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Europe must take Latin America's medicine - Colombian president says

posted 21 Nov 2011, 13:53 by Mpelembe   [ updated 21 Nov 2011, 13:54 ]

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, on a visit to London to boost trade and investment in Latin America's third most populous country, says his biggest worry was industrialised countries are not capable of solving their economic crisis. He also indicated that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had agreed to act on evidence that the new leader of Colombia's guerrilla group FARC was in Venezuela.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM (NOVEMBER 21, 2011) (REUTERS)- Europe and the United States must now take the same debt-cutting medicine they

prescribed for Latin America years ago or risk hurting the world economy, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told Reuters in an interview on Monday (November 21).

Santos, on a visit to London to boost trade and investment in Latin America's third most populous country, said his biggest worry was "that the industrialised countries are not capable of taking the correct decisions and showing the world they can get out of their crisis".

"There is no worst atmosphere for markets and economies than uncertainty, the lack of clarity, and what I see is that politically they have problems to take these decisions. And if they don't make these decisions the credibility will decrease and that generates all kinds of problems. That worries me," Santos said.

Asked what the correct decisions were that the industrialised countries should take, Santos said: "The same decisions that those same countries told us in Latin America to take a few years ago."

Speaking as world stock markets fell again on worries about the European and U.S. debt crises, Santos warned leaders in the Old World: "Now the world has changed. Now we are saying 'Put your house in order because your disorder is affecting us'".

Latin America, and Colombia in particular, had been relatively well insulated from the euro zone crisis so far because of its robust financial system, low level of debt, high banking asset quality and low inflation, Santos said.

Colombia, which may this year overtake Venezuela as Latin America's number four economy, is on a recovery path from the 2007-9 global financial crisis.

Santos said his country would grow by more than 5.5 percent this year and would not be hurt this year by contagion from Europe, although a recession in the industrialised world next year would be a different story.

In remarks earlier to an investment summit in London, he said Colombian growth was sustainable because "we are not creating bubbles, we are not overheating the economy".

Growth would come from infrastructure, construction, agro-industry, mining, oil and innovation, he added.

The armed forces found and killed Alfonso Cano, the leader of the country's biggest guerrilla force, the Marxist FARC, on November 4 -- the latest in a series of blows to the rebels which once controlled large swathes of the Colombian countryside.

Santos said said he believed new FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez would not differ greatly from his predecessor and repeated a call he made in August for the rebels to lay down their arms and start negotiating with the government.

It was "not impossible" that Jimenez, who goes by the nom de guerre Timochenko, could follow the example of Bogota's newly chosen mayor and one day win elected office if he chose to negotiate and settle his numerous legal problems, Santos said.

Residents of the Colombia capital Bogota, a city of eight million, elected Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla with the now-defunct M-19 movement, as their new mayor last month,

choosing to ignore his rebel past.

Mindful of the importance of bilateral trade and regional security, Santos has pursued a more conciliatory policy towards neighbouring Venezuela than his predecessor Alvaro Uribe.

Asked about intelligence information which places Timochenko in Venezuela, the Colombian president said he would not hesitate to ask for Caracas's help if that were the case.

"If I have proof he (Timochenko) is in Venezuela and where he is (located), immediately I will go to President Chavez, who furthermore has made me an offer that if I know where he is, that he will immediately intervene," Santos said. "There is an agreement and so far he has kept it."

Although Santos said the FARC had been defeated politically, he was cautious about predicting an end to the military campaign waged by Latin America's oldest revolutionary force.

Santos met British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street on Monday.

Cameron said he hoped strong ties between the two nations could grow.

"Well, it is a great pleasure to welcome President Santos of Colombia here to Number 10 Downing Street I know you are familiar with the UK but it is great to have you you here and I think Colombia and the United Kingdom have a very strong partnership and it is a partnership we want to see grow even stronger," Cameron said.

Santos praised Cameron for his dedication to keeping good ties with Latin American countries going, and with Colombia in particular.

"Colombia and the UK have very good relations, we have had good relations since our independence but we are going through a very special moment and that is also thanks to you, Prime Minister, your vision, the way you have envisoned the relations with Latin America and with Colombia in particular is something that for us is extremely important. I think there is many things where we can work together, the region, Colombia and the UK," said Santos.

Santos said relations with the United Kingdom could be developed in many ways.

"There are many areas where we can continue to work together and new areas where we can start working together for the benefit of the British people and the benefit of the Colombia people. So, thank you very much for the hospitality and generosity with which we have been welcomed."