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Colombia's Cauca Valley is ready to receive the world

Interview - August 2, 2013
As Cali is placed in the international spotlight with the organization of the World Games, United World interviews Ubeimar Delgado, Governor of Valle del Cauca who describes the event as an “opportunity for the region”
Last year Colombia surpassed Mexico in direct foreign investment and positioned itself only behind Brazil and Chile. What has led Colombia to this special moment?

We have been able to rest easier with the breakthroughs in the fight against drug trafficking and the displacement of the mafias that planted cocaine in Colombian rainforests, especially in the three mountain chains. Moreover, the recent government administrations have had a firm hand, including President Pastrana’s administration (1998-2002), when an area was opened for the guerrilla in a demilitarized zone, which was used to continue kidnapping and committing terrorist actions against defenseless populations. However, at the end of his administration he made the decision to suspend the peace process and apply a firmer hand in the battle. Then came President Alvaro Uribe’s administration and in two presidential terms he virtually cornered the guerrilla as well as the paramilitary groups. Nonetheless, there has been a sequel that became the famous BACRIM (Emerging Colombian Criminal Organizations), which extort some populations. This is the issue President Juan Manuel Santos is currently addressing and he has also started a peace process with the FARC. As much as there was a firm hand from Uribe’s administration, there was also legal security, investment security, more social connection and broader possibilities for rural development.

More importantly, Colombia is an agricultural belt because it has all climates and three mountain chains that allow for many agricultural products. In addition, Colombia also exploits oil, the purest emeralds in the world, coal, large amounts of minerals, and there is gold potential.

Colombian agricultural products have an outstanding diversity. We are talking about blackberry in the highest areas, cacao in the lowest areas, sugar cane. For example, Valle del Cauca is an important sugar and sugar cane producer and northern El Valle is an important vegetable and fruit producer.

So I would think that the boom of Valle del Cauca and Colombia is basically due to crossing the middle line in the war against conflicts with armed outlaws. Colombia has started winning the game and has been boosting progressively. Kidnappings have gone down considerably. There is better response capacity facing this calamity, that is to say, there is a reaction from the public force, which is more organized, has more communication, more combat elements, manpower strength, airplanes, monitored equipment, research, secret police; we already have a firm control on security and this is essential. As a result, we are now receiving more visitors from other countries because they perceive a safer and kinder country. There is a good chance of attracting foreign investment in Colombia, among other things, because in Valle del Cauca, the country’s most important corridor (Buenaventura to Bogota), we are making huge strides in completing the eight-lane divided highway between Buga and Buenaventura. Buenaventura has already dredged 15 meters for POST PANAMAX ships to enter; we have projected the construction of a breakwater in Buenaventura and we have already financed the first phase.

You have stated that, “the Pacific Alliance is a great opportunity for Valle del Cauca to recover leadership in quality employment generation obtained in the commercial sector.” What are the main benefits you expect for Valle del Cauca from the Pacific Alliance?

The world economy originated first in the Mediterranean, then passed on to the Atlantic and now it is coming to the Pacific. Old Atlantic cities such as London, Paris, New York are already being replaced by great Pacific cities and we have a port in the Pacific called Buenaventura. For this reason, an investment was made in Buenaventura to dredge the channel to access the port and we have several terminal points in the Great Bay of Buenaventura port. Similarly, as I was saying, we are going to build Buenaventura’s breakwater and we have financed COP$27 billion, COP$5 billion contributed by the National Government through the Ministry of Foreign Trade, COP$7 billion by Buenaventura and COP$15 billion by the Valle Governor’s Office. Besides, we are also investing in the Calima Lake, where we get about 70,000 to 75,000 tourists in a holiday weekend lasting three or four days, that is why we are investing COP$9 billion there.
So we are talking about investment with tourism potential – since we have talked about the breakwater and the Calima Lake. Could you tell us about Valle del Cauca’s tourism potential?

