The U.S. remains committed to helping Colombia fight drug trafficking, and a planned $55 million cut in aid won’t undermine cooperation between Washington and its top ally in Latin America, Colombia’s defense minister said on Wednesday.
During a conference call in Washington, Defense Minister Gabriel Silva told journalists that a high-ranking State Department official assured him the reduction in aid was part of across-the-board belt-tightening in U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget proposal.
“This doesn’t mean a change in policy or a sign of distancing from Colombia. On the contrary,” Silva said.
“We expect the quality and the role of the U.S. cooperation with Colombia won’t be reduced, and that is what we were told here in Washington.”
Silva said he met on Tuesday with Assistant Secretary of State David Johnson.
The United States has supported Colombia’s efforts to fight drug trafficking with more than $5 billion dollars in aid since 2000.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe recently authorized U.S. forces to operate from several military bases in the country, prompting criticism from other Latin American countries, including Venezuela and Brazil.
Silva said he still hoped the U.S. Congress would soften any reduction in aid to his country.
In the meantime, he said, the cuts wouldn’t affect U.S. cooperation in key areas such as intelligence, training and the eradication of coca crops.
President Alvaro Uribe has used U.S. aid to battle FARC guerrillas who are fighting Latin America’s longest-running leftist insurgency.
But Colombia remains the world’s top supplier of cocaine, most of which is shipped to markets in the United States and Europe through Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.