Op-Ed

Colombia — a nation transformed

President Juan Manuel Santos, left, shakes hands with FARC rebel commander Timoleon Jimenez, right, in September. Cuban President Raúl Castro, whose country hosted peace talks, is at the center.
President Juan Manuel Santos, left, shakes hands with FARC rebel commander Timoleon Jimenez, right, in September. Cuban President Raúl Castro, whose country hosted peace talks, is at the center. AP

The Colombia of 2015 is not what it was in the year 2000, and it is not what it will be in 2030. Colombia is a nation transformed that will only continue to grow. We can look to our future with optimism because of the valuable lessons we have learned from our past — and because of the enduring and lasting partnership we have with the United States.

Colombia in the year 2000 was a nation on the brink. Regional drug cartels held sway over vast swaths of the country, and the cartels and other criminal groups funded paramilitaries and the largest terrorist organizations in Latin America — FARC and ELN — making them formidable opponents of any sense of peace. The nation’s future was uncertain, and concerns about Colombia’s ability to turn the page were crowding out hope.

But, as proven throughout our history, the Colombian people are nothing if not resilient. They, along with government leaders, recognized that if Colombia was to have a future where the current generation made out better than their parents and reaped the benefits of peace, a concerted effort was required.

By every measure, we have succeeded. The dedication and ensuing national effort to reverse course included many components — and would not have been possible without the unwavering support of our closest ally, the United States. Chief among that support was Plan Colombia.

Launched in 2000, Plan Colombia was an ambitious bilateral effort aimed at combating drug trafficking, restoring security and advancing peace. The strategy increased military and police mobility, augmented training on special operations, enhanced intelligence capabilities and strengthened counternarcotics efforts and cooperation.

Today, 15 years after Plan Colombia’s implementation, it is heralded as one of the most important U.S. foreign policy initiatives in a generation. Targeted U.S. resources — coupled with the allocation of substantial funds in the Colombian national budget — helped usher in an era of hope and aspiration.

I had the honor of serving as adviser to the Minister of Finance in the Pastrana administration, vice minister of Defense in the Uribe administration and minister of Defense under President Santos. During that time, our defense forces built on the successes of Plan Colombia. Every indicator of violence declined significantly and security vastly improved, so much so that Colombia has achieved a lower violent crime rate than some major U.S. cities.

In 2011, I began serving as minister of Defense. During nearly four years in this post, we increased international cooperation, strengthened tactical operations and modernized the Armed Forces , from equipment to training. Today, the remnants of the terrorist groups that wreaked havoc on Colombia for decades are sitting at the table with our government, reduced in power and negotiating peace, largely because of the might and bravery of our Armed Forces and National Police in the face of terror.

Once on the brink of collapse, Colombia is on the rise. For a decade and a half, we have walked a difficult path and changed our destiny. The Santos administration is now building on the foundation of our security gains by advancing a policy agenda for the next 15 years that is focused on social development — equality, poverty reduction, education and peace — and expanding Colombia’s role as a regional and global economic leader.

Colombia’s transformation and our vision for 2030 would not be possible without the hard-won lessons of our experience — an experience that includes a deep and lasting friendship with both parties in the United States. We are proud to embark on the next 15 years as America’s closest ally in Latin America and to use the lessons from our past to build a safer, more secure and prosperous future for generations to come.

A Colombia at peace will further cultivate the seeds of prosperity and maximize the benefits of the progress we have made, with U.S. support, over the past 15 years. By continuing to work together, we will strengthen the U.S.-Colombia partnership, which is vital for both our nations and our shared interests in the region — democracy, freedom, and economic and social progress.

Juan Carlos Pinzón is Colombia’s ambassador to the United States.

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