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Colombian ex-finance minister calls policy 'unjust'
The Washington Times / May 7, 1996

By Larry Luxner

Former Colombian Finance Minister Guillermo Perry was one of the few members of President Samper's cabinet untouched by the country's growing drug scandal when he resigned Apr. 30. An academic who taught for many years at the Universidad de los Andes, Perry, 50, had served as minister of mines and energy from 1976 to 1978, and as administrator of the country's tax system, before being appointed to head the Finance Ministry in August 1994. In one of his last interviews before stepping down, Perry spoke with Larry Luxner by telephone from Bogota.

Question: Has Washington's decertification of Colombia hurt your country's economy, and if so, how badly?

Answer: From the economic point of view, the effects have been absolutely marginal, and you don't have to take my word for it. Everyone has said that decertification doesn't change anything. Politically, we think it was extremely unjust and inconvenient. Unjust, because no other country in the world tried so hard in 1995 and had so much success in the fight against drug trafficking. Inconvenient, because a partnership that had been extremely strong and successful in fighting narcotraffic was shaken.

Q: Why has decertification not hurt the Colombian economy as much as expected?

A: First, because we didn't receive that much U.S. assistance anyway. Total aid this year is estimated at $60 million, and from that decertification will eliminate only $20 million, because certification doesn't affect humanitarian aid. Second, what we're going to lose from direct aid is $10 million, which is really nothing. We are also going to lose accesss to loans of the Export-Import Bank, which is not good for U.S. exporters. But for us, it's very easy to substitute.

Q: Isn't the Clinton administration obligated to block loans destined for Colombia?

A: Decertification requires the U.S. government to cast a negative vote for loans to Colombia in the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, but this is not going to affect our loans. We have had the assurance of the Treasury Department that they will not try to block these credits.

Q: Under your leadership, the Finance Ministry expects to generate $800 million this year through the partial selloff of state-owned banks, oil and gas projects, highways, telephone companies and mines. Does this represent a fundamental change in the Colombian government's long-standing policy against privatization?

A: When we talk in Colombia about privatization, we mean not only the selling of existing assets but more importantly, private capital entering into new projects. Judging from the experience in other countries, it doesn't look like a good idea to subsitute a state monopoly with a private monopoly.

What you really want to do is to have more competition. When you have monopolies, you don't have any guarantee of that. That's why the previous attempts [to privatize Colombia's phone company] were a failure. The scheme here is very different. We are permitting private companies to enter and compete. We think this is much better, because this scheme guarantees an important expansion in the coverage of services, not just subsitution of owners.

Q: What is Colombia doing to further regional economic integration?

A: The Andean Pact [which includes Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela] is already a very developed integration scheme. It's the most advanced on the continent. We have absolutely free trade between the five countries. There are no restrictrions, no tarfiffs or quotas at all, and we have a completely developed customs union. We are very strong believers in the idea of a Free Trade Area of the Americas, and we supported the idea very enthusiastically when it was launched by Bush. As a consequence of the Andean Pact, trade among our countries has increased dramatically.

Q: Given the widespread accusations that he accepted drug-tainted campaign money from the Cali cartel, will President Samper resign, as many Colombians are now urging?

A: The process is going on, and this is going to have a clear solution. These investigations were sought by the president himself, and the truth should be established. Once that's established, he will take the decision.

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