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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón Discusses the Road to Peace on Historic University Visit

December 01, 2013
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Pictured: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón.

On his way to meet President Barack Obama in Washington, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón paid a special visit to the University of Miami Monday to promote growing opportunities amid the growing promise of peace in his nation, South Florida’s second largest trading partner.

Santos Calderón outlined the many steps that Colombia, for which School of Business alumnus Ruben Dario Lisarralde (MSPM ’99), serves as minister of agriculture, has taken to improve security, reduce poverty and inequality, modernize its infrastructure, and, not least of all, end the 50-year-old internal armed conflict that has killed thousands and displaced millions in his nation—all vital steps to continuing the unprecedented progress that has made Colombia “a darling” of investors.

Indicative of that progress, Santos Calderón said, was the very fact that he visited the University of Miami rather than the U.S. Southern Command, which headquartered in nearby Doral is responsible for cooperating on security in Latin America.

“I am very glad that the first stop is here at the University,” said Santos Calderón, who concluded his UM visit by answering questions submitted by students and making a perfect “U” with President Donna E. Shalala. “This shows how much things have changed.”

In welcoming the leader of Latin America’s oldest democracy to the Newman Alumni Center, Shalala recounted how indelibly UM has been enriched by its Colombian graduates and numerous academic and medical partnerships with Colombian institutions. She also recognized Santos Calderón for his leadership in Colombia’s renaissance as a global trade partner, his policies of job creation and labor welfare, and his vision for peace, by conferring the University of Miami President’s Medal.

For Shalala, among the early supporters of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement authorized by Congress last year, the gesture was a reciprocal honor. In 2011, she received the Colombian Congressional Medal of Honor in Bogota’s Constitution Hall.

“I said then that the Congressional Medal of Honor will always represent a bond of friendship and mutual respect between the people of Colombia and our great University,” Shalala said.  “I would now like to return the gesture and bestow the University of Miami President’s Medal on President Santos.’’

For the University, the visit by one of Latin America’s most prominent leaders conferred its own honor. As Ariel C. Armony, director of UM’s Center for Latin American Studies, who was instrumental in orchestrating the Santos Calderón visit, notes, the city has not been on the itineraries of Latin American leaders who visit the U.S. But now, he predicts, it will be a must-stop because both the city, and under Shalala’s leadership, the University have come of age on the international stage.

“We are North American, Caribbean, Central American, South American, Latino, Hispanic and much more,” Armony said in introducing Shalala in Spanish. “The diversity in this room unites us and offers extraordinary opportunities…and responsibilities. We cannot view Latin America and the Caribbean as foreign objects to study. We are the Americas.”

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