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An Emerging Tiger in South America

Colombia has become one of the most promising economies in the Western Hemisphere.

9:00 AM, Oct 31, 2011 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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While Colombia does not boast the massive oil reserves of Venezuela or Brazil, it is blessed with an abundance of energy resources, including a relatively large amount of the black stuff. As the New York Times observes, Colombia’s daily oil output has approximately doubled over the past half-decade to reach nearly 1 million barrels, and officials are hopeful that it could hit 1.7 million barrels by 2020, provided the security environment continues to improve. Not for nothing has Colombia been called the “rising star” of the South American oil industry. It is also a major global coal exporter: According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States imports more coal from Colombia than from any other country.

To be sure, Colombian security forces are still waging war against leftist narco-guerillas, and many former right-wing paramilitary groups have become powerful drug gangs. Violence remains a serious threat to Colombian progress. (The energy sector, for example, has been the target of rebel bombings and kidnappings.) But this should not be allowed to overshadow Colombia’s momentous achievements in reducing overall levels of violence. Those of us who remember when the country seemed headed for total societal collapse can only marvel at its revival.

On October 20, one of Canada’s biggest financial institutions, Scotiabank, declared that it was purchasing 51 percent of Colombia’s Banco Colpatria. In a press release announcing the move, Scotiabank noted that the South American country has been enjoying “solid economic growth,” and that “consistently improved governance, security and foreign investment incentives has created a highly favourable environment for foreign investors.” The $1 billion deal was proof of Colombia’s newfound dynamism and positive outlook.

When U.S. policymakers survey the hemispheric landscape, they see plenty of worrisome trends, including the upsurge of drug violence in Mexico and Central America, the attacks on democracy from leftist autocrats such as Hugo Chávez, and the growing regional footprint of Iran. But Colombia is a bright spot, a country where democratic capitalism has triumphed against all odds. Indeed, if Chávez represents Latin America’s troubled past, Colombia represents its potentially bright future.

Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.

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