This week I return to Washington to thank the American people and the U.S. government for the help they have provided Colombia during the last 15 years and to look ahead to the next 15 years for what it will mean for both our nations.
Despite being ravaged by more than five decades of conflict and crime, the Colombian people provided popular support to their military forces and the national police, who took the initiative to regain lost territory and forge relations in new spaces, creating the conditions for the victory that has made peace move from a long forgotten dream to a newfound reality.
These are the same armed forces that benefited from the direct training and assistance they received from the U.S. military and law-enforcement agencies.
You gave us the tool so we could do the job — and we did.
Never miss a local story.
Because of your help, our armed forces and police reclaimed territory that was lost for generations to illegal armed groups, restored the rule of law and made it possible for government services to return or arrive for the first time.
Because of your help, our armed forces and police gave the country back to the people of Colombia by opening up roads so citizens and visitors alike could travel between our beautiful and dynamic cities and towns.
Because of your help, children can walk to school no longer fearful of being kidnapped and turned into child soldiers; farmers can farm without fear of landmines; the environment can grow safely, without the devastation and ecocide that drug trafficking causes.
Because of your help, our armed forces conduct more maritime interdiction operations than almost any other naval power, stemming the tide of drugs, weapons and people.
Because of your help, and the shared values and vision of our two nations, Colombia’s armed Forces have taken what they learned from the U.S. military, paired it with our experience and expertise and have begun to export security to other countries, cultures and regions not as fortunate as we are.
Today our training and assistance ranges from supporting counter-narcotics training of Afghan police, to counter-piracy missions off of the Horn of Africa, to maritime interdiction and law-enforcement training in West Africa, to helping our sisters and brothers in Central America with their democratic struggle against transnational criminal organizations who traffic in drugs, people and misery.
The reality is that because of your enduring support and assistance, for the first time in more than half a century Colombia is at the threshold of a post-conflict dynamic. Our children and grandchildren will have a future in which they read about our conflict in textbooks, rather than experience firsthand.
For the farmer in Medellin, who can till his fields without fear of landmines and the teacher in Cali, who doesn’t have to worry about her students being kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers, I thank you.
For the policewoman in Barranquilla, who can help victims rather than become one herself and the nurse in Bucaramanga, who tends to the sick, I thank you.
For the soldier in Arauca, who protects and defends that nation, and the bus driver in Bogotá who can freely move between cities and towns, I thank you.
For the sailor in Cartagena, of which I was one, who valiantly fights the misery propagated by transnational criminal organizations, I thank you.
But most important, on behalf of the next generation, boys and girls all across our beautiful country who finally have a future, I thank you.
Even as the peace talks reach their final stage, the Colombian government is implementing elements of the accord, enabled by the same armed forces and police will continue to protect and defend the peace. Because of their resolve, the training and assistance from the United States and the commitment of the Colombian people, the future is finally filled with hope and opportunity.
This is not one man’s victory or one group’s victory, this the story of one nation’s victory implemented by the armed forces and police, against all odds and expectations.
The resilience of the Colombian people empowered their armed forces and national police to create a space for victory demonstrating that the military and police did their job. It is now time for the politicians to do theirs.
Juan Manuel Santos is president of the Republic of Colombia.