WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has pledged $450 million to help Colombia’s peace process when the country ends it 50-year conflict with the FARC guerrillas. During a three-day visit to Washington, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met Obama in the Oval Office to discuss the details of the new plan.
Later, they appeared at a ceremony to commemorate 15 years since the U.S-backed Plan Colombia went into effect. The aid initiative fought drug trafficking and violence in Colombia. Both presidents praised their close relationship and Colombia’s surge to one of the biggest Latin American economies.
After a stop for a morning wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and a meeting with the Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro, Santos headed for the White House.
The ceremony was attended by many of the authors of the original Plan Colombia, including ex-president Andrés Pastrana. After mentioning his admiration for famous Colombians, including singers Shakira and Carlos Vives, Obama announced a new $450 million support package for Colombia, which he called “Paz Colombia,” or “Peace Colombia.”
The Obama administration’s current support for Colombia is $310 million a year.
Some in Colombia doubt the plan will be effective. Santos’ predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, said Friday that Colombia’s counternarcotic efforts would be undermined by a peace treaty that will allow some FARC leaders to avoid extradition and jail time.
However, Santos said in his speech that Colombians are generally happy with their country’s relationship with the U.S.
“You are the most popular person in Colombian polls” Santos said to Obama, to which Obama responded, amid laughs from the audience, that the same was not true in the U.S. Obama said that his foreign policy toward Colombia has had bipartisan support for the last 15 years and is one of the most successful.
“Just as the United States has been Colombia’s partner in a time of war, I indicated to President Santos we will be your partner in waging peace” Obama said.
The ceremony came as Colombia is close to finishing a four-year peace dialogue with the FARC guerillas. The deadline for the agreement has been set for March 23. The United Nations’ Security Council recently approved sending a political mission to oversee the peace process.
While Plan Colombia was aimed at fighting drug traffickers and forced eradication of coca fields, the new Paz Colombia will focus on an increased presence of government officials, reintegration of guerrilla members into society and justice for victims.
During his speech in the White House East Room, Obama told of his experience in Colombia in 2012, and how the Santos administration was seeking to provide land titles to indigenous minorities and Afro-Colombians.
Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, of the Washington Office on Latin America, said in a press call Tuesday that including minorities is key to the success of the plan.
Reach reporter Karina Meier at [email protected] or 202-408-1491. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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