Valle del Cauca has great tourism potential, not only for the Calima Lake but also in fruit farming lands. In fact, there is a company in the wine region called Grajales, which produces the best wine in the country and cultivates vineyards extensively; it is a popular place to visit. El Valle’s hinterland is quite popular, as are Cali and its surroundings. We have potential for tourism; we have good hotel capacity, there are plenty of places to go, and we have excellent gastronomy. Valle del Cauca has typical dishes such as chicken soup from inland Valle, or Colombian-style chicken risotto, as well as diverse international food. Cali has an entire neighborhood called Granada where you can find any kind of international cuisine you would like such as Argentinean, Spanish, Mexican, Asian, Italian and French. This is a pretty neighborhood that has undergone significant urban renovation. Cali has really been renovating itself.
As a government, we are making efforts for Valle del Cauca to have a plan for all the roads we call a local roads as well as tertiary as secondary roads. Also, most agricultural municipalities of the country are located in the two mountain chains. We have municipalities with specific potential products in each town; there are coffee-producing municipalities, agricultural municipalities, there is an agricultural route called Tenerife where about 80 to 100 trucks travel everyday full of food and 45,000 liters of milk in a single trip; and we have thousands of agricultural routes. So Valle del Cauca is a great agricultural circuit.

You have experience in administrative positions in this region and after your victory in the last elections, you started the extensive Government Program for Valle del Cauca. What improvements has this plan achieved and which are your next areas of action?

First, we have implemented a social program we call “Valle without hunger”. This is a program institutionalized by the Governor’s Office and we are constructing a building where we will take beggars from the street, homeless children who have nowhere to eat. This is social development because a country must have justice with imposing law, order and authority, but also together with education, quality education, social development, housing development and habitat development, which are two different things. We have a solution program of 50,000 new housing units for homeless people. Our main task is to have healthy finances, public finances well invested with honesty, transparency and effectiveness.

One of your priorities is to clean up departmental finances integrally. Can you evaluate the achievements obtained from fiscal cleanup plans, actions to promote operative savings and the goal of recovering the “special category” status?

We have progressed successfully. I took over a state government that was immersed in Law 550, better known as the bankruptcy law. Today we can say this is a rescue law. We have already signed agreements with creditors to pay a COP$443 billion debt from previous administration debts. We are currently paying through this agreement 50% of the debt from previous administrations, and this is our first achievement. On the other hand, we are on the right path to recover the special category. We believe that by the end of next year we will be in the special category again due to the good management and austerity we have implemented with responsibility in public expense. Besides, we already have an institutional program which directly addresses evasion, avoidance and corruption. The departmental administration named Hector Fabio Lenis Castro as “Anti-Corruption Czar”. He’s worked as a state attorney; he is a professional, a lawyer and an expert in several topics and he currently directs the High Council to fight corruption.

Your electoral program included a proposal for the Valle Assembly to create the Department’s Surveillance and Security Fund, which will be used to seek resources from both the National Government and private companies in order to invest in integral-security development programs. What have you accomplished thus far in fighting insecurity and boosting social development and respect for human rights?

Respect for human rights is fundamental for us; this is why we have created “Valle without Hunger”, where we are helping out those who have nothing to eat. However, in terms of state security, the national government has to be supported by the assistant, administrative and constitutional governor of the President of the Republic. Regarding security at Valle del Cauca, we have received about 2,000 new national police officers this year; 1,000 arrived in Cali; over 400 arrived in Valle’s inland areas; another 200 arrived in Buenaventura; and some other arrived in the north of the Department. Thus, so far this year 2,000 new police officers have arrived to strengthen the fight against insecurity, so we are safer now. We provided 11 municipalities in the center of the Department with 72 motorcycle officers; we also gave them police cars and telecommunication devices.
Not only in Valle’s administration but throughout the nation as well, we’ve improved matters of security. The police forces have performed outstandingly; they have captured drug traffickers, guerrilla members caught in the act of breaking the law have been taken down; and common crime has been lowered.

Valle del Cauca is turning heads from around the world. This is evidenced by recent visits from European, US and Latin American companies interested in investing in the region. Could you talk to us about the latest operations in Valle? Some examples may include companies such as Zona América, Vectrix, Mall Plaza and TSK.

I have had meetings with several Spanish companies, in particular with a fishing company that wants to join up with Colombia and Valle del Cauca to create great fishing partnerships and move from small-scale fishing into industrial fishing. Similarly, we have received several visitors; we met with the South Korean ambassador, the French ambassador, the US ambassador, and the English ambassador. This shows there is a special interest from several countries of the Americas, the world and the Pacific Asian region in getting closer to a new world, new possibilities of partnership, strategies to generate companies, partnerships to find investment here in Colombia and especially in Valle del Cauca.

