Keep America’s bonds with Colombia strong


As President Trump meets with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Washington on Thursday, the United States should use this opportunity to strengthen our bilateral bonds and reaffirm our commitment to the Colombian people.

The U.S.-Colombia partnership has become one of America’s most important relationships in the Western Hemisphere.

In the late 1990s, Colombia was nearly a failed state, devastated by conflicts with drug cartels and terrorist groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). But U.S.-Colombian cooperation over the past 16 years empowered the nation to diminish the threat of narcoterrorism and drug-related violence, restore the rule of law, and revive its economy.

Today, Colombia is one of America’s major economic partners in the Western Hemisphere, and the 19th largest market for U.S. exports thanks to our bilateral free-trade agreement. Colombia’s military has helped support its regional neighbors’ battles against drug cartels and terrorist groups. While Colombia still faces challenges, its story of resilience and success gives hope to other countries that they, too, can turn the tide in their fight against narcoterrorism.

We must remain supportive of the success achieved through America’s bilateral “Plan Colombia” framework. As a member of the Senate committee that appropriates foreign assistance, I believe the United States should continue to support Colombia’s efforts to combat terrorism and narcotics, and secure and stabilize the country. In particular, we should encourage Colombian counternarcotics officials to resume aerial eradication operations to combat coca production and stem the tide of cocaine trafficking.

Last year, the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas concluded negotiations on a peace accord to end their 52-year conflict. However, I am concerned about shortcomings in the deal, which could allow FARC guerrillas to escape justice, and grant amnesty to those responsible for war crimes.

After the peace accord was rejected by voters in a referendum, President Santos had it approved by the legislature. Ultimately, the wisdom of the peace accord is up to the Colombian people, who can hold their democratically elected leaders accountable at the ballot box next year. Meanwhile, the FARC must be held accountable for their history of violence and oppression.

That is why I believe U.S. foreign assistance related to the bilateral “Peace Colombia” framework that succeeded “Plan Colombia” must be dependent on certain conditions. American taxpayer dollars should never be used to compensate the FARC. The FARC should remain designated as Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and also compensate victims of their crimes. Moreover, just as FARC commander Simon Trinidad should serve out his full sentence in federal prison, convicted FARC members should also face full accountability for their crimes.

For any peace accord to endure, it must be supported by a majority of the Colombian people and bring genuine justice to the victims of the countless atrocities committed by the FARC. The world looks forward to seeing the Colombian people engage in free and fair debates over the peace accord’s careful implementation. Ultimately, this is the onlyway that Colombia will see a lasting peace.

While the U.S.-Colombian partnership has come a long way, there’s still more work today. I hope to see a positive meeting between President Trump and President Santos. Just as Colombia’s citizens continue to stand proud and united in safeguarding their nation’s hard-won democracy and improving stability, the United States should make clear our continued commitment to them and our respect for their democratic process amid these momentous times.

Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.