The Ambassador of Colombia to the United States was Congressman Nunes’ special guest to Tulare County March 29 and 30. Ambassador Juan Carlos Pinzon was appointed to his current post eight months ago, but had met Nunes years before through the US Intelligence Committee. Pinzon was the former Deputy Secretary of Defense of Colombia and the former chief of staff for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
Pinzon spent his first day in Tulare County touring Sequoia National Park and met with park Superintendent Woody Smeck. Pinzon remarked how “Sequoia National Park is a must see for every human being in the world.”
He said Tulare County was “so blessed to have the oldest and largest thing in the world,” referring to the Giant Sequoias, and the number one agriculture region in the world, all in one county.
The next day Nunes took the ambassador on a southern Tulare County circuit, driving through Tulare, Poplar, Porterville, Strathmore and Lindsay, with a stop at Setton Farms in Terra Bella to tour a pistachio grove. The group ended their afternoon at Cafe Lafayette in Exeter to have lunch with Exeter’s Mayor Robyn Stearns and participate in a media round table.
After lunch Pinzon discussed the deep friendship between the United States and Colombia. The Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 2012 and the two countries have been working collaboratively since 1999 to disarm the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). FARC started out in 1964 as a revolutionary movement to over throw the dictatorship, but by the 1980’s had devolved into a drug and arms smuggling enterprise not much different from the country’s drug cartels.
At one time the United States feared Colombia may disintegrate into a failed state because of its civil war and the loss of control over large swaths of land. Pinzon said the security of Colombia was a major factor in the United States’ offering to partner with leaders of Colombia to combat FARC and the drug cartels.
Pinzon said the United States provided the air support and intelligence, while the Colombians provided the hardware and boots on the ground to fight FARC. What started 15 years ago between the two countries as Plan Colombia, in 1999, is now Peace Colombia since 2015. According to Pinzon, by attacking FARC’s leadership and cutting their financing, it has been reduced to 30%, and the on-going peace talks are projected to lead to its complete disarmament.
The same model is now being implemented in Mexico to fight its drug cartels. Using its experience with FARC, Colombia has trained 24,000 police around the world on how to fight terrorism, with half being in Latin America.
“Intelligence is everything,” said Pinzon.
Pinzon related that Colombia’s peace dividend has transformed the country into one of the most dynamic democracies in Latin America.
“Colombia has cut is poverty rate in half and economic growth has even surpassed that of the United States,” he said.
Through this transition, the government has been able to take back control of the previously occupied territory and expand its agriculture production. Pinzon said that 70% of the flowers in the United States come from Colombia. It also produces the best coffee in the world. The goal for Colombia is to replace drug production with agriculture production and to better reach international markets.
What has impressed him about Tulare County the most is seeing successful farming enterprises at all levels, from small farms to industrial farms, all using the latest technology to reach world markets, he said.
“The transformation of Colombia is a great success story and it happened with the collaboration with the United States,” he said. “I feel like everywhere I go I tell the same story but everywhere I go people have never heard it.”
After Pinzon’s roundtable with the media, the group was off to California Dairies Incorporated in the Visalia Industrial Park. Pinzon’s final evening was to be spent back in Tulare for dinner with Mayor David Macedo, where Nunes was hoping Pinzon could end his visit to Tulare County with the Mayor’s renowned barbeque.