Colombian president Iván Duque on Maduro, drugs and the economy
The FT's Gideon Long interviews Colombia's young president, who wants to revive growth in the face of the refugee crisis from Venezuela and who takes a tough line on nightmare next-door neighbour Nicolás Maduro
Filmed by Juan Cortes; edited by Greg Bobillot
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When Ivan Duque was sworn in as Colombia's president last year he became the youngest elected leader in the country for over a century. And yet many of the problems he faces are old. They date from the long civil conflict between the state and Marxist rebels.
President Duque has the job of implementing the historic peace deal, agreed by the previous government in 2016. Cocaine production is at an all-time high. And he faces new challenges - the crisis in neighbouring Venezuela, which has forced over a million migrants to pour across the border into Colombia.
When I sat down with President Duque I started by asking him about Colombia's fragile peace process.
The most important thing about the peace process is to allow the people that have left violence to enter into a path of legality. So that's what I call the successful reincorporation. We need to make it a success. We need to make it something that we can all feel very proud of.
And secondly, we really want to have justice, so that there's no repetition. And if and if I may add something, we also have to guarantee that the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity are the ones who have to repair the victims on the firsthand. And then they have to tell the truth about their linkages with narco trafficking. They have to tell the truth about child recruitment.
And they also have to tell the truth about all the crimes they have committed against children in Colombia. If we achieve those three things, I think we can build a lasting and a sustainable peace. Or as we call it, a peace with legality.
And let's talk about the war on drugs. Coca cultivation and cocaine production is at an all-time high in Colombia. This is something that dates from before your government. The previous government halted aerial spraying. What do you want to do with aerial spraying?
Obviously, when you have such big receding makes things difficult. Just... just to show you the numbers, a manual eradication group has 21 manual eradicators and 40 soldiers that have to provide security to the eradicators. There's some regions in the country where the cultivations are surrounded by landmines. Or they are surrounded by snipers.
I just can't stand to call a family, a mother, or a father, and express my sorrow because their son has died in a manual eradication operation. That doesn't make any sense. So when we face those threats we have to be able to use all the tools.
The reason why we're fighting illegal crops is not because we have to please anybody. It's because it is our moral duty. Our relationship with the United States when we fight against illegal drugs is based on the principle of co-operation. And it's also based under the principle of co-responsibility.
Let's talk about the economy. You're heading to London in a few days time. What's your message to potential investors in Britain?
When you see the growth of Colombia, in the first trimester of 2019, and you compare it with the region, we grew more than Mexico. More than Chile. More than Peru. More than Argentina. More than Brazil.
And that demonstrates the resilience and the capacity that we have. But also, hand in hand, we've seen that the big companies in technology coming to Colombia, putting their web services, with more than 700 employees, and aspiring to have more than 2,000 the next two years. And we also have seen Colombia open the first Fourth Industrial Revolution Centre with a World Economic Forum, in a Spanish-speaking country. And I think all that demonstrates that not only that we're open for business, but that we have not only the incentives for people to invest.
But also, that we have the vision of policy development and business development that is going to make Colombia, as I've said, the Silicon Valley of Latin America. That's why we've taken, you know, wise decisions. Like, zero income tax for seven years for start-ups that are in that technology and in the creative industries.
That's why we have expanded the benefits that we had for the movie sector to all the audiovisual sector and to all the creative industries. And that's why we want to call the international community to see Colombia as the place in Latin America where original content can be developed for OTT platforms.
So I see Colombia becoming a leader of this sector in Latin America. And I'm pretty sure that during my administration we're going to set the ground. And when we look five years down the road, or 10 years down the road, Colombia is going to be seen as the leader of the creative industries in Latin America.
To close, I'd like to talk about Venezuela. An issue which is obviously having a huge impact on Colombia at the moment, in terms of migration. Is it not time, do you think, for a rethink of policy? And to maybe think about sitting down with President Maduro, who is the de facto president still, and trying to negotiate a solution?
Maduro is a dictator. And let me begin by saying something. Most of the countries in Latin American did not recognise the results of the last election where he manipulated all the power to remain in his seat.
But he is still in his seat.
But let me finish. When I was a senator, I denounced Nicolas Maduro before the International Criminal Court. And I said that if I became president of Colombia I will call all their heads of state to do the same. Now we have nine, and we also have the OAS secretary-general presenting a very contended report before the ICC.
So when we look at that and we analyse what is our moral duty? The only viable solution to the most horrendous migration crisis in America and Latin America's recent history, where we, as Colombians, have received more than 1.3m Venezuelan brothers, begins with Maduro stepping out of power.
Mr President, thank you very much for your time. I'll leave it there.
Thank you so much.
I know you have to travel.
Certainly been a great pleasure.
Lovely to speak to you. Thank you.
All the best.