Kerry praises Santos for “courageous” effort to hold FARC peace talks

Colombian president discusses spying activities by the NSA in his country Secretary of state on a two-nation tour of region that includes Brazil

US Secretary of State John Kerry wearing a Colombia jersey while visiting injured soldiers on Monday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry wearing a Colombia jersey while visiting injured soldiers on Monday.Mauricio Dueñas Castañeda (EFE)

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently on a two-nation trip to Latin America, praised Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his efforts in trying to bring peace to his country by sitting down and negotiating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

“The Santos Administration has undertaken a very courageous and very necessary and very imaginative effort to seek a political solution to one of the world’s longest conflicts,” Kerry said on Monday before heading off to Brazil.

In his first visit to Colombia as secretary of state, Kerry appeared early Monday morning dressed in a jersey with the name Colombia and a number one on the front to join a group of injured soldiers play wheelchair volleyball. The troops had all been maimed in combat with guerrillas.

At a joint news conference, Colombia Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín thanked the United States for the support it has provided over the years “to strengthen certain institutions, the rural areas, which are so very important for security in Colombia, and to achieve peace in these places.”

Michael McKinley, the outgoing US ambassador, told Colombian media that his country’s support will extend beyond the peace process. “We are also prepared to help Colombia in the transition,” he said.

Since late last year, Colombian government officials have been holding peace talks with FARC representatives in Havana in an effort to end the 50-year-old insurgent war. The FARC is Latin America’s oldest active guerrilla group.

Speaking to reporters, Kerry said that most of US aid to Colombia has centered on beefing up the military and fighting drug trafficking, and that the country has made significant progress.

“We believe, as does President Santos, that Colombia has reached a point now where in its development, in its security, in its trade, in its governing capacity, that it is important for them to try to look to what is sustainable for the long term, and that means finding peace,” he said.

One of the points brought up during Kerry’s visit were allegations that the National Security Agency (NSA) spied “constantly but somewhat variably” on Colombia, as revealed last month by the Brazilian daily O Globo. After Brazil and Mexico, Colombia was the most spied-on country in the region, the newspaper said, quoting from leaked NSA documents provided by wanted former US contractor Edward P. Snowden.

Holguín acknowledged that the matter was brought up during Kerry’s meeting with Santos and that both countries had been in contact since the report was revealed. A government commission from Colombia has traveled to the United States to try to clarify the extent of the spying, she said. “We wanted to gain more information on the issue, and I think in a very positive fashion and very constructive at the same time, this is important for Colombia. All the assistance in this respect has been relevant, to say the least, and we hope that this will be done within the framework of bilateral and legal conditions in the relationship that we have,” she said without giving more details.

For his part, Kerry said that all intelligence activities “have been completely conducted under our Constitution and the law” and Washington respects “the concerns of other countries and will continue to.”

“I think it’s very obvious to everybody that this is a dangerous world we’re living in. It’s very, very different from anything we’ve known since [… ] September 11 of 2001. And we are necessarily engaged in a very complex effort to prevent terrorists from taking innocent lives in many different places,” he said.

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