Colombia’s Iván Duque On Climate Change, Venezuela

(NBC, Claire Atkinson, 27.Jun.2019) — Advertising can help combat climate change, says Colombia’s president, Iván Duque, who recently spoke at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity about the significance of the orange economy — as the cultural and creative industries are known.

In a brief conversation with NBCNews.com, Duque discussed climate issues, the war on drugs, his views on the crisis in Venezuela and the need for a change of government and what he sees as his administration’s achievements and ongoing challenges. The remarks have been slightly condensed.

NBC News: You want ad agencies to help fight the problem of climate change. Can you tell us what the effect of climate change is on Colombia and how to stop it?

Colombia has the sixth cleanest energy matrix in the world. We only produce 0.4 percent of C02 global emissions, but we are one of the most vulnerable countries on climate change effects. Why? Because we have seashore erosion, because we have seen the dismantling of our snow-capped highest mountains. We’ve seen predatory activities that have generated maybe deforestation. Many people still use wood to cook in some parts of the country. There has been an expansion of cattle that can be managed in a more productive way, so it’s a combination of elements.

For Colombia, you have to be able to change this. It implies you have sensibility and consciousness from the citizens. That means how do we protect, renew, reuse, recycle. How do we seed trees, how do we plant trees.

Why do I think advertising can play a role? Because like no other industry, they can get to all of your senses in seconds and they can mobilize citizens, too, to embrace the right consciousness.

NBC News: So there’s a government pitch right now to have ad agencies pitch you ideas that you implement at some point.

To fight deforestation initially, and we hope to have a result by October.

NBC News: What can you tell us about Colombia and Venezuela and how you are dealing with 1.5 million migrants entering the country?

A: It is the biggest challenge we face, and this is the worst migration crisis in Latin America’s history, and this is also a grave humanitarian crisis. We have 1.5 million [Venezuelan] people, almost, in Colombia and they, for example, are looking for medicine, food and shelter.

We have showed the world — instead of getting into a set of restrictive sentiments, since we understand they are under a dictatorship and trying to find opportunity — we’ve made a migration policy based on fraternity.

In an orderly way we can normalize and look at this and we can have a labor market policy so that the migrants won’t get paid below the average salary of a Colombian and that happens due to the policy we launched which has allowed for foreign workers in Colombia.

So I think we are showing the world with our example what we can do. This is not going to be sustainable because the main cause of the dictatorship has to end. If it doesn’t end we’ll get more migrants and we’ll have maybe more than 2 million by the end of next year.

NBC News: Can you give us any update on Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader?

Juan Guaidó is a hero, he’s a patriot. He has been mobilizing the Venezuelan population to find Democratic change. His leadership has had an impact on the military, which I think is broken, and now we see more people pledging loyalty to the Assembly and to him. So I hope the end of the dictatorship is going to happen pretty fast.

A dictatorship doesn’t end from one day to another. It takes time, but I think the diplomatic blockade, the sanctions and the way the international community has reacted against Maduro makes this current situation the most important opportunity ever seen to put an end to the dictatorship in Venezuela.

NBC News: In April, President Donald Trump attacked you and said you were not doing enough on the war on drugs; some U.S. senators came to your defense, calling you one of their best allies. What you expect America to do in regard to the war on drugs?

This is not a one-country issue, this is a multicountry effort. We all have to coordinate, cooperate and there is co-responsibility. The reason why we have decided to fight narco-trafficking is not to please any specific country, it is because it is our moral duty. There is a need to protect security and the rule of law in Colombia. And we have been strong allies in that fight.

Colombia represents 50 percent of what is seized in drugs in the Western Hemisphere. And to give you a number, the market value of all the seizures we had in 2018 is the equivalent of the profits in 2018 of BP or Goldman Sachs. So no country in the world does what we do, in this effort. That’s why we believe that we all have to cooperate and Colombia will continue to do all it can.

We all have to take co-responsibility. There has to be a reduction in consumption as well. There has to be support for seizures on the borders and in the streets. We have been allies of the United States, and they have been allies in this task, but as I said, it’s a matter of co-responsibility.

NBC News: You are coming up on your anniversary as president at the end of summer. What are your key achievements and continuing challenges?

I, first, must say the economic recovery; the economic growth in Colombia by the end of 2017 was 1.4 percent. Last year in the first two trimesters of our government we got it to 2.7 percent. This year, we hope it will be above 3.4 to 3.5 percent. And that will put us above the world average and regional average.

Investment in Colombia is growing. In the first trimester, foreign direct investment grew at 68 percent levels, which are very high, and also not forgetting private sector companies investing in Colombia, like Amazon, which launched a web services company in Bogotá. They hired several hundred employees, they want to bring up to 2,000. We have now Microsoft putting web services in Colombia. We have OTT (over-the-top video) platforms investing in content development. We have Softbank, the largest technology investment fund, putting $1 billion in Colombia in the first trimester.

Security, we have reduced homicide rates by 5 percent, kidnapping rates by 43 percent. Robbery on banking and traditional business has dropped by the fastest rate in four years.

When it comes to closing the gap, this year we will have the first 80,000 Colombian students from low-income families entering free public universities, and we hope to bring that to almost 334,000 by the year 2022.

We got the electric car bill approved in Congress — and this is very important — expanded the non-conventional renewable energies. We are modernizing Colombia. We also have the implementations of reparations on former combatants, and we are also making this great effort of migration with fraternity, so I think Colombia is making important changes. I have only been 10 months in office, and I have three more years to go to produce the changes that I want to have in Colombia.

You have talked about expanding broadband availability? What is it right now and what do you want it to get to?

We just got approved the telecom bill. This is going to bring a lot of investment in Colombia because we want to get to 70 percent coverage of high-speed internet. We are 50 percent now and getting Colombia on track to becoming a 5G country by the end of 2024.

And what are the top challenges that you face?

Having an exponential growth of illegal crops. 2015 to the day I took office, they almost tripled, so the challenge is, we have to first stop the growth and now downsize, so that’s a major challenge. The other challenge is getting the economy to grow above 4 or 5 percent, which is my goal at the end of the administration. And the third one is to be able to lift 3.4 million out of poverty in these three years that I’m in office. I think there is a way to expand the middle class and close the gaps.

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