Colombian president to lobby for US support at White House

Juan Manuel Santos to celebrate 15th anniversary of Plan Colombia in Washington

Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos is on a three-day visit to Washington this week. Photograph: Guillermo Legaria/AFP/Getty Images

Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos is on a three-day visit to Washington this week. Photograph: Guillermo Legaria/AFP/Getty Images

 

Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos began a three-day visit to Washington this week to drum up support for his country’s peace process, and to participate in a ceremony at the White House to mark 15 years of Plan Colombia, the anti-narcotics and counter-insurgency initiative that pumped millions of dollars into the Andean nation to fight the war on drugs and left-wing rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

The original agreement was signed in 1999 by presidents Bill Clinton and Andrés Pastrana.

Plan Colombia is considered to be a rare success story in US foreign policy. Through the aid, the Colombian government has strengthened its institutions and gained control of huge swathes of countryside once under control of Farc rebels.

However, rights groups including Human Rights Watch have claimed that the aid package incited violence and contributed to the militarisation of the country.

Agreement

During his visit to Washington, the Colombian president will ask the US Congress for an additional $5 billion (€4.6 billion) over 10 years – a new Plan Colombia – to fund rural development and infrastructure.

His trip to the United States takes place amid increasing hopes that an end could be in sight for Latin America’s longest and bloodiest conflict.

Colombian government negotiators and Farc representatives are on the verge of a final agreement to end the country’s half-century-old civil conflict.

Mr Santos has set a March 23rd deadline to wrap up peace talks that began in late 2012 and are being hosted by Cuba. Farc has committed to laying down arms within 60 days after the agreement is reached.

Mr Santos staked his re-election in 2014 on bringing an end to the conflict in Colombia. He has sought advice from representatives of governments involved in other peace processes; in October last year, a delegation from Northern Ireland visited Havana to offer support and share their experiences of the peace process there, particularly the decommissioning of weapons and the Belfast Agreement.

More than 230,000 people have been killed and nearly five million internally displaced since the Colombian conflict began in the 1960s.

Farc’s combatant numbers have dwindled in recent years; it is estimated there are about 8,000 fighters, down from more than 15,000 during the height of the conflict in the 1990s.

The latest round of negotiations resumed on Tuesday in Havana. Since talks began, the two sides have reached agreement on several issues on the agenda including political participation for demobilised rebels, land reform, and an end to the illegal drugs trade.

In an unprecedented joint announcement last September, Mr Santos and Farc leader Rodrigo Londoño – known as Timochenko – said the two sides had agreed on a mechanism for transitional justice for crimes during the conflict such as kidnapping, forced displacement and torture. After that historic agreement, Mr Santos said, “we are adversaries, we are advancing in the same direction”. The Farc leader said the deal created a “propitious environment” to reach agreement on remaining negotiating points.

Ceasefire

Last week the United Nations Security Council approved a political mission made up of observers from Latin America and the Caribbean to verify a future ceasefire in Colombia.

The US and the European Union have named special envoys to the Colombian peace process.

Last week, EU envoy Eamon Gilmore paid his second visit to the country to offer support. In an interview with RCN radio, he spoke of his experience in the Irish peace process and said an eventual peace agreement would bring “enormous opportunities for Colombia to move forward and be a better place”.

He also spoke of a special EU-backed trust fund being specifically designed in anticipation of final comprehensive agreement.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush of the US, and Colombia’s Andrés Pastrana and Álvaro Uribe were also invited to the White House ceremony today to mark the 15th anniversary of Plan Colombia.