U.S. President Barack Obama has praised Colombia’s “immense strides” in an exclusive interview with Latin American press, ahead of this weekend’s Summit of the Americas.
“The fact that Cartagena will host the summit is a testament to that progress,” he said, highlighting Colombia’s economic growth and improved security.
“Credit must be given to the Colombian people, its leaders and security forces, as they all made extraordinary sacrifices.”
Obama made the comments to the Daily Group America (GDA), a grouping of 11 of the region’s leading newspapers, ahead of travelling to Cartagena later today.
In a wide-ranging interview, Obama said an expected debate on drug legalization proposed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will “help to clarify this proposal and refocus our attention to the ways we can achieve greater progress together.”
He reiterated American objection to the drug legalization or decriminalization, but said the “legitimate” debate “reflects the frustrations of governments and people throughout America.”
The U.S. must accept its responsibility as a market for illegal drugs, he said, pointing to a new government drug control strategy aimed at education, prevention and treatment.
Responding to criticisms that the U.S. does not view Latin America as a priority, he called the region “vital to the progress we seek in the United States throughout the region and around the world.”
On Venezuela, he expressed American hope for free and fair upcoming elections.
The U.S. President also stood firm on excluding Cuba from the summit — another contentious issue among Latin American leaders.
But he would not respond to questions on the heightened tension between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the disputed Falklands/Malvinas Islands.
Obama will to arrive in Cartagena this evening ahead of the summit, which runs April 14 and 15.