[dropcap]”B[/dropcap]ienvenidos a la Casa Blanca,” said U.S. President Barack Obama as Colombian President Santos stood by his side Thursday. The leaders met to announce the creation “Peace Colombia,” a successor to the Plan Colombia military and economic aid package.
“In the United States, we are big fans of Colombia. We love its culture, we love its contributions, we love Shakira, Carlos Vives and Sofia Vergara,” Obama continued coyly, acknowledging other prominent Colombian celebrities in attendance. “The bonds between us are not just at the level of government.”
But the rest of the speech was a serious acknowledgment of how far Colombia has come since Plan Colombia was signed into effect just over 15 years ago.
“Plan Colombia has been a tribute to the people of Colombia and their efforts to overcome many challenges.”
“Just as the U.S. has been Colombia’s partner in a time of war, we will be Colombia’s partner in a time of peace. So today I’m proud to announce a new partnership. We will call it Peace Colombia, Paz Colombia,” he announced.
He promised more than $450 million to “reinforce security gains, reintegrate former combatants and extend rule of law.”
One of the first goals of the new plan is to ramp up demining efforts.
President Santos spoke after Obama.
“Today I come back to Washington to thank you, to thank the people and the government for the support that they have given to Colombia during the last 15 years and to project our cooperation throughout the next years,” he said.
“Today we can say without a doubt that the goals we had in 2000,” Santos continued, “have been met.”
“Peace will help us create a new country.”
Prior to their joint statement, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with Obama Thursday afternoon at the White House to talk about updating Plan Colombia.
Plan Colombia, an agreement first inked between former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, has funneled some $10 billion in military and economic aid to Colombia since 2000 as part of the U.S. war on drugs.
Santos arrived in Washington Tuesday night to meet with government officials, think tank leaders and others to discuss the future of Colombia in a post-conflict era and the relationship between his country and the United States.
Earlier on Thursday, President Santos spoke with Vice President Joe Biden, who reiterated the United States’ support of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) currently being held in Havana, Cuba.
The two former leaders who signed Plan Colombia into existence both offered statements on its impact in honor of its 15th anniversary.
“Twenty years ago, Colombia was at the point of becoming a failed state,” said former President Clinton. “Today it is a very different country, with foreign investment and tourism on the rise, lower levels of unemployment and poverty, and a brilliant future ahead.”
Former President Pastrana, for his part, highlighted Colombia’s changing stance on drugs as the largest achievement of the policy.
“The biggest change of Plan Colombia as a policy was that its objective was not to end drug trafficking but rather to recognize the noxious effects that prohibition had on our democratic institutions,” he said.
And given the announcements made by President Obama on Thursday, it seems unlikely that the close ties between the United States and Colombia will weaken in the near future.
“We don’t consider this an end to our partnership, but a beginning.”