National Security & Defense

The U.S and Colombia Will Lead the Americas Forward in the 21st Century

Bogota, Colombia (Tifonimages/Dreamstime)

Over the past 15 years, Plan Colombia and other U.S. assistance have helped transform Colombia from a country ravaged by drug cartels and terrorist insurgents to the more prosperous and secure society it is today. It has helped turn Colombians once terrorized by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) into a strong people that have weakened this narco-terrorist organization, and brought it to the negotiating table on its knees. It has helped turn a country with a corrupt and unreliable judiciary into a place with growing confidence that justice will be served for those who violate laws.

Although these realities today may seem like they were inevitable all along, we should never take them for granted nor should we allow these hard-fought gains to be eroded. We should also never forget the Colombian and American military and civilian lives that have been lost along the way.

However, it is too early to declare complete victory. President Juan Manuel Santos, who visited Washington this week, is currently engaged in peace talks with the FARC, a three-year process that is supposed to culminate in an agreement by March 23. At that point, the Colombian people have been promised the final say through a national referendum, which should clearly state all of the terms of the agreement so that Colombians know exactly what has been agreed to by both President Santos and the FARC.

Many Colombians doubt the FARC’s intentions to abide by the terms of any peace agreement, and I share many of their concerns because of the group’s history of criminality, duplicity, broken ceasefires, and terrorism that has rightly earned it a designation by the U.S. government as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

A strong U.S.-Colombia alliance is a key strategic pillar of peace and prosperity for both nations — and the entire Western Hemisphere.

For example, even at this late stage in the negotiations, it’s unclear whether FARC guerrilla leaders will be allowed to participate in the political process while serving a prison sentence, if they will disarm and surrender their weapons, if they will cease all drug trafficking, and what kind of accountability there will be for human-rights violations. There has also been concerning talk about returning to Colombia FARC officials who are currently in U.S. prisons for their crimes and for the U.S. to stop seeking to bring to justice FARC members who have violated U.S. laws; given President Obama’s penchant for flawed prisoner-exchange deals, I have little confidence in his ability to do the right thing in this case either.

Ultimately, a strong U.S.-Colombia alliance is a key strategic pillar of peace and prosperity for both nations — and the entire Western Hemisphere — in the 21st century. A secure and flourishing Colombia can be a model that struggling democracies and economies across the Americas can replicate. A Colombia no longer consumed by its own internal security challenges can become an even bigger contributor to security in other parts of the region and the world.

#share#As an American, I am proud of what our military assistance and diplomatic support has been able to achieve in Colombia. It is proof that the world becomes a safer place when America is strong. Colombia’s future is not only a strategic imperative; it is also personal to me as a representative of the largest Colombian diaspora community and as someone married to a daughter of Colombian immigrants.

When I am president, our Colombian allies will be treated with the respect they deserve. We will help make sure they do not have to fear the FARC’s mayhem, by assisting with security, intelligence, and anti-drug operations. To alleviate regional pressures on Colombia, we also cannot ignore the importance of promoting democracy, human rights, and stability across the border in Venezuela.

Colombia’s achievements to date in overcoming the damage done by the FARC have been extraordinary.

As president, I will also rely on Plan Colombia as a model of how the U.S. can maximize our support to allies around the world threatened by terrorists and guerrillas. That includes military assistance and intelligence support, as well as consistently, strongly, and publicly backing our allies. Standing with our Colombian friends does not mean, however, that the U.S. should return criminals currently in our prisons with blood on their hands to Colombia, as the FARC continues to clamor for as negotiations wind down.

Colombia’s achievements to date in overcoming the damage done by the FARC have been extraordinary, but the toughest work lies ahead. As president, I will make strengthening U.S.–Colombia relations a centerpiece of my Latin America policy to ensure that those gains are not squandered, and that Colombia solidifies its place as the leader for regional peace, security, and democracy that it has always been destined to be. As Colombia continues its ascent toward becoming an even more prosperous and democratic republic, I will always look for ways to recognize the respectable gains they have achieved in the 21st century, which includes building on my two official visits to Colombia as a senator by visiting Colombia as president.

As the U.S. honors the successes of the Colombian people in this 21st century, we should focus on strengthening our long-term relationship with this key ally and write the next chapters of what has become one of the great law enforcement, military, and diplomatic success stories in American history.

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