AT THE TABLE

Colombia 2013 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on relations with the US, milestones, and the FTA agenda.

María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar
BIOGRAPHY
María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar is a graduate of Political Science and has two decades of public and private sector experience. She has held high positions in the government, including at the Office of the President of Republic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Office of the Inspector General of the Nation. As part of her broad professional experience in the diplomatic field, Maria Angela Holguin has held, among others, the positions of Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia and Deputy Minister (1998), Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Colombian Mission to the United Nations (2004–2006), Ambassador of Colombia to Venezuela (2002–2004), and Commercial Attaché of the Embassy of Colombia in France (1992). In addition, she was Coordinator for Colombia of the IADB Assembly and Inter-American Investment Corporation (1997), and Executive Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Conference on Early Childhood (1997).

What was the significance for Colombia of the Sixth Summit of the Americas celebrated in Cartagena in 2012?

The Sixth Summit of the Americas gave us the opportunity to propose to the countries of the region to concentrate on advancing the achievements of the two hemispheres, mainly integration and comprehensive development. Our proposals were widely supported by member states and became a concrete action plan for the Americas in the coming years. The Cartagena Summit will also be remembered as the first continental meeting to hold, at the highest level, an open and frank exchange of views on the most divisive issues on the Americas' agenda. In Cartagena, the hemispheric political dialogue gained a new dimension. Among others, and as a result of it, the Organization of American States (OAS) is preparing an analytical study on the region's current antidrug policy and on existing alternatives to give more strength and effectiveness to our fight against this scourge.

What have been your Ministry's major accomplishments over the past two years and what are your priorities for 2013?

Over the past two-and-a-half years, we have implemented a policy of reaching out to new partners in Central Asia and the Pacific as well as expanding the thematic issues and areas of exchange and cooperation with our traditional partners. Likewise, we have focused on two social programs and the economic impact on small municipalities bordering our neighboring countries. These are the Border Plan for Prosperity and the Children and Youth Opportunities Program. Our priorities for 2013 are developing these approaches both with our traditional and new partners, enhancing our work in Colombia's territories in the Caribbean basin, strengthening our cooperation with Central America and the Caribbean, reinforcing our partnerships with Latin American countries, and consolidating the Pacific Alliance as a pragmatic partnership that will bring major benefits to all the economies involved.

How would you assess bilateral relations between the US and Colombia and in what areas is there more potential for cooperation?

We have had, for many years, a special relationship with the US. Our successes in combatting major global challenges in Colombia are also their successes due to the commitment and cooperation of successive US governments. During this administration, we have sought to expand the items for dialogue and exchange. From an almost monothematic agenda, we have now strengthened our areas of cooperation in the agriculture and energy sectors as well as in science and technology and the environment and sustainability. They are all essential for our development and the creation of prosperity.

What has been the most important change in Colombian society in recent years?

Since the beginning, I have strived to highlight the positive environment of our new reality and the opportunities it can offer to both Colombians and the world. This is a challenge, as there is a problem of perception within the international system related to our past realities, which we have been able to overcome in many aspects. But indeed, the major challenge is for Colombians to feel that they are on an equal footing with nationals of any other country, after having been stigmatized for so many years. This change in our own attitude is essential in order to explore new regions and markets and feel confident about our strengths in human capital, as an investment destination, and also the quality and competitiveness of our industries.