President Bush met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez at the Bush ranch near Crawford, Texas on Thursday to reaffirm their commitment to fighting drug trafficking and bolstering peace and democracy in the South American nation.
In welcoming President Uribe to his ranch, Mr. Bush emphasized the friendship and admiration that has grown between the two leaders. He said Colombia has become more secure and more democratic since 2002, when the Uribe government came to power, and that Colombia has become an international leader as a result.
"As Colombia has improved its security and economy, it has also emerged as a leader in our hemisphere. Colombia shares our commitment to advancing economic growth, trade and democracy in the Americas. Colombia is also sharing its expertise with Afghanistan to combat terrorism and narco-trafficking in that new democracy and America is very grateful for your support," he said.
For his part, President Uribe expressed appreciation for U.S. support in fighting drug trafficking and insurgency in his country. He said he hopes the two countries will soon conclude talks aimed at creating a bilateral free trade agreement to bolster growth and prosperity in his nation. Asked about human rights, the Colombian president said the struggle against violence and insecurity in his nation must be founded on respect for human rights.
He said Colombia's security policy must be sustainable and that for it to be sustainable there must be respect for public opinion and transparency in regard to human rights.
International human rights organizations have accused the Uribe government of neglecting to arrest and punish members of rightist paramilitary groups who have been fighting against Colombia's two leftist insurgencies. Several thousand paramilitary fighters have disarmed in recent months, but, according to Human Rights Watch, only 25 former paramilitary men have been detained for rights violations. Colombian citizens have issued thousands of accusations against these groups for atrocities committed over the past two decades.
The Uribe government has defended its policy of demobilization of such groups as part of the path toward peace. The government has concentrated most of its military efforts on the leftist guerrillas, whom President Uribe refers to as terrorists. These groups sustain themselves primarily through drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion and are also viewed by the United States as terrorist organizations.
Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department certified Colombia's human rights efforts, thereby releasing around 70 million dollars in aid that had been held up for a year. The meeting between Mr. Uribe and President Bush on Thursday was the sixth encounter between the two leaders since Mr. Uribe assumed office three years ago.