In your opinion, what sector offers the best opportunities for American companies to invest in and generate employment for people in Valle del Cauca?

Nowadays cocoa and free trade create important expectations. Valle del Cauca has significant potential because we have land to sow, space and land to generate businesses. I would say textiles are important, too. Different brands of clothing manufacture, as well as any kind of plastic, paper raw materials, all kinds of candy, materials for construction and furniture are all good sectors. I believe there is a wide range of clothes and shoes available to be promoted. We consume a lot of designer clothes here in Colombia; people value them greatly, it is evident – I am not trying to advertise any particular brand – people use lots of designer clothes from any line here; they use designer shoes and designer ties largely. We have strong demand for quality products. People in Valle are very demanding about the quality of garments.

The region has five available airports and they are located near Buenaventura’s port, the most important sea port in the pacific. What is your view on Valle del Cauca’s air and sea logistic potential?

We have an airport called Santa Ana in Cartago and we want to develop it fully. I believe we can develop it through a public-private partnership. The best winds cross this area, there is great weather all the time, so this airport would never close. A partnership would be necessary because there is fruit and coffee farming potential in this entire area. There are fruit-farming municipalities, there is plenty of plantain, coffee and fruits. This airport would be used by both cargo and tourists. Another airport we want to expand is Cali’s airport; it is already used extensively. We require another airport there in Palmira. Buenaventura’s airport also requires greater investment. These are the airport facilities in Valle del Cauca with potential to be exploited.

The Santos administration has launched an ambitious program to reduce poverty. It has been a remarkable kind of development in Latin America in this area, not to mention the creation of 2 million jobs. He has promoted an economic policy that has placed Colombia among the six most appealing economies in the world. What benefits has Valle received from this development in the national economic policy and poverty reduction programs?

We recently received here in Cali the presidents from the Pacific Alliance. There were presidents from Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia. We are currently enjoying the “World Games” and are about to welcome Afro-descendant leaders from the Pacific. This is the result of national and international satisfaction with the development of Valle del Cauca and the Pacific region, and of course the city of Cali.
Cali has developed thanks to resources of Cali citizens. The longest underground tunnel in Colombia, almost a kilometer long, is a tunnel paid by Cali citizens. COP$61 billion were paid directly by its users. This means that the Department Governor’s Office, the Major’s Office and the national government did not pay for it. It was built with citizens’ funds. This means that the community is taking risks to believe in what is ours, to believe in Valle del Cauca’s unity and patriotism as social development, business development, trade development; and the development of public-private partnerships with businessmen. Businessmen realize that we are more competitive, there is more infrastructure for competitiveness and we are noticeably aiming at generating businesses.

Valle del Cauca exports are one of the most relevant sectors in the region’s economy and Valle expects to be one of the greatest beneficiaries of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) not only due to its location near the port, but also because more than 90% of the manufacturers from this region correspond to non-mining exports. What is the new dimension of the relations between Cali and the US as a result of the coming into effect of the FTA in 2012, and what are your expectations?

Our ally in competing is our quality. My message for the people of Valle del Cauca is that our products must be quality products. The only way to penetrate the international market through FTAs with the US, Costa Rica and all the countries around the world is to compete with quality. That is what we do and we get ready to improve every day.

This is my last question: you have gained wide experience in important administrative positions here in Valle. I would like to know how this experience has shaped your leadership philosophy and vision as Governor.

I started my public career in a community neighborhood action board and in the municipal youth board and later became councilor of Cali. I was also a member of the chamber. Later, I became a Senator of the Republic, then vice-president of the Senate, deputy president for the Senate of the Republic and president of the Economic Commissions for the entire Colombian trade. Now, I am a governor. I want to take advantage of my experience to serve Valle del Cauca and its people because I love my homeland; I love being from Valle del Cauca. I adore this beautiful Valle del Cauca, the micro-climate… everything. People from Valle del Cauca are cheerful, easygoing, hard-working entrepreneurs; committed people who support each one of their regions.