Colombia’s Ambassador to the United States: Who Is Luis Carlos Villegas?
Luis Carlos Villegas presented his credentials as Colombia’s ambassador to the United States to President Barack Obama on December 3, 2013. It’s Villegas’ first ambassadorial post, but not the businessman’s first foray into foreign affairs.
Villegas was born in Pereira, Colombia. He attended Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, earning a bachelor’s degree in socioeconomics in 1978. Shortly after graduation, Villegas began work as the private secretary to Colombia’s minister of development. A few months later, upon a change in government, Villegas was sent to Paris to serve as economic counselor in his country’s embassy to France. While there, he earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Paris.
In 1980, Villegas came home to serve as undersecretary for economic and social affairs in the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was named secretary general of the ministry in 1984 and used his position to blast U.S. President Ronald Reagan for inaction on the Latin American debt crisis.
Villegas was appointed governor of his native Risaralda department (state) in 1985. The following year, he was named secretary general of the National Federation of Coffee Growers. But in 1987 he returned to the foreign ministry as deputy minister, serving in that post until 1989.
Villegas entered politics at that point, becoming international secretary of Colombia’s Liberal Party. He served two years as senator from Risaralda beginning in 1990.
In 1992, Villegas returned to business, becoming president of Corfioccidente, a financial services company, remaining in that position for three years. Villegas was made president of the National Business Association of Colombia (ANDI) in 1996, remaining in that position until being named ambassador.
He took on other jobs during that period. In 1999, he was reconstruction coordinator in the wake of a major earthquake that hit Colombia’s coffee-growing region. Later, he was instrumental in negotiations with FARC, the rebel army that had taken over much of Colombia’s interior. He did this despite FARC’s kidnapping of his daughter Juliana in 2000 from his alma mater, Javeriana, where she was studying political science. She was held three months before being released unharmed in March 2001 and later worked as a political consultant.
In addition to Juliana, Villegas and his wife, Carmela Restrepo, have a son, Daniel.
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