Colombia must stay course in security, investment-Uribe

NEW YORK April 26 Thu Apr 26, 2012 2:02pm EDT

NEW YORK April 26 (Reuters) - Colombia must "stay the course" of security, investment and social cohesion to keep investor confidence high and terrorism at bay, the country's former President Alvaro Uribe said on Thursday.

"The country is doing well but I have concerns," Uribe told participants at the Bloomberg Link Latin American Investment Conference in New York.

"I didn't leave a country converted into a paradise, but the country was doing much better. We elected President (Juan Manuel) Santos with the same platform, and he has expressed he will keep continuity with the same political guidance, and I am critical at some moments because we need Colombia to perform as an outstanding country."

Uribe left office in 2010 after two four-year terms under which the armed forces and government took back control of large areas once off-limits because of an insurgency fueled by the illegal drug trade. During his tenure, confidence in the country and foreign investment surged.

Uribe said Colombia still has many areas that are under-invested in need of foreign expertise and capital.

Only 30 percent of the Andean country's land has been explored for oil because of past security issues. Now Colombia's oil firm Ecopetrol and private corporations are planning to explore some 62 million acres (25 million hectares).

"Colombia has had a very diversified economy and it has all the possibilities (to) stay the course, but we need investors not only to buy stocks in our markets but to originate new projects," Uribe said.

Colombia has a legal framework for private ports in both in the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean and has 70,000 square miles (180,000 sq km) of flat land for biofuels production, he said.

Uribe said he is not worried about his regional neighbors' actions, such as the recent expropriation of oil firm YPF by Argentina's government.

"There are no implications for the region, this is something isolated for Argentina," Uribe said. "The bond spreads of Argentina are higher than Venezuela. And while the spreads for Colombia are at the lowest, Argentina's are at the highest. The markets know how to read every country and not a region as a whole; they know how to establish a difference between Argentina and Colombia."

On Thursday, Colombian bond yield spreads were unchanged at 150 basis points wider to comparable benchmark U.S. Treasuries, according to the benchmark JPMorgan Emerging Market Bond Index Plus (EMBI+). Argentina's spreads were also unchanged on the day but 981 basis points wider.

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