In August, 2021, Juan Carlos Pinzon, Colombian Ambassador to the United States, presented his credentials virtually to President Biden. Pinzon had previously served as Ambassador to the U.S. from 2015-2017. He returned to Colombia under a new Colombian president, only to return to the United States four years later under Colombia’s newly elected President Duque. Prior to serving as Ambassador, Pinzon was minister of defense from 2011 to 2015. Accompanying him to Washington is his wife Pilar Lozano, and his son, age 18. His daughter, aged 21, is back home in Colombia.
The Ambassador had just returned from the environmental conference in Glasgow when we met. He accompanied President Duque meeting with President Biden for the first time. Pinzon has a high regard for President Biden as they worked together on Plan Colombia and later on the Trade Agreement when Biden was in the Senate. In 2016 Biden went to Cartagena to help establish the US/Colombia Business Council and was awarded the highest honor the Colombian government can offer. Colombia and the U.S. have worked closely on such issues as climate warming, migration, human rights and the protection of democracy.
Pinzon is optimistic that the climate conference in Glasgow will engender a higher level of commitment on a global scale helped by an increase in technology. Colombia already receives 70 percent of its energy from hydropower and plans to end deforestation by 2030. To this end, Colombia has created an enormous environmentally protected area, one of the largest in Latin America, together with Ecuador and Costa Rica.
Ambassador Pinzon proudly says that Colombia is the second most bio-diverse country in the world with the largest variety of bird species. However, due to a stunning decrease of the bird population — many die during their spring and fall migrations — the Audubon Society has asked Colombia to form a partnership with other Latin American countries to find a way to make this route safe for the birds’ bi-annual migration. He hopes to put this plan in to action next year.
The extraordinary wildlife in Colombia is a mecca for tourism which has gone from one million tourists in 2010 to 4.5 million in 2019. The rise in tourism is indicated by the fact that there are currently twenty-six cruise ships in the harbor. In addition to the stunning wildlife, Colombia has spectacular cultural festivals. The month of January is particularly festive with both a music and a literary festival in the beautiful city of Cartagena. I attended the music festival in Cartagena where concerts were carefully spread out among the churches and historic buildings. It was an unforgettable experience.
We also discussed past violence in his country. Ambassador Pinzon oversaw Plan Colombia which increased U.S. funding for security and development to $450 million annually. He expressed his gratitude to the U.S. for helping Colombia to emerge from being one of the most volatile countries in the hemisphere to being on the way to setting an example for others. To further stabilize the economy and increase the well-being of farmers, the government plans to provide 50,000 land titles to farmers who previously had less than 100. While this plan is slow in starting, perhaps due to unrealistic expectations and over promising, the Ambassador is optimistic that with time things will work out. The very recent capture of Dario Antonio Usuga, the notorious Colombian drug kingpin, is certainly a step in the right direction.
In 2007 the U.S. opened up its trade with Colombia and into the States came the Hass avocado! I noted how avocados have become a culinary star in the U.S., whether in salads, “avocado toast,” or guacamole! He stressed the importance of this for the farmers in offering them a substantial market, thus lessening the need to grow illegal crops such as cocaine. And, the Ambassador says with a smile, “mangos are coming.”
Finally, the Ambassador is greatly looking forward to celebrating 200 years of U.S.-Colombia relations (May 1822 to May 2022) in June and mentions how Colombia has been a steady partner with the U.S. — at the creation of the United Nations, as a partner in NATO, the OAS, the World Bank, by declaring war against Japan after Pearl Harbor, and by sending in 1952, 5000 Colombian troops and two destroyers to help the U.S. during the Korean war!
As I left the embassy, the Ambassador reminded me not to forget to see Lin Manuel Miranda’s movie Encanto which is set in Colombia!