In November 2016, after four years of negotiations, the Colombian government reached a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a rebel narco-terrorist organization. As of July 2017, FARC rebels have turned over 7,000 weapons. The success of the Colombian peace process is partly due to U.S. foreign aid to Colombia. This assistance benefiting Colombia also helps the U.S.’s economy and national security.
The civil war between the Colombian government and FARC lasted more than five decades. 250,000 people died and 60,000 disappeared. FARC kidnapped American citizens and supplied nearly all the cocaine in the U.S.
To combat this, the United States has invested $10 billion since 2000 in Colombia through Plan Colombia, a bipartisan initiative to strengthen Colombia’s public institutions. President Obama updated America’s foreign policy in Colombia after the successful peace negotiations in 2016 by pledging an additional $450 million in foreign aid to Colombia through the new U.S. initiative Peace Colombia.
While Colombia is covering 90 percent of the peace accord implementation costs, the U.S. assistance is primarily targeted toward security, expanding Colombian state institutions into rebel areas and providing justice services for victims. Peace Colombia also enables USAID to work with the Colombian government, private sector and non-profits so that reintegrated FARC rebels and their families can find stable employment instead of reverting back to growing coca.
Although peace in Colombia is promising, issues persist. According to the United Nations, Colombian cocaine production and coca cultivation increased by 34 and 52 percent respectively in 2016. The upcoming 2018 elections in Colombia could also disrupt the peace process. Though President Trump reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to peace in Colombia in May, his administration requested to reduce foreign aid to Colombia for FY 2017 from $391 million to $250 million.
Nevertheless, progress has been achieved. Colombia is experiencing a steady decline in mortality and an increase in literacy. The country has the fastest growing economy in Latin America and is the leading U.S. ally in the region, becoming a major trading partner.
In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee, Juan Sebastian Gonzalez, an Associate Vice President of The Cohen Group and former Special Advisor to Vice President Biden, stated that a secure and peaceful Colombia creates potential for U.S. businesses to invest and leads to a more secure U.S., especially in regards to drug trafficking.
On August 13, Vice President Pence, while visiting Colombia, said the U.S. will continue its partnership with Colombia because “…we’ve long recognized the importance of Colombian security and prosperity to our own.” Pence also complimented President Santos of Colombia, stating that “…Colombia represents the future of Latin America. It is a future of freedom, security, and prosperity. And America stands with you.”
– Sean Newhouse