With Washington visit, President Santos pushes post-conflict Plan Colombia

President Santos arrives in Washington
President Santos arrives in Washington

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]olombian President Juan Manuel Santos arrived in Washington on Tuesday, where he will speak with U.S. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, congressional leaders, international economic experts and think tank heads during a three-day visit.

Officially, the visit marks the 15th anniversary of Plan Colombia, a roughly $10 billion military and economic aid package created as part of the United States war on drugs.

The plan’s effectiveness at its primary goal — reducing illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking — has mostly been a failure. Colombia remains the world’s largest producer of coca.

However, Colombian and U.S. leaders, including Secretary of State Kerry, have suggested that an infusion of military aid played a role in bringing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to the peace negotiation table in Havana, Cuba.

Because of those negotiations, this anniversary is likely the last for the current version of Plan Colombia. While in Washington, Santos is expected to request a new strategy and aid package in light of the pending peace agreement with the FARC to end the nation’s five-decade civil conflict.

“Having helped Colombia create the conditions for a peace accord, the United States must now help Colombia seize the enormous promise that peace affords,” wrote Secretary of State John Kerry in an op-ed published by the Miami Herald last weekend.

According to op-ed, the new plan will still address Colombia’s ongoing drug production and trafficking, but will also help step up security in former FARC territories and offer support for conflict victims.

Full details have not yet been announced, but the financial value of the new plan is expected to exceed the old one. The U.S. Congress must approve any new aid package before it takes effect.

On Wednesday, Santos will speak with members of several Washington think tanks, have lunch with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, meet with Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, visit the new Colombian embassy and attend a presentation of Show Delirio, a “salsa circus,” at the Lincoln Theater.

On Thursday, he will meet with Senate leadership, Vice President Biden, Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro and, finally, with President Obama.

Wrapping up the trip on Friday, Santos will meet with Secretary Kerry and hold a press conference, during which they are expected to announce initial details of an updated version of Plan Colombia.

Last week, President Santos asked the United States to remove the FARC from the State Department list of international terrorist organizations in light of the ongoing peace process. Similarly, FARC peace negotiators asked the European Parliament to remove the guerrilla group from the EU terrorist list.

“Peace in Colombia depends heavily on the European Union,” said FARC chief negotiator Iván Márquez in a videoconference address to the European Parliament on Thursday. “In the search for peace, the fairest and most consequential decision is to remove the FARC from the list of terrorist organizations.”

In an interview with the Associated Press on Friday, President Santos requested that the FARC be removed from the U.S. terrorism list “the shorter the better” following the eventual signing of a peace accord.

However, Centro Democrático leader and former presidential candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga criticized the request saying that the FARC have not given up terrorist activities.

“The FARC continue to act like a terrorist group. They continue to recruit minors, continue to extort, continue to be active in illegal drug trafficking,” said Zuluaga in a statement Saturday.

Prominent international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch is also expected to lobby against elements of the current peace deal during Santos’ visit to Washington.

The organization has criticized protections for victims of the conflict and suggested that provisions holding former FARC rebels accountable for crimes are too lenient.

President Obama and his administration, however, have been outspoken in their support of President Santos and the negotiation process. Obama even mentioned Colombia briefly during his State of the Union speech in January.

And the official invitation under which President Santos arrived in Washington this week is an indication that the Obama administration is committed to a post-conflict Colombia.


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