His Excellency

Mr Roy Barreras Montealegre

Ambassador of Colombia

Before a move into diplomatic life, Colombia’s new Ambassador Roy Barreras Montealegre was a Colombian politician and 2018 presidential candidate. Serving as senator from 2010 to 2023 and President of the Senate of Colombia for almost a year, he also presided over the Colombian Congress twice.

Throughout his impressive political career, Ambassador Barreras was the author of 100 laws now active in Colombian legislation, the peak of which was the presentation of the Victims Law 12 years ago. “This pioneering law recognised nine million victims of the armed conflict. At the time, I was president of the Senate Peace Commission, and I toured the country listening to these victims.” He was also lead negotiator on behalf of the State in the peace process with the former FARC guerrillas, culminating in the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2016.

He considers this work on peace, reconciliation, and post-conflict issues to be the highlight of his career so far. “I am proud to have been part of the peace process negotiation with the oldest and biggest guerrilla organisation in Latin America, and to sign this process after 60 years of war.”  During these activities, he reveals “we learnt a lot from the Northern Ireland Peace process, and constantly referred to The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, a remarkable achievement that brought an end to 30 years of violent conflict.”

A memorable time, he continues “We made the most ambitious victims log in the world. We hope to repair our victims, and we put them in the centre of the peace process, which is why the process has been successful. While we are grateful for everything we learnt from the Good Friday Agreement, we are also keen to share our experience and the ways in which we have been able to advance in our own peace process.”

Ambassador Barreras took office as Ambassador accredited to the Court of St James’s on 21 August 2023. He came to London with his wife Claudia Fernanda Gonzalez, and one of his five children, an 18-year-old who is studying music here. Back in November, he found the State Opening of Parliament – His Majesty the King’s first as monarch – left quite an impression on him. “The start of the 2023-24 session of Parliament in the presence of King Charles was quite moving and full of symbolism of the history of the UK.” A competitive chess player, the Ambassador is on the lookout for an appropriate competitor for his time in the UK.

Born into a humble family in Cali, Colombia, Ambassador Barreras’s mother was from the countryside and her own family had been displaced during the Colombian conflict.  His father was a doctor and he followed in his footsteps becoming a surgeon by training, working for more than two decades in various parts of the country. Highly accomplished, Ambassador Barreras also completed three graduate degrees at master’s level and received an honorary doctorate in Law. The author of several books and essays, he notes that “the real influence on my work and motivation for my career and pursuing peace was my mother and her history of displacement and the violence that came with it.”

He entered politics in 2006 when he was elected as a member of the Chamber of Representatives. A social democratic liberal, Ambassador Barreras accompanied the centre-left candidate Gustavo Petro in his victorious presidential campaign and led the approval of the social reforms during the first year of this new government.

He believes his experiences serving Colombia have been exceptional. “As President of the Senate, this high-level job provided an opportunity to develop public relationships with local governments, along with high ministers of state, heads of state and influential individuals in Colombia. The experience has opened doors here in the UK, and more importantly, these contacts have allowed me to establish concrete projects of bilateral collaboration between the UK and Colombia.”

Ambassador Barreras explains that the President of Colombia has entrusted him with a particular focus on three fronts in the UK: “energy transition; all issues related to peace in Colombia – especially the sharing of our peace process here in the UK – and strengthening our commercial and economic ties, which are at a special moment following Brexit. Has he observed the UK-Colombia relationship evolving following Brexit? “Without a doubt,” he says. “I believe that the fact the UK has closed certain doors means the natural place for it to land for a more prosperous development of its economy is Latin America. And Colombia is in the middle of Latin America and should become a hub for the development of these commercial ties with the rest of the continent.” He also emphasises how he and the Embassy team “are working against the framework of the bilateral relationship that will celebrate 200 years in 2025.”

Climate change is central to his government’s foreign policy. “For the government of Colombia,” he clarifies, “the number one priority is to push the energy transition to slow down climate change. As Colombia has said in all the international scenarios in which it has had the opportunity to speak, it is vocal about the responsibility that the first world nations must take for global climate change. Countries such as China, the United States and India have not taken the responsibility they should in decarbonising our planet. In that context, Colombia expects that the UK not only aid us to lead these changes of policy in climate change, but also that there must be real understanding that economic dependence on oil must stop, and that new sources of energy such as wind and solar are available in countries like Colombia.” He explains that the country’s remote La Guajira region in the north of Colombia has some of the best wind and solar resources in the world. Furthermore, he urges, “the UK must invest in the development of these types of clean energy in Colombia.” He believes that the recently recorded results from COP28 are not moving in the right direction quickly enough. “So, we have to agree and guarantee that we are able to make agreements that will allow us to fight against climate change as it might lead to the extinction of our species.”

Ambassador Barreras believes Colombia’s other great diplomatic challenge “is to modify the unsuccessful fight that we have had with narcotraffic for the past 60 years. The prohibition of drugs around the world has led us to the current situation.  The families of the UK, the US and Europe must understand that the problems surrounding the consumption of drugs must be dealt with as a public health situation, rather than a criminal policy.”