The current regional meeting of the World Economic Forum in Latin America is focusing on new challenges and how to turn them into opportunities. DW’s Manuela Kasper-Claridge has this report from Medellin.
They’re making incredible noise. Armed with horns, whistles and drums, the demonstrators are standing on the other side of the conference center, chanting slogans against Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. They are against the peace negotiations with the guerilla organization F.A.R.C. and want to make themselves heard.
“With horns against the F.A.R.C.,” their posters read. The police was visibly surprised by the demonstrators but a safety chain was formed swiftly. Mounted police arrived, the situation remained peaceful.
President Santos doesn’t become aware of the demonstration. He has long entered the conference center as joint host of the meeting He makesa point of presenting himself as jovial with the top of his shirt unbuttoned. On his way up to the podium, he stops and chats.
Here in Medellin, in front of numerous journalists and hundreds of entrepreneurs and politicians, Santos wants to promote his political strategy, which is supposed to bring peace and prosperity to Colombia. The guerilla fighting and the government’s response to it have already cost well over 200,000 lives. “50 years of violent confrontation are enough,” Santos says determinedly.
“After the war, now comes peace. Colombia is a country that is changing.” However, the peace negotiations, which are taking place in Cuba, are stalling. But that isn’t something that Santos mentions in front of the international audience.
Instead, he promises a rosy future for Colombia. Growth rates of 8 to 10 percent would be possible after a peace treaty, he says. After all: a lot needs to be rebuilt. Eight million people have been driven from their home region and they could then return.
Santos promises quite a lot. In the next few years, there will be investments in expanding the educational system and in new technologies. $25 billion are earmarked just for the development of infrastructure. The idea is that private investors will participate through public-private partnerships, promises that not everyone believes in because the country has long lived beyond its means, fueled by high commodities prices.
Investors have become skeptical. They complain about bureaucracy and insufficient transportation infrastructure. Topics that spark heated discussion at the World Economic Forum because similar problems exist in many Latin American countries.
One solution could be to support young entrepreneurs. Argentinean president Mauricio Macri, who took office only a few months ago, wants to promote small and medium-size enterprises in particular. For him, that was a priority, he said in Medellin. In the future, it should be possible to register a company in a single day. “Argentina is more attractive for investors again and that makes me very happy because it will bring jobs and reduce poverty,” he said in Medellin.
Argentina’s president wants to visit Germany
Macri also wants to come to Germany in the coming weeks, he told DW. There, he wants to campaign for more investment in Argentina. “I am looking forward to visiting Berlin,” he said cheerfully. But an exact date hasn’t been set yet.
There is a lot of talk about expectations and hope in Medellin. They say Latin America has enormous potential and some countries are now at a turning point. In places where not long ago there were customs duties and rigid regulations, the restrictions are easing like in Argentina.
But the young entrepreneurs in particular aren’t really getting into the spirit. They complain about difficulties when it comes to finding funding. Sofia Contreras, female entrepreneur and founder of “Chicas en Technologia,” says that it’s impossible without support from the family. “The path to founding a company is far too long. You have to get loans from friends and family. You can forget about the banks.”
What is lacking is suitable infrastructure, but not the entrepreneurial spirit because more and more young people in Latin America take the leap and found their own companies – despite the many obstacles in place. In fact, there are numerous innovation centers, not just in Medellin but in Quito or Mexico City as well and actually almost throughout all of Latin America.