Obama pledges to help Colombia rebuild

Obama pledges to help Colombia rebuild after half century conflict with FARC, says he plans to ask Congress for some $450 million in US assistance for country

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US President Barack Obama shakes hands during a bilateral meeting with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington February 4, 2016.

US President Barack Obama welcomed Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to the White House on Thursday and said the US would help his battle-scarred nation rebuild after half a century of guerrilla conflict.

Colombia's government is on the verge of a historic truce with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) aimed at ending Latin America's longest-running armed conflict.

"In short, a country that was on the brink of collapse is now on the brink of peace," Obama said, hosting Santos for a reception after an Oval Office meeting.

"In Colombia today, there is hope," Obama emphasised.

Obama said he planned to ask Congress for some $450 million in US assistance for Colombia in his final budget, acceding to Santos' request that the US increase its aid to the country this year.

He announced that the 15-year-old Plan Colombia, a $10 billion US program to fight insurgency and the narcotics trade, would soon conclude.

In its stead, Obama said the US would launch a new program called Peace Colombia aimed at helping reintegrate FARC members into society and expand the government's reach into blighted areas that had long been ceded to the guerrilla group.

Although Congress must approve any funds that Obama requests, aid for Colombia has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, as the US seeks to promote stability in the country that has become America's staunchest ally in the region.

Of the $450 million, about $390 million would be in foreign aid, with the rest of the funds in humanitarian assistance and Pentagon counter-narcotic programs.

Ahead of the visit, Santos didn't disclose the exact sum he was seeking from the US, but he appeared satisfied with Obama's offer, which represents an increase over recent years.

Under Plan Colombia, the US provided bombs, intelligence, radio intercepts and military training along with intensive counter-narcotics help. The security gains have been indisputable.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez reached a breakthrough towards peace on Sep. 23 setting a six month deadline to reach a final agreement.

Both sides have reached preliminary accords on four broad points on the agenda, which include the political participation of the rebels, land rights, drug trafficking, and transitional justice.

Almost 220,000 people have died since Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia began its armed struggle in 1964.

TRTWorld, AP