Scoop. Colombia’s economy "está en fuego." It’s growing at 6.4 percent compared to the same period last year. Impressive? So much so that it makes it the world’s second fastest growing economy behind China.

Two important pieces of comparative data here: one, the U.S. growth for the same period was a negative 2.9 percent. And two, just a decade ago we knew only two things about Colombia: drug wars and Juan Valdez.

Yes, it’s come a long way baby. And now it’s time for us to do the same. The time has come to recognize Colombia, not paternalistically, but as a real cohort — you know, the way we treat Asian and European trading partners. (Smile).

Can we do that, though? Can we get over perceiving countries south of the border at best as weak, inconsistent and malleable? Or, at worst, as ‘banana republics’?

From the Port of Miami alone, 500,000 tourists now arrive annually to places like Cartagena and Santa Marta. And yes, even Medellin –once known for murder and kidnappings – is now known for education and industry.

- Rick Sanchez

Since leaving CNN, I have dedicated myself to writing here on Fox News Latino, while interviewing and hosting in Spanish and English, both on radio and on television, focusing mainly on Hispanic issues. And I can say that, with the possible exception of immigration reform, there is no subject that collectively bothers Latinos more passionately than the U.S.’s perceived lack of respect for the countries from which they hail.

It is a truly unifying theme. Regardless of origin, time in the U.S., income status, (insert your own demographic profile here), it doesn’t matter. America’s poor perception of Latin America is the ideological place where an undocumented landscaper from Honduras and a rich Ecuadorian investment banker find common ground almost without fail. 

That said, let’s talk about Colombia. Recognizing that talk is cheap, let’s do the numbers. Considering that for 20 years, Colombia has been a haven for organized crime and a bust for investors, it’s amazing to see the transformation. Oil, gas and coal exploration are booming, while foreign investment is near 20 billion. Unemployment, meanwhile, is now down to 8 percent from 12 percent in just the past three years.   

And while last week I pointed out in this column the economic disadvantages associated with the free trade deals with respect to Latin America’s rural farmers, the U.S./Colombia Free Trade Agreement has benefited Colombia allowing it to import taxpayer subsidized wheat and barley almost exclusively from the U.S.

Colombia also now exports 350 new products from some 2,000 companies that had previously not shipped goods to the U.S.

And with the drug wars all but over, tourism is once again on the rise. From the Port of Miami alone, 500,000 tourists now arrive annually to places like Cartagena and Santa Marta. And yes, even Medellin –once known for murder and kidnappings – is now known for education and industry.

Colombia is a truly remarkable comeback story, one that is not often told, and one that conflicts with our often tired and misguided perception about Latin America.

By the way, economically speaking, Colombia is not alone. In fact, it’s number three. That’s right; Colombia is Latin America’s third largest economy behind Mexico and Brazil —-something for all of us to consider the next time we think about Latin America. 

Rick Sanchez is a contributor for Fox News Latino.

 

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