Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House Thursday, seeking more American aid to help his country rebuild as it nears a peace agreement with left-wing guerrillas it has been fighting for a half-century.
Santos said his government hopes to sign the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, by March 23. But he says Bogota also needs more U.S. financial assistance to rebuild roads, schools and health facilities ravaged by the fighting, as well as for reparations, mine clearance and other programs.
Washington, which for 15 years has aided Bogota's fight against FARC in what it calls "Plan Colombia," is promising more aid to help implement the peace agreement but hasn't divulged how much until its 2017 spending plan is released next week.
In addition, Santos wants the U.S. to remove FARC from its list of terrorist organizations and suspend drug arrest warrants against guerrilla commanders, many of whom have been participating in the peace accord negotiations in Cuba.
"Any effort by the United States to allow us to apply transitional justice, for example, by suspending the arrest warrants, would help us tremendously," Santos said as left Colombia for Washington.
The special U.S. envoy to the peace talks, Bernard Aronson, said Washington would consider removing FARC's terrorist designation once the group has renounced violence, given up its weapons and ended any attacks on Americans and U.S. interests in Colombia.
"How it will end or what the timetable would be would be based on the conditions inside of Colombia," Aronson said.
Mark Feierstein, the U.S. National Security Council's director of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said the Santos visit to Washington "recognizes one of the premier foreign policy successes for the United States," the impending end to Latin America's longest-running armed conflict that has claimed the lives of 225,000 people over the last 50 years.
Plan Colombia, aimed at supporting Bogota's fight against drug cartels and FARC rebels, has been supported by a succession of U.S. presidents, including a Democrat, Bill Clinton, his Republican successor, George W. Bush, and then Obama, another Democrat.