President Barack Obama recently welcomed Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to the White House to discuss how the United States can help Colombia seize the opportunity to build a just and lasting peace.
In the late 1990s, Colombia was on the verge of becoming a failed state, besieged by financial difficulties, guerilla movements, and violent drug cartels. But thanks to the efforts of Colombian leaders and citizens, supported by the United States-through Plan Colombia-the country now stands poised to usher in an era of peace and reconciliation.
Under President Santos, Colombia has reached a pivotal point in the effort to end the war with the rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC – a war that has lasted nearly fifty years. "The outlook is promising," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, "but the stakes are much too high to take anything for granted."
"Peace has to be built on a solid foundation. ... And improvements in maintaining law and order are only a beginning," said Secretary Kerry. With support from the United States, Colombians have been improving governance, strengthening the rule of law, building a more inclusive economy, and extending protections to journalists and to civil society. Just as important, said Secretary Kerry, the government came to terms with the fact that human rights abuses were committed by both guerillas and government forces, and those responsible must be held accountable.
The United States believes that the same comprehensive approach that brought Colombia this far is needed for Colombia to sustain its progress. That's why President Obama announced a successor plan called Peace Colombia. It will support the Colombian government's efforts to consolidate security and counter narcotics gains, establish government presence and economic opportunities in areas vacated by FARC, and provide justice and other services for conflict victims. As part of Peace Colombia, the U.S. and Norway have launched a global demining initiative to help Colombia rid itself of these deadly devices by the year 2021. The U.S. and Norway committed an initial $50 million to this effort.
Colombians now have good reason to dream of a future that is more peaceful and prosperous than at any point in the last half century. In the effort to make that dream a reality, the United States will continue to stand with Colombia as a partner and a friend in the common cause for peace.