Latin America

Washington pledges $450 million peace package aid for Colombia

Part of the funds will go to help pay compensation to victims from FARC insurgent war

Obama and Santos meet at the White House.Carolyn Kaster AP / REUTERS-LIVE (reuters_live)

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The United States has pledged to give Colombia $450 million (more than €400 million) to help its transition to peace as the Bogota government prepares to finalize a truce with a left-wing insurgency that has been waging war for more than 50 years.

Meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that the contribution will go to security, compensation to the victims of the long insurgent war, and consolidating the justice systems in his country.

The money will be included in the 2017 budget that Obama will present to Congress next week. While the funds will be paid out in the long term, the new incoming US president will decide whether to continue the contributions in the future.

“A country that was on the brink of collapse is now on the brink of peace,” Obama said, adding that the aid package will be entitled “Peace Colombia” and will mark “a new era of partnership.”

“A country that was on the brink of collapse is now on the brink of peace”

Since November 2012, the Santos government has been in tough negotiations with representatives of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the oldest active insurgency group in Latin America.

Their talks, brokered by Cuba and Norway in Havana, have made headway in recent months despite a series of breakdowns over attacks by both sides while the meetings were taking place.

Santos said that Plan Colombia – the aid package instated 15 years ago by the United States to help the Bogota government both military and diplomatically battle drug cartels and guerrillas – was “a key factor” that helped his administration initiate peace talks with the FARC.

“In the name of the millions of Colombians who are beginning to learn to live without fear, thank you,” Santos said.

“In the name of the millions of Colombians who are beginning to learn to live without fear, thank you”

More than 200 people attended the White House ceremony where Obama unveiled his Peace Colombia framework. Among those attending were former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana; former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was held for more than six years in captivity by the insurgents; José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch (HRW); NASCAR race driver Juan Pablo Montoya; and Colombian-Puerto Rican Hollywood actor John Leguizamo.

“As part of that framework and to support the peace accord implementation, the president will request more than $390 million in FY [fiscal year] 2017 bilateral foreign assistance,” the White House explained in a statement. “The Administration will also request funds in FY 2017 for other ongoing programs that would contribute to Peace Colombia goals such as humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations and Department of Defense counter-narcotics programs that, if enacted by the Congress, would increase our overall level of effort to over $450 million.”

The United States will also contribute to Norway’s Global Initiative to Deactivate Mines, which aims to help Colombia clean up all minefields by 2021. The amount of aid to that program will be $33 million.

Colombia and the FARC have agreed to come up with a final draft peace agreement by March 23 after more than three years of hard negotiations in Havana. Next month’s will hypothetically end the more than 50-year-old insurgent war, which has left more than eight million people dead.

The US will contribute $33 million to help clean up mine fields

The two sides are still negotiating over issues concerning where the guerrillas will be relocated and the terms of disarmament.

Santos proposed on Wednesday that he was open to allowing the talks to continue past the March 23 deadline but his administration officials are trying to explain to the Colombian public the possible extension without suffering political damage.

During his two-day visit, Santos met with Washington lawmakers to give them thanks for their support and explain the objectives of the peace negotiations with the FARC. Some Republican leaders are not in favor of a demand by the guerrillas to free one of its leaders, Simón Trinidad, who is serving time in a US federal prison. They are also resisting a request for the removal of the FARC from Washington’s list of terrorist organizations.

English version by Martin Delfín.

US and Colombia will work to fight Zika virus

President Barack Obama promised that Washington will work with Bogota to help eradicate the Zika virus that is affecting Colombia.

The two nations agreed to speed up research to help diagnose, treat and control the mosquito-borne virus, which is spreading across Latin America and the Caribbean. After Brazil, Colombia has been the hardest-hit nation.

According to the White House, the United States will help “assess the health of pregnant mothers, infants and children to better understand the potential link between the Zika infection and birth outcomes (including microcephaly), other neurological conditions, and the impact of Zika virus on the health of children.”

US researchers will also “estimate the prevalence of microcephaly in Colombia and the change in incidence rates over time to determine whether there is causality of Zika virus infection and microcephaly; and assess risk factors associated with Zika virus infections and microcephaly or Guillain-Barre Syndrome.”

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will work jointly with Colombia’s National Health Institute in epidemiological investigations of infections.

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