U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates assured Colombia on Thursday that the U.S will continue to provide the country with aid, regardless of who wins the Andean nation’s presidential elections in May, and expressed his hope that the free trade deal will be implemented soon, reports Semana.
“Our ongoing bilateral defense cooperation is vital for our two nations,” Gates said, confirming the U.S.’s “commitment to working together with whoever [is in power] after the upcoming elections.”
The defense secretary also expressed a desire to see U.S.’s free trade agreement with Colombia finalized because “it’s a good deal” for both countries, and is among the priorities of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Gates is in Colombia to talk with President Uribe and Colombia’s Defense Minister Gabriel Silva about “progress in the offensive against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia [sic] and other paramilitary groups,” according to an article on the Defense Department’s website.
Gates praised the Colombian government’s decision to send troops to Afghanistan and said that Washington would help in the planned deployment.
Colombia is becoming an “exporter of global security,” according to Gates, sharing its experience in fighting the drugs trade with Peru and Mexico, and contributing troops to Afghanistan.
President Alvaro Uribe thanked the U.S. official for his “interest” in Colombia while reiterating that “our common commitment” is the fight against “narco-terrorism.”
Regarding Colombia’s issuance of travel warnings for its citizens against entering Venezuela, Gates said that it “is clearly an expression of concern by the Colombian government.”
Gates is in Colombia for less than 24 hours on the second leg of his Latin American tour, which also takes in Peru and Barbados.
The U.S has given $7 billion to combat drug trafficking and guerilla activity in Colombia since 2000.