U.S. President George Bush and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe met at
the White House Saturday for talks on boosting security in Colombia,
spreading democracy in the region, and passing a free trade agreement
that is awaiting approval by U.S. lawmakers. VOA White House
Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.
President Bush praised the Colombian leader for transforming his nation into a powerful example of democracy.
United States supports Colombia's efforts to modernize its security
forces, to fight terrorists and drug kingpins, and to provide
Colombians with alternatives to lives of terror and narco-trafficking.
And your efforts are working," he said.
Since President Uribe
took office, President Bush said homicides in Colombia are down 40
percent, kidnappings are down 80 percent, and terrorist attacks are
down 70 percent. Since 2002, Colombia has extradited more than 720
criminal suspects to the United States, mostly for drug trafficking.
July, Colombia's military successfully rescued 15 hostages, including
three Americans, that were being held by rebels of the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC.
Speaking to reporters
alongside President Uribe, President Bush said FARC is now far weaker
because of what he called the Colombian leader's decisive action.
undeniable that progress is being made," he said. "FARC is weaker. FARC
is on the run. People are leaving FARC because of the generous hand
that the government has reached out with."
criticized U.S. lawmakers for blocking a vote on a free trade deal with
Colombia which he says is in America's interest because it will boost
President Uribe said the deal will help draw more
foreign investment to Colombia and create more high-quality jobs to
draw people away from harvesting illicit crops such as the plants that
"Free trade agreement for us is the possibility
to give certainty to investors for them to come to Colombia, and the
more investors come to Colombia the less difficult for us to defeat
terrorism," he said.
Colombia is America's fourth largest trading partner with commerce last year totaling $18 billion.
Bush said Congress needs to pass the free trade agreement for national
security reasons as well as Colombia has consistently spoken out
against anti-U.S. governments in the hemisphere.
in Colombia can affect life in the United States," he said. "You've got
a strong supporter here. And after I leave office, it is going to be
very important for the next president and the next Congress to stand
squarely by your side."
Some congressional Democrats have
opposed the free trade agreement because of concerns over Colombian
labor protections and abuses by paramilitary units.
Uribe said his government is improving living standards by providing
security with democracy and investment with social responsibility.
are working to have Colombia with more confidence, confidence to invest
in Colombia, to live in Colombia, to study in Colombia, to find jobs in
Colombia," he said.
President Uribe and President Bush meet with
other leaders from the hemisphere in New York this coming week for
talks on expanding free trade.