Nation & World

Biden visits Colombia as part of regional tour to repair ties, address immigration

When U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visits Colombia on Wednesday, he will find the region’s largest recipient of U.S. military aid banking on a peace agreement that hopes to end the hemisphere’s longest and bloodiest civil conflict.

Biden arrives in Colombia just two days after President Juan Manuel Santos won an additional four-year term on the back of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.

“He is very interested in the latest developments about peace,” Santos recently said of Biden. “He’s been very attentive to the whole process.”

Energy issues and economic ties are also on the agenda.

Biden arrives here from Brazil, where he watched the U.S. national soccer team beat Ghana during its World Cup debut and met briefly with President Dilma Rousseff. The pair talked about the economy, energy and the National Security Agency’s surveillance program.

Speaking to reporters after the abrupt cancellation of a joint statement he was expected to make with Brazil’s vice president, Biden said he reassured Rousseff that the U.S. had changed espionage tactics, since it emerged last year that the NSA had spied on her personal communications.

“I told her what she already knew — that President [Barack] Obama ordered an immediate review after we learned of the disclosures,” Biden told the Associated Press. “We are taking a new approach on these issues.”

The two nations are still trying to mend ties after Rousseff canceled a state visit to Washington, D.C. in September amid those hacking allegations.

Biden was scheduled to arrive in Bogotá late Tuesday and meet with Santos and other officials Wednesday.

Since 2000, the United States has pumped almost $9 billion in military, counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency aid into this country through a program called Plan Colombia.

For the United States, peace is an extension of that plan, Santos said.

“If we finish the peace process it will complete a cycle ending with the strengthening of our democracy,” Santos said. For the United States “this would be the finishing touch on a process which included Plan Colombia at one point.”

From Colombia, Biden will travel to the Dominican Republic and then to Guatemala on Friday.

In the Central American country, Biden will meet with President Otto Pérez, El Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez and a senior representative of the Honduran government. There, the leaders will be talking about the wave of unaccompanied children from the region heading toward the United States.

The visit comes as the United States has been trying to change the impression that it has been disengaged from Latin America.

This is Biden’s second visit to the region this year and his eighth since 2009. It also follows on the heels of Obama’s visit to Mexico in February and a May Oval Office meeting with Uruguayan President José Mujica.

Biden’s visit is “part of what has been one of the most sustained periods of high-level activity in the Western Hemisphere by any administration in recent memory,” a senior administration official said.