Presidents Obama, Santos Mark 15 Years of Bilateral Plan Colombia; Discuss Peace Process, Combating Crime, Zika Virus
Last week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited US President Barack Obama in the White House to discuss ongoing issues, and commemorate 15 years of US diplomatic, military, and social aid to Colombia via the package known as Plan Colombia. Colombia and Chile are the United States’ most consistent allies in South America. The US government has spent almost $10 billion USD in aid on Colombia since 2000, yet that amount has been matched 20:1 by Colombia’s own expenditures on areas covered by the comprehensive aid package.
President Obama President announced a new framework for bilateral cooperation in the event of a peace accord with the FARC: Peace Colombia. Peace Colombia intends to focus future US assistance on consolidating and expanding progress on security and counternarcotics while reintegrating the FARC into society; Expanding state presence and institutions to strengthen the rule of law and rural economies, especially in former conflict areas; and promoting justice and other essential services for conflict victims.
Above photo courtesy U.S. Government
As part of that framework and to support the peace accord implementation, President Obama will request more than $390 million in FY 2017 bilateral foreign assistance from the US Congress. The Obama Administration will also request funds in FY 2017 for other ongoing programs that would contribute to Peace Colombia goals such as humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations and Department of Defense counternarcotics programs that, if enacted by the Congress, would increase the United States’ overall level of financial involvement to over $450 million.
“Today’s Colombia is much, much different from the Colombia of 15 years ago. Our country at that time was going through the worst economic recession of the last 70 or 80 years. We were very far from controlling our own territory, and we were very close to being declared a failed state. Practically a third of our national territory was controlled by paramilitaries. Another third was being controlled by the guerrillas, and both were financed by drug trafficking. We had a very dark and uncertain future,” stated Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos.
Santos continued: “Today, the outlook is completely opposite. Today, we see the future with hope. We’ve gone from the worst economic recession in our recent history to being leaders in economic growth in Latin America. And not just in growth; we are also leaders in job creation, in reducing poverty, in strengthening our middle class. We have gone from these shameful international championship in being the first in murders and kidnappings to have the lowest indexes of these crimes that we’ve ever had in the last four years. And despite the increase over the last two years in coca cultivation in Colombia, almost 60 percent of that cultivation has gone down. The number of rural families that are involved in this business of cultivating coca has been reduced by two-thirds.”
Former Colombian presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana were invited to the visit, but only Pastrana attended. According to the White House, violence in Colombia is at its lowest level since 1973, including a 50% drop in homicides and a 90% decline in kidnappings since 2002. Thanks in part to increased security, Colombia’s economy has grown an average of 4.3% since 2007 and unemployment and poverty are at historic lows. US support through Plan Colombia has helped Colombia expand and professionalize its armed forces and police, strengthen investigations of organized crime and human rights violations, implement a landmark Victims and Land Restitution Law, provide opportunities to Afro-Colombian communities such as the Palenque, and indigenous communities such as the Wayúu, and establish a program to protect journalists, labor leaders, human rights defenders, and other vulnerable individuals.
“From Cartagena to the campo, there’s no denying Colombia’s remarkable transformation. Today’s Colombia is a country of artists and entrepreneurs and dynamic cities. In the barrios of Medellin, new businesses — along with giant outdoor escalators up the hillsides — are quite literally lifting people out of poverty. Children who once hid in fear now have the chance to pursue their dreams. In short, a country that was on the brink of collapse is now on the brink of peace. I had the privilege of seeing some of this extraordinary change myself when I visited Cartagena. I still believe what I said then: In Colombia today, there is hope,” said President Barack Obama.
“Now, fully realizing that hope requires a just and lasting peace. So, President Santos, I’ve said to you privately and I want to reiterate publicly how much I admire the great courage and resolve that you’ve shown in pursuing negotiations to end the war. You’ve committed to an agreement that upholds Colombia’s national and international legal obligations, and you’ve put victims at the center of this process. I want to thank all of the parties for their efforts, including the government of Cuba for hosting the talks. We all know that it’s easier to start wars than end them,” continued Obama.
President Obama announced that the United States will join with Norway to launch a Global Demining Initiative to help Colombia meet its Ottawa Convention commitment to being mine-free by 2021. Colombia has the second highest number of landmine victims in the world behind Afghanistan. The United States will commit $33 million to the Global Demining Initiative for Colombia in Fiscal Year 2017. Norway will contribute an additional $20 million. Argentina, Canada, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay have agreed to join the initiative. The United States, Norway, and Colombia will host a Meeting of Experts in May 2016, where participating countries will be able to familiarize themselves with Colombia’s demining challenges and coordinate appropriate donation mechanisms.
Bilateral efforts underway to combat the mosquito-borne Zika virus
Building on previous collaboration on health and infectious diseases, the United States and Colombia also agreed to accelerate investigations into the range of health impacts of the Zika virus and joint research into the Zika virus and the development of diagnostics, vaccines, and vector control tools to control the virus and mitigate its potential impacts.
The United States and Colombia invite applicants interested in collaborating with Colombian counterparts to work on Zika, particularly diagnostics. Interested individuals or entities are encouraged to contact ESF-Program@state.gov.
Regarding Zika, the United States and Colombia have agreed to:
- Share epidemiologic data and specimen samples, as deemed appropriate, to enhance our mutual understanding of Zika and advance research and development of new diagnostics, vaccines, and vector control tools.
- Engage joint research efforts to:
- assess the health of pregnant mothers, infants, and children to better understand the potential link between Zika infection and birth outcomes (including microcephaly), other neurological conditions, and impacts of Zika virus on the health of children;
- estimate the prevalence of microcephaly in Colombia and the change in incidence rates over time to determine whether there is causality of Zika virus infection and microcephaly; and
- assess risk factors associated with Zika virus infections and microcephaly or Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
- Conduct joint epidemiologic investigations of infections through the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Colombia’s Instituto Nacional de Salud.
- As members of Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), commit to work regionally and multi-sectorally to establish capacity to prevent, detect, and respond effectively to infectious agents such as the Zika virus.
- Utilize the United States-Colombia Science and Technology Agreement to promote cooperation in areas such as Colombia’s Field Epidemiology Training Program, infectious disease surveillance, and emergency response.
- Develop technical cooperation activities to strengthen the Colombian Instituto Nacional de Salud and Ministry of Health to improve their diagnostic, research, intervention and evaluation capacities in epidemics control of vector-borne diseases, such as Zika, dengue and chikungunya, as well as potential secondary effects.
- Promote science cooperation through the Department of State’s Embassy Science Fellow Program.