Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, arrived in Colombia on Tuesday as part of a four-nation tour to reconstruct soured relations in the region while discussing espionage and peace talks with the Colombian head of state, local and international media reported on Wednesday.
Biden was scheduled to meet with Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and other officials in the nation’s capital on Wednesday, where the topic of the ongoing peace process between the Colombian government and the country’s largest rebel group the FARC was high on the agenda.
“He is very interested in the latest developments about peace,” Santos said of Biden, according to the Miami Herald, adding, “he’s been very attentive to the whole process.”
Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin reported that Biden was interested to learn how the US could be involved in a post-conflict role in Colombia, according to ABC News.
The US has funded efforts to counter narcotic-trafficking and insurgency in Colombia through the Plan Colombia program initiated in 2000, according to the US Embassy in Bogota website.
To date, around $9 billion has been funneled into this program, as the US continues close cooperation with Colombia as part of their “War on Drugs” in order to create a sustainable strategy to weaken illegal armed groups and drug-trafficking in the region. Most recently, the US allocated $320 million to Plan Colombia as part of their fiscal budget for 2014.
The Colombian conflict has killed approximately 220,000 people in over 55 years, according to the Guardian.
“Today, thanks to the political will of Colombian leaders and the determination of the Colombian nation, the survival of the country now is not threatened by drugs, security, or economic collapse,” Biden remarked in an interview for Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper, adding, “Colombia is at the ending point for the most prolonged internal conflict in the hemisphere.”
“If we finish the peace process, it will complete a cycle ending with the strengthening of our democracy,” said Santos, remarking that the process would signal the “finishing touch” on the overall process to promote stability and safety in Colombia that includes Plan Colombia, according to the Miami Herald.
Biden praised Colombia’s progress on Wednesday, saying that Colombia is a model of economic stewardship and a constructive regional and global player, ABC news reported.
According to the VP, “Colombia is of the highest national interest for the US. And it’s a fundamental pillar for the construction of a more prosperous global economy and a more peaceful, safe, and free world,” El Espectador reported.
Biden also had to answer revelations of previous espionage tactics used by the US National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Colombian officials. Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe was listed as one of the “high-value” NSA surveillance targets in the “Target Knowledge Database” released by intelligence leaker Edward Snowden last summer.
“We recognize that this incident generated serious concerns between the governments and nations of Latin America,” Biden said, adding, “the president and I have had personal contact with various leaders in the region, including the presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia. The answer that we have received is that the bilateral relation with the US is too important to deviate from because of an issue like this.”
Biden addressed espionage concerns by reinstating President Obama’s decision to discontinue spying on the communications of world leaders on good terms with the US.
“President Obama announced in January important reforms, that influence the application of the same privacy protections for foreigners that our own citizens enjoy, as well as the decision not to monitor the communications of state leaders and of the governments of our friends and close allies,” said Biden to El Espectador.
“The relationship between the United States and Colombia is a perfect example of two nations that work as equal partners in order to advance a common agenda,” concluded the VP.
“Snowden no desvió las relaciones” (El Espectador)
Plan Colombia (Embassy of the United States in Bogota Colombia website)