|The country was one of the fastest growing in the European Union, having introduced the euro a year previously, and unemployment was steadily falling. Prime minister Jose Maria Aznar had just been re-elected, and money was pouring into infrastructure, business ventures and creative industries.
“There was a sort of euphoria,” he said. “Everyone was working, everyone was happy – there was such a buzz in the air. I was 20 and arrived as a student, and I remember being struck by how vibrant and energetic it was – and how different from Colombia, where I came from.”
But fast-forward 13 years, and Mr Oliveros is back in Bogota.
His business in Barcelona failed – a victim of the harsh austerity measures, which forced Spaniards nationwide to tighten their belts. Managers at the smart tapas bar he owned in the city’s Raval district – one of the oldest and most vibrant parts of the centre – noticed that instead of spending €50 (£42) a night, his clients would reduce their expenditure to less than €10.
Then the customers dried up altogether. In 2011 he sold up and moved back to Bogota, becoming one of the hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans who are leaving Spain and returning to their homeland.
Earlier this week, data released by Spain’s National Statistics Institute (NSI) showed that the number of Spanish residents fell by 206,000 to 47.1m – a figure entirely accounted for, the NSI says, by the fall in the number of registered foreign residents. The population of native Spaniards grew last year by 10,000 – a smaller increase than in recent years – only minimally offsetting a fall of 216,000 in the number of registered foreigners.
The majority of those leaving were from Colombia, Ecuador or Bolivia – leading to the first drop in population in modern Spanish history.
The reason for their departure is clear. On Thursday, figures published by the NSI showed that unemployment had risen to 27.2pc – the seventh consecutive quarter that the number out of work had risen, and the highest level since records began in the 1970s.
The latest statistics show that the number of people out of work in Spain is greater than the entire population of Denmark. Youth unemployment is even more catastrophic, with 57pc of those under 25 currently without work.
“There was extraordinary growth in immigrants from 2000 to 2009, which is reversing quickly due to the economic crisis,” said Albert Esteve, from the Barcelona Centre for Demographic Studies. “Spain is less attractive because there are no jobs.”
Ramón Antonio Armijos spent eight years working on fruit and vegetable farms near Almeria. But he has returned home to Ecuador. So have seven of his eight brothers – only one has remained, trapped by his mortgage in Spain.
“I loved Spain but when the work dried up I had to return,” said Mr Armijos, 36, an engineer. “There is far more work in Ecuador now and those who are left in Spain are all thinking of coming home.”
Hundreds of businesses are shutting down, such as Mr Oliveros’s small company, or closing their Spanish operations. French electronics retailer Darty is abandoning the country, while those that remain are making yet more redundancies – the Iberia airline, Vodafone and Madrid’s public television station Telemadrid having all announced plans to cut thousands of jobs in the first part of this year.
Conversely, the grim economic picture contrasts sharply with financial markets. Yields on Spain’s 10-year bonds fell this week to their lowest level since late 2010, as waves of liquidity from around the globe have brought down borrowing costs and all but banished last year’s fears that a budget crisis would force Madrid to seek an international sovereign bail-out.
But economists said that Spain’s falling cost of borrowing showed the disconnect between the markets and the reality on the ground.
“These unemployment figures are worse than expected and highlight the serious situation of the Spanish economy,” said Jose Luis Martinez, from Citi in Madrid. “It also shows the shocking decoupling between the real and the financial economy.”
Mr Oliveros is certain that he made the right decision to abandon the sinking ship.
“Colombia has so much energy and drive now,” he said, speaking by telephone from Bogota. His Spanish wife, an actress, has found plenty of work in Colombia, while Mr Oliveros has been able to return to his profession as a television director and documentary maker.
“The war of the 1980s is over and the government is making real advances in improving people’s quality of life. We have a far brighter future here.”
While Spain’s economy is mired in recession, business in Colombia – South America’s fourth-largest economy – is booming, with annual growth rates in excess of 4pc.
As Spain was once again held up as a symbol of the eurozone woes, Standard & Poor’s rating agency on Thursday lifted its foreign currency rating by a notch, praising the country’s stable outlook and economic promise.
“We raised our long-term foreign currency rating because of the strengthening pillars underpinning Colombia’s economy, which have reduced its vulnerability to external shocks and enhanced its capacity for stable long-term GDP growth,” said Joydeep Mukherji, Standard & Poor’s credit analyst.
President Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s centre-Right leader since 2010, has continued his predecessor’s pro-business stance and has taken advantage of recent years of favourable commodity prices – in particular coffee, gold and oil. Mr Santos has made structural changes in fiscal policy, established a fund to save above-budgeted revenues from the commodities sector, and has promised to develop its domestic capital markets.
Standard & Poor’s noted that these steps boost the resilience of the economy in the event of a sharp fall in export prices or other external shocks.
For Mr Oliveros and his friends, the contrast with Spain is clear.
“I know so many people who are coming back,” he said. “Previously, you could work in the Spanish construction industry and earn €2,000 a month easily, but now those people are in limbo. There are so many problems.
“And those who were perhaps thinking of leaving will rethink. They might go to study in Brazil or the US. But certainly not Spain.”