Thanks to the efforts of a Middlesex alumna and current parent, the School was fortunate to host Juan Carlos Pinzón, the ambassador of Colombia to the United States, at an Assembly on March 28, 2017.
Detailing how and why he chose a life of service to his country and its people, Ambassador Pinzón explained that he is motivated by his love for Colombia and its culture. “When I was your age,” he said, “my country was falling apart. Colombia was the most violent country in the world, with drug cartels taking over and terrorism starting.” Even as a youth, he wondered, “What can I do to change that?”
Ambassador Pinzón focused first on becoming a good citizen, getting an education and being “a person with good values” – before joining the private sector and gaining valuable business experience there. Subsequently, he began his career with the Colombian government, eventually serving as the minister of defense for four years; during his tenure, the Armed Forces degraded the capabilities of two terrorist organizations, FARC and ELN, and Criminal Bands, improving security conditions throughout the country and achieving the lowest homicide rate in 35 years.
“Joy,” he said, is what he has found in helping to transform Colombia from the most violent country to one full of opportunities. In the darkest of times, he pointed out, “The only friend to support Colombia was the U.S., which established Plan Colombia, a successful foreign policy. It worked for us, and we are thankful to the U.S.” A bipartisan effort, Plan Colombia was a sustained effort over more than 15 years that enabled Colombia to support its own security forces, justice system, and development agencies.
As Ambassador Pinzón described it, Colombia today is a country rich in natural resources, particularly in its biodiversity and freshwater sources. Great opportunities lie ahead, as well as great challenges, such as reducing poverty. “We are living in a world where consensus seems broken apart,” he commented. “Should we wait and see what happens? Of course, we can’t. We live in communities where we don’t always like each other. We have to find consensus.”
Going forward, Colombia will need to maintain its security, so that people feel safe and invest in the country, and it will need to focus on education. “We need to create a system of education that is very much connected to available jobs,” Ambassador Pinzón clarified. The country will also have to “find the balance” between protecting and capitalizing on its natural resources.
“I encourage you to feel the same way about your country,” Ambassador Pinzón said. “You have to love your country and see your responsibility to it.” Concluding with the greatest lesson he has learned in representing Colombia, he stressed, “You are there to serve the people and the country. Don’t forget that the country doesn’t owe you anything. It doesn’t have to please you. That is how you have to understand serving something bigger than yourself.”
Juan Carlos Pinzón, Ambassador of Colombia to the United States