Op-Ed

Ambassador: Colombia is a regional powerhouse, but peace must be secured

In January, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos met with President Obama hoping the U.S. would suspend drug warrants against guerrilla commanders and remove the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia from a list of terrorist groups to help cinch a peace deal with Latin America’s insurgency.
In January, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos met with President Obama hoping the U.S. would suspend drug warrants against guerrilla commanders and remove the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia from a list of terrorist groups to help cinch a peace deal with Latin America’s insurgency. AP

It has been said that a rising tide lifts all boats. In the case of Colombia and the Northern Triangle region — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — this is certainly true. As Colombia has transformed, we have spread the hard-fought lessons we learned to our northern neighbors. By achieving lasting peace in Colombia, we can do more for our region. Continued support from the United States can help us do it — extending the rising tide to our neighbors even farther north.

In April, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos led a historic visit to the Northern Triangle, where he committed to strengthening bilateral relations with each country and advancing progress and prosperity in the region.

Colombia has made much progress over the last two decades, thanks in large part to the brave men and women of the Colombian Armed Forces and National Police and because of America’s friendship and partnership. The U.S.-Colombia initiative Plan Colombia helped us transform from a nation on the brink of collapse to one where progress is evident in every facet of society, and one where today, we are on the brink of peace. Domestically, we have raised the standard of living for our people, significantly expanded the middle class, improved security conditions, driven down unemployment and inequality and improved health and education outcomes.

On the world stage, Colombia has gone from being a recipient of aid to the provider of aid in the Northern Triangle and beyond. When I served as minister of defense, we led an effort to enhance Colombia’s role as a regional leader and security contributor. In the past five years, Colombia’s Armed Forces have trained 29,000 security and military officials from more than 60 countries, including more than 23,000 America, the Caribbean and Mexico — 90 percent of the total training cooperation with other nations.

We are looking to contribute to global efforts, including supporting peacekeeping missions and operations like ATALANTA, a European Union operation aimed at responding to growing threats of piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Horn of Africa and the Western Indian Ocean.

Under the U.S.-Colombia Security Cooperation Action Plan (USCAP), more than 1,900 trainees from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras benefited from bilateral security expertise in 2015. In addition, more than 200 USCAP training activities were performed last year in the three Central American nations, with more than 170 slated for 2016.

But this is only Colombia’s first phase of transformation. We can bring even greater benefits to the Northern Triangle region once we enter the second phase — which will only be realized when we secure lasting peace. As before, central to this is Peace Colombia, a U.S.-Colombia initiative aimed at consolidating the gains Colombia has achieved over the past two decades.

Peace Colombia, or Paz Colombia, is focused on advancing six objectives, which include making peace sustainable; strengthening local institutions; expanding the bilateral partnership to other areas of common interest, including education, science and technology and innovation; strengthening the Colombian justice system; increasing security; and advancing efforts against organized crime.

This bilateral initiative will help secure lasting peace, which will enable Colombia to further support our alliances and joint efforts in the region, such as the Northern Triangle’s Alliance for Prosperity Plan — a model for transformation.

Greater security cooperation among our countries will lead to safer societies, advancing social development, attracting business investment and spurring innovation.

Achieving this vision for the future of the region requires an expanded U.S.-Colombia partnership, and if we move forward together, we can turn the tide further for our region. One vital lesson we have learned throughout the waves of national transformation — strong partnerships create the force and conditions necessary to lift many more boats.

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

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