PEREIRA, COLOMBIA – President Juan Manuel Santos named on Friday business leader and government peace talks negotiator Luis Carlos Villegas as the new Colombian ambassador to the United States.
Villegas has been an integral part of the government’s team negotiating a potential peace deal with the FARC in Havana, Cuba.
He is also the president of the National Business Association (which goes by the Spanish acronym ANDI), a position he will have to give up to become Colombia’s chief diplomat in the US.
Villegas will replace Carlos Urrutia, who resigned in early August amid allegations he and his law firm were involved in a scheme to purchase land in Colombia for a fraction of its value.
“I will ask (Villegas) to continue to serve the country as the ambassador to Washington,” President Santos said during the closing of an annual ANDI meeting in Pereira, Colombia, a city located in the country’s coffee region.
“He doesn’t need to go now, (Villegas) can go later on, as he his busy working on the peace process. There is a transition that will be necessary to serve such an important country like the United States,” Santos said.
The US has lent its support in the government’s bid to end a five decade long internal conflict between the armed forces and the FARC, Colombia’s largest insurgent group. The conflict has left an estimated 200,000 people dead and millions more internally displaced.
The government and the leftist guerrilla group began peace talks in November 2012.
Santos has said although there is no firm deadline for the peace process, it would be better if a deal could be reached by the end of the year.
The president hopes to have a historic peace deal to tout before campaigning begins for the legislative and presidential elections in March 2014, for which he will run for reelection.