Colombia’s Thank You to the American People

February 10, 2016 By David Stein

When Colombia’s President Juan Santos visited the United States last week to discuss his country’s progress, he said, “I came here to say thank you. Thank you to the American people… for what you have done helping us go through a very difficult time in Colombia… This is a successful story in a world which is full of problems.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, Colombia was on the brink of collapse and the U.S. grappled with the threat of a major drug war spilling over its southern borders. But over the past decade, the economy has grown at an average of 4.3 percent, and unemployment and poverty are at historic lows. The country’s homicide rate has been cut in half, kidnappings have declined by 90 percent, and in a little over a month, the Colombian government is expected to sign a peace agreement with the rebel movement known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), ending the longest civil war in Latin America.

How did we get here?

In 2000, the U.S. launched a partnership with bipartisan support in Congress called Plan Colombia to provide security and economic development assistance to help fight the FARC, combat the spread of narcotics, train law enforcement, and promote economic growth.

Over the next 15 years, across Democratic and Republican administrations, the U.S. invested nearly $10 billion in helping Colombia become the valuable security and economic partner it is today. Yet America’s investments, while critical, were just five percent of the total commitment to Plan Colombia, with the vast majority coming from the country itself. As President Santos said during his visit, “Colombia bears the lion’s share of the cost: 95 percent of the effort was financed by Colombians.”

Since Plan Colombia was launched, U.S. exports to Colombia have quadrupled to over $16 billion – covering America’s initial investment several times over.

With a peace deal imminent, President Obama recently announced the next phase of America’s partnership with Colombia – called Peace Colombia.

According to the White House, there are several key features of Peace Colombia which, if enacted by Congress, would increase overall U.S. assistance to Colombia to over $450 million in 2017:

  • Security – Expanding on the progress that has been made disarming and demobilizing FARC rebels while continuing counter-narcotics cooperation. Further, since Colombia has the second highest number of landmine victims in the world, the U.S. will join Norway in launching a Global Demining Initiative to help Colombia become landmine-free by 2021.
  • Economic Development – Reintegrating FARC rebels into society while expanding non-drug related economic opportunities in rural areas previously controlled by the FARC.
  • Justice – Strengthening the rule of law and the Colombian government’s presence in former conflict areas while promoting justice and other essential services for conflict victims.

The U.S. will also collaborate with Colombia to accelerate research into the Zika virus by, for example, conducting joint epidemiological investigations through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Colombia’s National Health Institute.

Amid all of the global crises and humanitarian disasters, it can be easy to overlook places where progress has been made – places like Colombia. Now, as Colombia enters the next stage of its development, it is up to Congress to continue America’s strong bipartisan legacy of support for this strategic investment.

As President Obama said when he announced the new initiative, “Just as the United States has been Colombia’s partner in a time of war… We will be your partner in waging peace.”


Photo source: Flickr / CC.