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Business Leaders Hope Drug Lord’s Death Will Increase Investor Confidence

December 7, 1993

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Business leaders are cheering Pablo Escobar’s death, hoping that foreign investors also take note of the demise of the nation’s most notorious drug kingpin.

Like many other Latin American countries, Colombia in recent years has moved to open up its long-closed economy. Yet some entrepreneurs have been afraid to invest in a country that for more than a decade has been synonymous with drug trafficking and violence.

″The economy has been growing more dynamic in recent years, but it’s been hard to convince investors that Bogota and Medellin are not Beirut,″ said Saul Pinedo Hoyos, vice president of the Bogota Chamber of Commerce. ″Pablo Escobar’s death was a breath of fresh air.″

Violence is not expected to go away in Colombia. Drug traffickers, leftist rebels, right-wing death squads and common criminals all help give Colombia one of the world’s highest murder rates. Foreign oil companies operating here are frequent targets of leftist rebels.

But the successful operation against Escobar shows that the government has the will to fight Colombia’s most ruthless drug barons and provide a secure investment environment, business leaders said.

Escobar was gunned down Thursday by police and soldiers who stormed his hideout in the northwest city of Medellin. He and his Medellin cartel were blamed for downing a jetliner, the assassination of presidential candidates and shopping center bombings.

On Monday, during the signing of a trade deal in Chile, President Cesar Gaviria said he anticipates more foreign investment next year ″as investors see that Colombia is fighting the problem of violence.″

The Colombian economy grew by 3.6 percent last year. The country was the only one in the region to avoid the economic stagnation and debt crisis of the 1980s. It never missed a payment on its $14 billion foreign debt.

The Bank of Colombia was put up for sale this year and there are plans to sell the state enterprises controlling fishing, pharmaceuticals, paper, communications, textiles and agriculture.

There are moves to better diversify the economy, which still relies heavily on coffee, oil and coal exports.

And Colombia is working to lower trade barriers with its Latin American neighbors. In addition to a free-trade pact signed Monday with Chile, it has reached tentative agreement with Venezuela and Mexico to form a free-trade market to be known as the Group of Three.

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