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Network Heaven Draws Executives

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Latin America's business elite - local and foreign investors alike -- gather in Cartagena for some serious networking.

BY JOACHIM BAMRUD

CARTAGENA -- Jose Octavio Reyes, Latin America president of Coca-Cola, presents the new mango juice planned to support Haiti.  Woods Staton, president of the world's largest McDonald's franchise company, talks about competitiveness. Ferdinando Beccalli-Franco, president and CEO of GE International, talks about corruption as a threat to Latin American development.

Welcome to the World Economic Forum Latin America, which this year was held in the Colombian port city of Cartagena.

The 500 executives gathered here for this year's forum didn't just come for the insights of their peers, policymakers and experts. Perhaps even more important is the networking element offered by the annual event.

"It's the only [Latin America-wide] congress I attend each year," says Jan Flachet, president and CEO of EDF Suez Latin America. "It's a very good way to meet business and economic leaders. The interaction is very fruitful. "

Lorenzo Mendoza, president of Venezuela's Empresas Polar, sees it as a great way to meet many acquientences in a short timespan.

"It's always beneficial to meet government and business leaders," says Stephen Flowers, president of the Americas for US-based logistics giant UPS.

In addition to a prominent roster of executives from foreign multinationals and Latin American companies, the forum also is attended by various policymakers, including presidents Ricardo Martinelli of Panama and Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic -- two widely respected leaders among foreign investors.

And, of course, Colombia's elite was well-represented. In addition to President Alvaro Uribe, who spent considerable time with investors, the forum also included a well-attended panel with Juan Manuel Santos, a former commerce, finance and defense minister who is the business favorite and poll leader in next month's presidential elections. In the corridors, attendees could also observe former Colombian presidents Cesar Gaviria and Andres Pastrana talking.  Meanwhile, Colomba's top banker, Bancolombia president Julio Londono was ever-present as was forum co-chairman Luis Fernando Alarcon, the CEO of power distributor ISA.

Even a few prominent entertainers attended this year's event. Puerto Rican salsa star Marc Anthony and Colombian singer Carlos Vives participated in a panel on music as a social force yesterday before offering a outside concert in the old part of Cartagena in the evening.

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