Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said he will urge U.S. President Barack Obama to support a regional strategy for curbing drug violence even as his country anticipates the beginning of the end of 40 years of war drug-funded FARC guerrillas.
Santos, who meets with Obama today for the first time since taking office Aug. 7, told investors and business leaders in New York last night that the killing of the rebel commander known by his alias Mono Jojoy by Colombian forces this week is going to change our history.
It’s as if I came here and told New Yorkers that Osama bin Laden had been struck down, Santos said about the rebel leader’s death. This is the beginning of the end of 40 years of war in Colombia.
Santos, a former defense minister, has pledged to continue former President Alvaro Uribe’s policies aimed at ending violence by the FARC and other drug-funded groups.
Colombia’s armed forces killed the rebel leader in an air and ground assault in central Meta province, a stronghold of the insurgency since its inception as a peasant militia in 1964.
We are winning but we haven’t won yet, Santos, 59, said in New York this morning at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Kidnapping and homicides related to the South American nation’s drug trade have fallen 92 percent and 45 percent respectively since 2002, partly as a result of more than $7 billion in U.S. anti-narcotics and counterinsurgency aid.
Colombia is the world’s largest supplier of cocaine, responsible for 80 percent of the drug consumed in the U.S.
Even as violence falls in Colombia, it’s been pushed further into drug transit countries like Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, Santos said last night.
We consider ourselves, as we have mentioned a great many times, a strategic ally of the U.S., Santos said.
Santos, a former finance and trade minister, also vowed to appeal to Obama to adopt a free-trade accord signed by Uribe and President George W. Bush. Obama hasn’t sent the accord to Congress for approval because of objections from human rights and labor groups.
Colombia is on a path of change from a failed state a decade ago, enabling the government to change its agenda from focusing on security to other priorities, Santos said.
The difference between Colombia 10 years ago and Colombia today is a difference of 180 degrees, he said.
With U.S. leaders, we don’t have to discuss drug trafficking and violence and kidnappings and the traditional topics that we were used to, he said.
Now we’re sitting down as I did with the European countries with the rest of Latin America talking about social development, human rights, the environment and how to grow at higher rate, how to give our people a better well being.
Obama, who is scheduled to meet with Santos this afternoon in New York, will congratulate the Colombian leader for the military operation against Jojoy, said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
It’s obviously an extraordinary achievement for the Colombian government that demonstrates the success of their efforts over many years, and at great sacrifice, to expand security in Colombia and to combat the FARC, Rhodes said at a briefing yesterday.
It also demonstrates, again, the importance of our close security cooperation.
September 24, 2010,
By Ben Bain and Camila Russo