"It is a great honor to accept this distinction bestowed upon me by the Group of 77 of the United Nations and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World.
Moments like this lead one to ponder on achievements during a lifetime of work in doing everything necessary to leave a lasting legacy. This kind recognition makes it clear that over 30 years of steadfast dedication have been fruitful and rewarding. Most importantly, we must reflect upon the work still needed to bridge the gap between our nations in the process of development and the developed world. The road is long, but with every well-calculated step we are one step closer in progress and productivity for the benefit of our people. Looking forward, I cannot help but to remember the path I have traveled in my scientific quest.
It is no secret that I, like many of my esteemed peers, had harshly humble beginnings. At an early age, I understood education as a privilege to be cherished and availed of. I am deeply grateful to all those who contributed in so many ways to my early education, as well as to the opportunities afforded me by the nation’s educational system, which allowed me to pursue my university studies. I also thank the institutions that enabled my studies abroad: my University, the Research Center in Juelich - Germany, the Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the University of California in San Diego, and our National Science Foundation, COLCIENCIAS. Hence, I have an enormous debt to my nation and to all who believed in my potential; to those who supported me since the days I attended school bare foot and threadbare. I am a product of a public education effort with quality programs for impoverished communities. For such reasons, I firmly believe it is my duty to continue in Colombia, at home, working with the public university system, helping to shape the scientists and leaders of our nation’s future. Offers have come about to serve in other sectors and other countries, but my convictions compel me to remain where my contributions can bear a more profound impact upon the greatest number of people with the greatest needs.
This honorable distinction is well received and gives us great pride in knowing that our work in the Third World is not going unnoticed. Those of you working and conducting research, in countries such as mine, understand the overwhelming difficulties and challenges one must endure to bring about any positive outcome. But notwithstanding the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, we still wager on a better future for our society. If we must work with our teeth and nails to forge results, so be it. We will not sell our intellect to the highest bid, nor will we seek brighter horizons to deploy our know-how.
We must create opportunities where opportunities may be lacking. Our nations are still in the construction process and we must contribute to that endeavor with our intellectual input. Our efforts from the educational vantage point and from research in many fields of knowledge can bring our worlds much closer together. Our nations cannot continue in the process of educating young minds to serve outside interests. Our love of land and family cannot be sacrificed due to scarce opportunities. Together we will create a better tomorrow for our nations. Good education programs and dignified labor opportunities are key elements in curtailing the malevolent effects of the world’s unequal distribution of wealth.
Our nations must continue to support academic research, development, and implementation in areas beneficial to many sectors of the economy. The furtherance of academic knowledge can be harmoniously transferred to industrial productive circles. This requires joint efforts by the whole nation; the public and private sectors, to yield enhanced quality of life for our communities. What a nation invests in education, it will harvest in new opportunities and increased productivity. We must create opportunities.
These 30-something years of hard (sometimes desperate) work have been and will continue to be a lifetime project; a response to the many needs of our societies. We, as developing nations, cannot afford to sit back and wait for the developed world to dictate what educational, research, or production processes are best for us; we simply cannot wait until others create technology for us. We cannot continue merely being the suppliers of raw materials for the industrialized world; rather we must become competitive in the global community with our growing “knowledge economies”. It is our duty and obligation as a nation and as a Group of 77 to respond to our specific needs. We must come together as one to solve our problems by supporting our scientific quest to protect our future existence in this planet.
Many names come to mind as I express my sincere thanks, and still there will always be so many others who needed mentioning. You know who you are and I am ever grateful for your kind deeds. I have mentioned many of you who were instrumental in the many victories along my career; victories often accompanied by a wealth of shortcomings. So there were many of you who helped me lick my wounds. Yes, there were times when the expected result never arrived; times when the target was not even hit. But as actor Woody Allen once said, “If you hit the bull’s eye every time, maybe you are standing too close to the target”. After so many years of arduous work, I have come to accept that success and failure are often traveling companions. This is why it is so good to receive such recognition from my colleagues in the global scientific community.
Again, the path ahead is long and cumbersome, but it is one we must encounter to produce changes in our world; to someday bring equality and equity to our countries. Our challenge lies in finally doing what is in the best interest of our societies, to continue working wholeheartedly for the benefit of our peoples.