up and identify yourself, please, and speak up.
Q: Mr. President, Eliot Pence with Anduril Industries. It’s a defense technology startup. We’re the fastest-growing defense technology startup of the last fifty years.
I’m wondering what you can tell me about how you’re encouraging technology startups and entrepreneurship—I really admire your focus on that—and why a technology startup would come to Colombia.
DUQUE: Well, two very important policies. I have been following startup regulation for many years, since I was working at the IDB, and I think the two major concerns that entrepreneurs have is that during the first years they always have to look for the three Fs in terms of funding. And a friend of mine who was an entrepreneur said the three Fs were friends, foods, and family.
So most of the entrepreneurs in Latin America have to struggle without having the access to finance when they have a good idea where they want to start a company. So we have created an ecosystem that is called C Emprende, Colombia Entrepreneurship, and we’re working with universities, accelerators, funds, and mentors. And we try to connect them all, and we’re putting also resources to early funding so we can go from angel investment to high private-equity investment. That’s number one.
Number two is most of the startups suffer a lot during the first seven years of performance. Why? Because taxation becomes very heavy on them. So we also launched a policy of zero—zero—income tax for the first seven years in technology and the creative industries based on the evidence of a minimum amount of investment and a minimum amount of jobs.
With those two things, I think we’re giving the right message. And something that was—that impacted me a lot is that we have the (agreements ?) of all the Chambers of Commerce, and the first semester they said we got 9 percent increase of new companies being initiated in Colombia in the first semester of this year; 40 percent technology and creative industries. So I think the message is getting there.
But also on the rural areas—on the rural areas, we want to bring more entrepreneurs. And people who are going to start to fund startups focusing on the rural areas will have zero income tax during their first ten years also with a minimum amount of investment and a minimum amount of jobs. And we’re starting to see the startups in precision agriculture, startups on alternative development, startups on environmental services or the expansion of the agricultural border. So I think we’re also getting with the right messages.
And last but not least, we issued the first orange economy bond in the world. So we reached something close to $150 million, and I thought—I thought it was going to be very difficult to place it in the market. In fact, in just six months, three thousand companies got the funding, long-term funding, at a very comfortable rate. So those things are also happening when it comes to entrepreneurship.
RUBENSTEIN: Is this your good luck bracelets you have on, or is that—
DUQUE: Yes, and they have been with me—not this one, but all of my life I’ve kept my pulseritas. (Laughter.)
RUBENSTEIN: So while you were in town you stopped at a bookstore. When you stopped off—come in a bookstore in Washington, D.C., and you have a lot of security, do people notice you, or do you have to stand in line to buy the books, or not?
DUQUE: Well, I lived here for fourteen years, David, and I used to go to Kramerbooks and Politics and Prose. (Laughter.) So I made my stop—I made my stop in Kramer yesterday. I bought a couple of good books. But I still miss the days where I could come to Washington and have maybe a Blue Moon with hot wings without having a big motorcade behind me. But it’s always great to be in town, and this is a city that I—that I love. And being able to have a couple of minutes at Kramer was very enjoyable for me.
RUBENSTEIN: OK. All right. Well, we’ve reached our time, so I want to thank you very much, President Duque, for your time here today. And thank you all for coming. And I appreciate your willingness to be here, and you’re always welcome to come back.
DUQUE: Thank you so much, David. (Applause.)