Colombian President Manuel Santos said Wednesday leftist rebels in his country have been weakened but remain a threat, underscoring the need for more efforts to root out violence to help improve the economic climate.
“Today the guerrillas are weakened, a bit desperate, but not yet defeated, so we must persevere,” Santos said during a visit to Chile at a meeting of the Economic Commission for Latin America, a regional economic grouping.
Santos said improving the country’s security situation is key to boosting the economy, by giving more confidence to those investing in the South American nation.
In past years, he said, foreign investment “was practically nonexistent,” because “nobody wanted to go to Colombia, including insurance companies which would not insure executives in Colombia because the risk was too high.”
“We had lost control of part of our territory, and it was important to restore security and governance throughout the country to be able to think about a development program.”
In Colombia, where a rebel movement has been active for decades, “we have made sufficient progress to be able to expand the domestic and foreign agenda but security remains a problem; until we get a comprehensive peace, we will not cease our efforts.”
Santos arrived Monday in Chile for a two-day official visit which included talks with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera. He was to leave Wednesday for Argentina.
The Colombian leader told business leaders during the visit that his government was willing to talk with rebel groups that want to lay down their arms.
On Saturday, the largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, active for 47 years, said it was willing to dialogue with the government, but only if it can create an environment which guarantees peace and social justice.
In clashes last week, the FARC, which is estimated to have some 8,000 fighters, killed two Colombian soldiers and wounded eight others.
Earlier in the month, suspected FARC rebels set fire to an oil tank at a Colombian facility operated by Canada’s Alange Energy.
Attacks on the country’s oil facilities have increased since the start of the year in what experts see as a sign that the decades-old guerrilla group is targeting the sector as a source of revenue.