BY PAUL GABRIEL
The prosperous businessman was asked to laydown his tools last June by the then Colombian president Andreas Pastrana and head to Kuala Lumpur as Ambassador of Colombia.
Pastrana wanted someone capable from theprivate sector to evaluate Malaysia ’s economic development.Marin Valencia hardly hesitated to put aside his flourishing business interests to respond to his country ’s call of duty.
Placing the affairs of his Marval S.A.construction firm under the charge of his brother Rafael, the older sibling flew in with his wife,Luz Stella Ardila,and two children to begin his foray intothe world of diplomacy.
Fifteen months into his special mission andhaving performed rather splendidly,MarinValencia telephoned president Alvaro Uribe and asked to be allowed to return to contribute directly to his country ’s development.
“The situation in Colombia is turning around.There is less guerrilla warfare and the economy is showing positive signs.
So,this is the best time for me to go back and help out.
“I am now a totally changed person,200%improved in mind and soul.I have been a busi-nessman all my life and what I have learnt inMalaysia is priceless,there is nowhere else that I could have benefited so much from.“It has been a truly wonderful experience,butit ’s time to leave,’’ he said in a farewell interview.
Marin Valencia,who founded Marval in 1982,has completed numerous housing and commer-cial projects in various parts of his Latin American homeland,which is notorious for drugs and violence.
His business prowess got him into severalnotable boards,including Colombia ’s state-owned oil corporation Ecopetrol.
Born in Socorro in Santander province,MarinValencia who qualified as civil engineer in 1978, also owns the Hotel La Triada in Bucaramanga.
His priorities here included studying Malay-sia ’s robust growth in the oil palm and rubber sectors.
“Though Colombia is three and a half times the size of Malaysia with a population (44 million) almost twice that of yours,we cannot match your achievements in many fields.
“You have about four million oil palm trees,and we have only 200,000.Malaysia has 1.5 million ha of rubber plantation compared to our10,000ha,’’ he pointed out.
The ambassador attributes his country ’s shortfall in oil palm and rubber cultivation to the land ownership structure and lack of financing opportunities.
“Here,most of the land is Government-ownedbut in Colombia the private sector dominates.So it is difficult to divide the land for cultivation.
“And while banks here are prepared to offerloans of up to 70%to 80%to smallholders,themost that one can hope to obtain in Colombia is a 20%or 30%loan,’’ he added..
The ambassador has sized up Malaysia ’s for-mula for success and has pledged to return and work on a remedy.
“The Felda concept of smallholders is certainly worth emulating.I will seek Malaysia ’s expertise to overcome our problem,’’ he added.
The ambassador said it was also time forColombia to “start specialising ”,adding:“We may produce about 1,000 items,but it is not taking us anywhere.
“I am going to return and tell my Governmentthat it would be better to zoom in and specialise on the selected fields,which Malaysia has successfully done.”
Marin Valencia,who had never been to Asiabefore his posting here,said his decision to leave was also motivated by President Uribe ’s reforms to pull South America ’s oldest democracy out of the doldrums.
Decades of violence,fuelled by rebels and thedrug mafia,had placed Colombia under siege,with Gross Domestic Product (GDP)sufferingnegative growth.
But the republic,which is the fourth largestand third most populous country in SouthAmerica,is endowed with substantial oil reserves and is a major producer of gold,silver,emeralds, platinum and coal.
“There is optimism among our people with thechanges being implemented by our new leader.
We had a 4%GDP growth in the first quarter ofthe year,followed by 2.5%in the second quarter.
“We expect to grow by 3%this year.Colombiais moving towards a stable situation,’’ he remarked.
For those who remain unconvinced,the entre-preneur-diplomat has this to say:“Property rates are a significant indicator of a country ’s economic situation,and the property market in Colombia has been picking up,compared to 1994 and 1995 when there was a 40%slump.”
The friendly ambassador,who prefers not to beaddressed as “Your Excellency ”,has vowed that his links with Malaysia would not be over with his departure on Sept 9.
Rafael will continue to oversee Marval whileMarin Valencia focuses on rebuilding his country armed with his Malaysian experience.“I am going back to teach Colombians aboutwhat I have learnt here.My batteries have been fully recharged and I can ’t wait to impart my newfound knowledge.No university could have taught what I have learnt over the past 15 months.”
Marin Valencia has a Merdeka Day message forMalaysians:“Yours is a blessed and prosperousnation of people living together in peace and harmony.Peace is so very vital for a country ’s progress.The world can learn from Malaysia,and I salute Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad for his achievements.”
Marin Valencia and wife Luz Stella will return to Colombia to help rebuild their country.
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