Ambassador from Colombia: Who is Carlos Urrutia?
President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia last fall sent a new ambassador to the U.S., a childhood friend who has no diplomatic experience but has substantial international business expertise. Carlos Urrutia was appointed ambassador on September 5, 2012, succeeding Gabriel Silva, who said he resigned after only two years in Washington because he had “fulfilled” his primary mission of achieving ratification of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. Urrutia formally presented his credentials to President Barack Obama on September 19, 2012.
Born circa 1950, Carlos Urrutia-Valenzuela was one of three children born to a wealthy and prominent Bogotá family, son of Carlos Urrutia Holguín and Maria Teresa Valenzuela. Urrutia graduated high school in the U.S. in 1968 and began his undergraduate studies at Johns Hopkins University from 1968 to 1970, returning to Colombia to finish his law degree at the Universidad de los Andes in 1974.
Urrutia worked in the public sector from 1975 to 1977, first as secretary general of the Governorship of the Department of Cundinamarca until January 1977, and as secretary of finance of Cundinamarca from February 1977 to April 1977.
Urrutia spent his legal career at his father’s Bogotá firm of Brigard & Urrutia, the oldest law firm in Colombia, from May 1977 to 2012. He was made a partner in 1981, and was managing partner from 1999 to 2012. During his 35-year career there, Urrutia advised clients on commercial law, commercial transactions, energy projects, international financial transactions, litigation and arbitration.
Despite Urrutia’s lack of diplomatic experience, Santos has insisted that his childhood friend is a man “who has all the qualities to represent our country at this special moment” in its relations with the U.S. The closest Urrutia can come to claiming such experience rests on the fact that his uncle, Francisco Urrutia Holguín, was ambassador to neighboring Venezuela in the early 1950s and ambassador to the United Nations between 1953 and 1957.
A wealthy man who has his clothes tailored in London, Urrutia showed his support for Santos’ 2010 presidential run even before the campaign began. In February 2010 Urrutia organized a fundraiser at the elite Bogotá Club San Andrés, to which the price of admission was between 600,000 and 1,200,000 pesos per person ($310-$620) and 8 million pesos ($4,133) per company.
Urrutia is a panel member on the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes’panel of arbitrators. He has also been a member of several boards of directors of Colombian companies, including Allianz Colseguros S.A.; Ladrillera Santafe S.A.; 3M Colombia S.A.; Leo Burnett Colombia S.A.; Dividendo por Colombia, a Colombian non-profit affiliated with United Way; and Cámara de Comercio Colombo Francesa (French-Colombian Chamber of Commerce).
Urrutia is married to Leonor de Urrutia Restrepo, known in the jet set as “Nany Urrutia,” with whom he has two children, including Carlos, a lawyer and economist who works directly for President Santos.
Santos le confía a uno de sus mejores amigos las relaciones con Estados Unidos (by Martha Maya, La Silla Vacía)
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