President Barack Obama announced on Thursday afternoon that the U.S. government will be offering more than $450 million annually to support the final stages and the aftermath of the Colombian government's peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This is a considerable increase from the $300 million investment that the U.S. contributed to the country last year.
Standing next to President Juan Manuel Santos in the reception that was broadcasted live, Obama described the relationship between the U.S. and Colombia as "one of the strongest in the hemisphere," saying that the U.S. will continue to be Colombia's partner in establishing peace. "I'm proud to announce a new framework for the next chapter of our partnership," he said. "We're going to call it Peace Colombia (Paz Colombia)."
The aid will go toward helping to "enforce security gains, reintegrate former combatants into society, and extend opportunity and the rule of law into areas denied them for decades," Obama stated.
Obama highlighted the successes of the controversial 15-year Plan Colombia project, through which the U.S. sent close to $10 billion in aid from 2000 to 2015. "A country that was once on the brink of collapse is now on the brink of peace," he said, although "obviously serious challenges remain."
"We all know it's easier to start wars than to end them," he noted. "Peace will just be the first step."
The U.S. will also support Colombia's goal to deactivate every landmine in the country within the next five years by contributing an additional $33 million to global de-mining efforts. "We will continue to stand for human rights and justice for victims," Obama said, "and we will keep working to protect our people, as well as the Colombian people, from the ravages of illegal drugs and the violence of drug traffickers."
As the peace negotiations conclude, "assuming success," the two countries will work together to determine the ways in which the U.S. can better help the situation and "better mobilize the international community" to support the efforts.
In thanking Obama, Santos also highlighted the fact that Colombia was almost considered to be "a failed state" 15 years ago, with one third of the country's territory controlled by paramilitaries and another third controlled by guerrillas - both of which were financed by drug trafficking.
"Today we see the future with hope," Santos said, highlighting economic growth and the steep reduction of violence. He credited the financial support of the U.S. through Plan Colombia for these improvements.
"Thank you for understanding that peace in Colombia means peace for the entire region," he declared, also commending Obama's "audacity" for forging a new relationship with Cuba.
The conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC has caused the deaths of more than 220,000 people in the country since it began in 1964, according to Colombia Reports, and millions have been displaced due to the violence. So far there have been three failed attempts at negotiating a peace accord.