Colombian Ambassador Says Peaceful Transition Is Underway

Ambassador Juan Carlos Pinzón said a peace deal between the Colombian government and rebels rejected by voters is part of the democratic process.

Colombian Ambassador to the United States Juan Carlos Pinzón
Colombian Ambassador to the United States Juan Carlos Pinzón said the Latin American country has a strong democracy and is on the path to peace after more than 50 years of civil war. (William Atkins/ GW Today)
October 19, 2016

By Kristen Mitchell

A historic peace deal between the Colombian government and a rebel group sought to bring an end to decades of violence in the Latin American country, but earlier this month it was unexpectedly rejected by voters. 

Polls projected the agreement would be approved with overwhelming support, but the margin was much closer on election day—50.2 percent rejected the deal with the FARC, 49.8 percent voted in favor. At the Elliott School of International Affairs on Tuesday, Colombian Ambassador to the United States Juan Carlos Pinzón said the results show the state of Colombia’s democracy is strong.

“Very few democracies can handle such a political decision,” he said. “Ours did.”

Mr. Pinzón addressed a crowd of George Washington University students, faculty and staff as part of ESIA’s Ambassadors Forum speaker series. He spoke about the peace agreement, the relationship between Colombia and the United States and President Juan Manuel Santos’ recently awarded Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the deal.

While the agreement was rejected—many Colombians felt it was too lenient on the FARC–both sides have said they will stop fighting. The country continues to move on, and the economy is growing, Mr. Pinzón said.

“This transition to peace is where we are right now,” he said. “The path to peace is being built on. We are not moving away from peace, we are just getting to bumps in the road.”

Throughout Colombian history the people have been the stars of democracy, he said. The people have always asked for changes and gone to the polls in order to vote for them.

“Nobody can claim in Colombia to be the person who changed the country,” Mr. Pinzón said.

GW President Steven Knapp congratulated Mr. Pinzón and the Colombian people on President Santos’ Nobel Peace Prize and the resolute efforts to bring an end to the more than 50-year-long civil war.

“The Ambassadors Forum is an excellent example of how George Washington leverages its unique location in order to provide opportunities for global engagement right in our own backyard,” Dr. Knapp said.

ESIA Dean Reuben E. Brigety II said Mr. Pinzón understands the school’s mission to build leaders and enable students and faculty to tackle the most complex challenges facing the world today.

Mr. Pinzón said the issues facing Colombia are the same ones countries around the world are dealing with. With more communication and networking than ever before, issues in one part of the world have a global impact.

Colombia is the third most populated Latin American country, and with 60 percent of the population under age 30, the country is ready to integrate and ripe for technological innovation, Mr. Pinzón said.

Colombia today is a far cry from the place it was 20 years ago, Mr. Pinzón said. In the 1990s Colombia became the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere and had a soaring homicide rate. Drug trafficking was a growing problem, and armed conflicts were escalating.

“At the same time the economy started to have consequences,” Mr. Pinzón said. “Because of security, a lot of my own generation left the country.”

Through investment from the United States in the form of Plan Colombia, a military and diplomatic aid initiative, conditions started to improve. Today the homicide, poverty and unemployment rates have dropped drastically. The improvements also scaled back the influx of illegal drugs coming into the United States from Colombia.

One area that still needs to be improved is education, Mr. Pinzón said. He encouraged Colombian students who can to go abroad and get a college education. See the world, and then come home and apply what you have learned, he said.