WASHINGTON — Colombia is at the brink of ending a decades-long battle against the FARC guerrillas, making the country a great investment for the U.S., Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told business leaders at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
It seems like Colombia is in the process of trying to replace its drug kingpins with investors. Last year, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg made a pilgrimage to El Dorado International Airport to launch a free Internet application. Google, Microsoft and Facebook offices have popped up Bogota, the country’s capital.
Santos said that Colombia reached an all-time low unemployment rate last month, and has seen a swift rise in income, GDP, job creation and reduction of street poverty, making it the fastest growing Latin American economy.
“When you arrive at Bogota, you see the most advanced airport in all of Latin America, number one in cargo and number three in (number of) passengers,” Santos said.
Colombian trade isn’t only looking good for the U.S and the rest of the world because of the wealth of natural resources or human capital in Colombia, according to Santos — the timing is also opportune.
“We’re about to reach the end of the war process, the end…the cruelest armed conflict in western hemisphere,” Santos said.
Santos is meeting with President Barack Obama Thursday to most likely put in a last request for hundreds of millions in aid to cement the ceasefire with the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The group’s members have killed, kidnapped, tortured citizens and facilitated illegal drug distribution since 1964.
“This is the first time guerillas have accepted to go through with the justice system. That has never before been possible in any country of the world,” said Santos. “We’re putting an end to this terrorism and expanding opportunity.”
Human Rights Watch, an advocacy and research group, believes that Obama needs to press Santos to close gaps of “ambiguity, omissions, and loopholes…to ensure those most responsible for atrocities on both sides of the conflict” don’t escape the consequences, according to its news release.
Human Rights Watch’s biggest concern is ensuring that the Colombian government bring “false positive” cases to trial, which is not specified in the ceasefire agreement. False positives are killings of civilians as an attempt by soldiers to increase enemy combatant body counts.
The current plan also has ambiguities and loopholes that could lead to the FARC avoiding punishment, according to the human rights organization. It doesn’t guarantee that the panel which will try war and abuse crimes will be free from the corrupting influence of commanders in Colombia’s army, or the guerilla commanders. It is not clear that the convicted would have to go to prison or other detention locations, as the agreement only specifies that sentences are a maximum of eight years “under special conditions”.
On the economic front, the Plan Colombia, a 16-year peace strategy, already has brought in nearly $10 billion in U.S. foreign assistance to combat drug cartels and other insurgent groups like FARC. The country has been exhausted by fighting 50 years for peace, and Santos said, what post-war Colombia needs now is a boost to close the inequality gap.
Santos will use investments and boosted economic power to upgrade schools with the goal of making Colombia the best-educated Latin American country by 2025. Cuba currently holds that position, according to the World Bank.