President Michael D. Higgins today met with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, where the two discussed Ireland's support for the ongoing peace process between the Andean nation and its largest rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc
Following a welcome ceremony by Colombia's military with national anthems played, the two presidents sat for a private meeting in the presidential palace, named Casa de Nariño. They discussed the challenges ahead for post-conflict Colombia
Colombia's civil war began in 1964 when the Farc first took up arms against the government, while pursuing a Marxist manifesto. Since then, more than 220,000 people have died and nearly seven million have fled their homes.
Mr Santos began suing for peace with the Farc in 2012, with tense negotiations taking place between the two sides. A final deal was reached in August last year but narrowly failed to pass a public referendum. Amendments were made to the accord to satisfy members of the opposition, before being ratified through congress. Santos was last year awarded the Nobel peace prize for his efforts.
"Ireland is privileged to have been allowed to share, and make its contribution, in Colombia's journey from conflict to peace, from darkness to light," said Mr Higgins.
“How great to receive President Higgins to a hopeful Colombia, with a peace accord signed and in plain implementation,” said Mr Santos.
In the meeting, which followed a tour of the Casa de Nariño, Mr Higgins and Mr Santos also discussed trade between the two countries.
Following the meeting, officials from both governments signed two agreements to promote sport and culture exchanges between the two countries.
The meeting at the Casa de Nariño follows two packed days for Mr Higgins, after his arrival in Bogotá on Saturday evening, as part of the first state visit of an Irish president to Colombia since diplomatic relations began in 1999.
On Sunday afternoon, after initial weather delays, the president travelled to one of the 26 Farc demobilisation camps, where rebels are turning in their weapons under UN supervision. It was the first time a foreign head of state visited a fully operational dembolisation zone since the peace deal was signed.
On Monday morning, the President gave a keynote speech at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá, where he spoke at length of the lessons Colombia can learn from the Northern Irish peace process and the challenges ahead. He said he wanted Colombia to “act as a bridge for us to Latin America” and reiterated Ireland’s financial support for the process.
Ireland has provided €11.7 million in funding to Colombia over the past decade, according to a spokesperson from Áras an Uachtaráin. A total of €1.18 million was provided last year, with more than €2.2 million foreseen in 2017, “mainly for projects aimed at the implementation of the peace accord, including its human rights aspects”, said the spokesperson.
He also met with civil society leaders on Monday afternoon, who will be instrumental in implementing the peace accord across Colombia.
On Wednesday morning he will travel to Cuba, the last stop on a trio of state visits that began in Peru last week. In Lima, he received the Gran Collar, the highest medal of honour in Peru.