November 22, 2011 / 11:36 PM / 6 years ago

UPDATE 1-Latin America must unite to defend economy-Santos

* Colombian president urges Europe, U.S. to sort out their economies

* Santos says door open to political solution to guerrilla conflict

By Adrian Croft

LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Latin American countries must act together to defend themselves from the “economic hurricane” sweeping the industrialised world, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Tuesday.

“If we are facing a problem today it’s not that the markets don’t trust us but quite the contrary, international capital (is) seeking safe havens in our countries and this has caused revaluation pressures on our currencies,” Santos said in a speech in London hosted by Canning House, an institute that promotes stronger ties between Britain and Latin America.

This was why he had proposed this year that the 12-country Union of South American Nations adopt joint steps to halt the revaluation of their currencies, Santos said.

“Latin American countries will not sit by as spectators watching how the economic and financial situation of the United States or Europe is going to affect them,” he said.

Colombia’s peso reached its highest level against the U.S. dollar for three years in July, but has weakened since then.

“Our warning signs are on and we must act together responsibly in order to better defend ourselves from this economic hurricane that is so much affecting the industrialised world,” he said.

Santos - elected last year - repeated his call to the United States and European nations, wrestling with high budget deficits and debt, to sort out their problems because disorder in the industrialised world was affecting emerging markets.

Colombia, like other leading fast-growing emerging markets, has shrugged off the West’s economic woes and is set to grow by more than 5.5 percent this year, Santos said earlier this week.

DREAM OF PEACE

Santos, who said earlier on Tuesday that he would prefer not to run for president again, said the door to a political solution to Colombia’s long-running battle with Marxist guerrillas was not closed.

“The key is in my pocket and I‘m ready to open the door ... but I need very clear indications that they (the guerrillas) want to reach an agreement and that they are going to sit and negotiate in good faith. I have not received that indication,” he said.

Colombian forces killed Alfonso Cano, leader of the country’s biggest guerrilla group, the Marxist FARC, on Nov. 4, but the insurgents vowed to fight on, dampening hopes that his death might bring the nation closer to peace.

“Any Colombian president would dream of leaving his country in peace after 50 years’ war. I hope that happens to me but I am not in a hurry in the sense that I will not fail again. I cannot fail the Colombian people ... If there is good will from their part there will be good will from my part,” Santos said.

Santos, whose country has been engaged in a long fight against cocaine traffickers, said he would not oppose legalisation of drugs if there was strong international support for such a move.

“From our point of view, we can’t lower our guard because for us this is a problem of national security ... but at the same time we realize that we are not being completely successful in the approach that we have been taking for the last 40 years so we are very open to explore new avenues,” he said.

“If the world decides there is another way of attacking this problem, even if it means - and this a taboo word - legalisation, I would not oppose that, I would support it. What I would not do is lead the discussion...,” he said.

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