In Colombia, Trump embraces groups he pummels on stump

Lost in political translation?

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Bill Gates, Robin Williams, Reagan's son: Colombians speculate about who might be running for the U.S. presidency.

On the stump, Donald Trump has turned Latinos and the Chinese into his political punching bags, accusing the former of being drug-toting rapists and the latter of trying to destroy the U.S. economy.

And yet, in the tony northern end of this capital, the three groups — represented by Colombian developers, Chinese financing and Trump’s brand — are planning to engage in a corporate embrace.

If all goes well, glimmering twin skyscrapers will rise above Bogotá’s skyline to become Trump International Hotel & Tower — the Trump organization’s third building in South America.

In the months since Trump went from reality star to presidential frontrunner, much has been said about his unique form of disconnect: preaching isolationism and nationalism on the campaign trail even as he leads a diversified business empire that relies on immigrant workers and international financing.

His harangues against foreigners have made diplomats squirm and raised the ire of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who this week likened him to Adolf Hitler.

But his business partners here say it’s easy to separate Trump the profit-maker from Trump the politician.

He likes Latin America. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be trying to build a project here in Colombia.

Nicolás Jimenez - Fortun

Nicolás Jimenez, the founder of Fortun, one of the co-developers of the $350 million project, said he’s gotten pushback from his Colombian associates since Trump ramped up his anti-immigration rhetoric, but he said the critics are wrong.

When Trump talks about deporting 11 million people and building a wall along the border with Mexico he’s simply saying he “supports legal Latino immigration,” Jimenez said.

“He likes Latin America. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be trying to build a project here in Colombia,” he said.

Attempts to reach Trump representatives through the hotel business and his public relations firm failed, but Jimenez said the Trump organization will simply be licensing its name and operating the project — not putting money into the construction. In that sense, Trump the candidate would likely argue that the development isn’t stealing U.S. jobs or money (as he’s accused Ford of doing).

Instead, the financing will be coming from Yun Capital, a longtime Trump associate that is headquartered in New York but primarily manages Asian money, including funds from the government of China.

In a telephone interview from Beijing, the group’s managing director, Jung Yun, said her group has been working with Trump for almost a decade and has been trying to land the Bogotá deal for almost three years. The developers are simply waiting for a good lot to open up for groundbreaking to begin.

Asked how the Republican primary and Trump’s surge is changing the nature of the deal, she said “It has made it more complicated for sure.”

“It’s not the same project it was three years ago,” she explained. “Now there’s a political side.”

Even so, what most interests her associates is the return on investment; and in that sense, Trump and Colombia are good bets, she said.

“As far as working with the Trump organization, they are professional organization,” she said. “For us, as long as they are able to deliver — that they are not negatively impacting the project — those things will obviously play into our investment criteria.”

If the towers are built, they will dramatically change Bogotá’s skyline. Designed by EQV Consortium, artist renderings show the twin towers leaning into each other near the top, in a 72-story architectural embrace. The plan calls for 800,000 square feet of office space, 300,000 square feet of retail space and 1.2 million square feet of luxury hotel and residential space.

Once completed, the property will join Trump Tower, Rio, in Brazil,Trump Tower, Punta del Este, Uruguay (both under construction) and the Trump Ocean Club in Panama City as the organization’s Latin American residential properties.

Jimenez said that if Trump were to become president it could be a game changer for the tower.

“It would be even better if we had a brand that had the backing of a globally recognized president,” he said. “That would be important for us, for the brand and the project. The nation’s eyes would be focused on this building.”

Asked how an eventual “President Trump” might become a business consideration, Yun said it was too soon to speculate.

His candidacy “may not impact our project at all in that sense,” she said. “Whether ultimately it’s a negative impact or a positive impact, my experience in life and business is that it works out the way it should.”

On the streets of Bogotá, citizens also seem to make a distinction between Trump’s business acumen and his politics.

“I used to like his work with Miss Universe,” said Hugo Aguilera, a 42-year-old clothing importer. “But now he seems like someone who’s only interested in the United States and not the rest of the world. He’s turned into a little Hitler.”

Asked if Trump’s political reputation might keep Colombians from patronizing an eventual hotel, he laughed.

“No matter what people say about him,” he said, “everything that man touches turns to gold.”