President Barack Obama said on Thursday he will ask the U.S. Congress for more than $450 million in aid to help Colombia make good on "an incredible moment of promise" and implement a peace accord aimed at ending Latin America\’s longest war.
"After half a century of wrenching conflict, the time has come for peace," said Obama, after meeting with Colombian President Juan Manual Santos.
Obama said the aid would help with counter terrorism and narcotics issues, and education and retraining programs to help reintegrate into society members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftist rebel group.
In addition, the U.S. government will commit $33 million to a global program to help the country deal with a legacy of land mines, he said.
"Just as the United States has been Colombia\’s partner in a time of war, I indicated to President Santos we will be your partner in waging peace," Obama said at a White House reception.
The fight between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftist rebel group, has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 1964.
Three previous attempts at a peace accord failed, but after four years of talks, the government and FARC are on the verge of a deal.
"All of that requires human resources and financial resources," said Douglass Cassel of the University of Notre Dame, who has been an adviser to Santos for the past year.
A jump in U.S. aid for is "fundamental" for peace, particularly given a 20 percent hit to Colombia\’s budget from the plunge in oil prices, Cassel said in an interview.
The new aid program will be called "Peace Colombia," Obama said – a play on "Plan Colombia," which provided $10 billion in aid between 2000 and 2015.
The new program would be about 25 percent more than what the United States gave Colombia in 2016.
"The government of Colombia will do everything it can, but it\’s clear that it doesn\’t have sufficient resources on its own to do the job the way it ought to be done without significant support from the United States and the European Union," Cassel said.
Obama, a Democrat, will ask the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress to approve funds for the program in his budget next week. Traditionally, aid to the nation has been supported by lawmakers and presidents from both parties.