Colombia Time Zone UTC-05:00
Capital City Bogotá
Currency Colombian peso
National Day July 20
His Excellency Mr Néstor Osorio’s arrival in the UK coincided with William Hague’s February visit to Colombia. “No sooner had I unpacked a few bags, I had to pack another and head to Bogota. But it was the best way to become acquainted with the Foreign Secretary’s full team – it was a very successful visit.” The Ambassador describes this appointment as his “third life” in the capital, following two earlier postings in the UK.
A lawyer who specialised in Public Law, he was chosen to join the Colombian delegation in London, to conduct negotiations related to the world coffee market. (At the time, coffee was Colombia’s most important export.) And so came the Ambassador’s first London posting in 1978, as Deputy of Colombia’s Permanent Delegation to the International Coffee Organisation. The Ambassador worked closely with Colombia’s now President, Juan Manuel Santos, whom he succeeded at the helm of the delegation, until 1994.
After an ‘interesting’ six years in Geneva as Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation – and one brief year back in Colombia – Mr Osorio was appointed Executive Director of the International Coffee Organisation in London in 2002, and re-elected in 2007.
Halfway through his second term, Colombia’s President asked him to be Colombia’s Permanent Representative to the UN at a very special juncture, namely the participation of Colombia in the Security Council in 2011 and 2012. Some of the most memorable experiences of his career were as President of the Council, an appointment he held in April 2011 and July 2012. “To be handling the difficulties posed by world threats to peace is a position of great responsibility, but also humility,” he recalls. ‘There was plenty going on politically at the time: “the Libya conflict, Syria, the Arab Spring, the movements in Cote D’Ivoire and other African countries.”
Returning to London as Ambassador has been “much like returning home.” Not surprising given that he negotiated the extension on the lease of Colombia’s Chester Square residence in the 90’s. “I am very familiar with the property! I have a tremendous affection for the UK, but as my first bilateral role, it will also be challenging.” He acknowledges that he is here “at a special time between the UK and Colombia, where understanding and cooperation are at an all-time high.”
What are his plans and priorities for the job? “To keep up the good relations and to improve them where possible. In terms of trade, the goal is to increase it to £4 billion by 2020– it’s currently around £2 billion.” He’s also keen to develop tourism, projecting the message that “Colombia is a safe place to go. From July there will be four direct flights a week between Bogota and London.” Cultural ties between the nations are also strong, as demonstrated by a six-month long exhibition at the British Museum entitled Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia, which concluded in March.
“We can continue to cooperate on climate issues,” he says, “and the UK’s ongoing support regarding issues of crime, drug trafficking, terrorism and conflict resolution continue to be hugely important to us.”
Despite Colombia making great strides forward in the past decade, Mr Osorio is aware that major diplomatic challenges lay ahead. “We are now in the second phase of a transition in moving beyond being a country under tremendous pressure due to drug trafficking and terrorism. Colombia has taken a strong stand against the guerillas and we must continue to demonstrate that we are a new and different country from that of ten years ago. President Santos’s government is fully committed to a peace process aimed at resolving a 50-year-old conflict and I am confident that it will conclude satisfactorily before the end of the year.” Conditions for investors, tourists and visitors are vastly improved. He explains that Colombia is also focused on the Pacific Alliance: a trade bloc with Mexico, Chile and Peru, it favours open market economies, democracy and rule of law. “We really need to project the country to its fullest potential and develop real opportunities for investors and business.”
With the Ambassador’s love and knowledge of London – he is a keen tennis player and a Chelsea football fan – as well as his extensive multilateral experience, there is no doubt he will do an excellent job.