Historic Visit to UM

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón discusses the road to peace on historic UM visit

By Maya Bell
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 02, 2013) — 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 the growing opportunities amid the growing promise of peace in his nation, South Florida’s second largest trading partner.

Addressing UM students, faculty, trustees, community business leaders and members of Miami’s large consular corps in English, Santos Calderón outlined the many steps Colombia 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.”

The event was co-sponsored by UM’s Center for Latin American Studies and UM’s Center for Hemispheric Policy.

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.”

After his UM visit, Santos Calderón headed to a luncheon sponsored by the Colombian-American Chamber of Commerce in Miami, then to Washington, D.C., for a December 3 meeting with Obama. In response to a question posed by UM sophomore Ishtpreet Singh, Santos Calderón said, in that meeting, he planned to propose an updated version of the Alliance for Progress President John F. Kennedy launched in Latin America more than 50 years ago. This one, he said, would be the Alliance for Progress and Peace.

Maya Bell can be reached at 305-284-7972.

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