Colombian weekly news magazine, Semana, in conjunction with the politics department at Rosario University, asked the presidential candidates what policies they had in store for the estimated four million Colombians living abroad.
“We are working to strengthen the links between Colombians and their families abroad … [and] we are working to improve opportunities for those who want to return and invest in their country,” said Green Party candidate, Antanas Mockus. “We also plan to optimize the diplomatic and consular services of Colombia, to avoid inconveniences for Colombians abroad.”
“Colombians not residing in the country will be part of my foreign policy,” Rafael Pardo claimed. “The social and political weight of our community abroad is evident, and deserves to be recognized.” The Liberal Party leader also stressed the importance of money sent home from Colombians abroad, which has become the country’s second largest source of foreign income after oil.
“We will generate policies that encourage the savings and investment of remittances from relatives abroad, so that they not only contribute to the daily sustenance of families, but also so they become the seed capital to ensure the long term sustainability of their families,” Pardo said.
Polo Democratico candidate, Gustavo Petro, said that he would implement a a program similar to that of Mexico, where every dollar sent back to the country is matched by the government and invested in development projects.
Petro also proposed a “Plan Return” to combat the nation’s brain drain, which would “put all their knowledge and expertise into such sectors as agroindustry, software, and biotechnology.”
“The number of Colombians who have left the country has doubled in the last 20 years,” said Noemi Sanin. “About 10% of Colombians live, work and project the best of Colombia abroad, while helping their families and contributing to the national economy through their remittances.”
The Conservative Party leader insisted that “urgent measures are needed to help those compatriots to overcome the difficulties arising from the global economic crisis.”
Sanin also stressed the importance of “creating instances … to facilitate dialogue and address their [Colombian expatriates] problems.
Juan Manuel Santos, said that his Partido de la U is “working on an amendment of the Foreign Ministry, including the professionalization of the foreign service, and a process of education, training and updating staff … to provide better service for Colombians living abroad.”
Santos also aimed to “improve the the processes and procedures of participation programs for Colombians living abroad.”
German Vargas Lleras pointed to the $4 billion in remittances generated each year by the Colombian diaspora, and the importance of supporting the expatriates.
“We aim to improve and expand on the services we provide in our offices around the world … the priority will be strengthening the consular service.” Vargas Lleras said.
The Cambio Radical leader also said he would lauch a “homecoming program” in embassies and consulates, to “allow Colombians abroad to know the opportunities in Colombia, and to encourage them to return, while facilitating their re-integration into society.”
The first round of the Colombian presidential elections is to go ahead this Sunday, with a second round run-off scheduled for June 20 if needed.