- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Obama administration is poised to announced a major new aid proposal for Colombia in a bid to back the South American nation’s push for a final peace accord with leftist FARC rebels after more than a generation of civil war.

The White House has so far offered few details, but the proposal is expected to coincide Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ visit to Washington this week, and officials say it will build off the success of “Plan Colombia,” first launched under President Clinton, which has seen some $10 billion in security-related aid channeled to Bogota since 2000.

The new U.S. support plan also comes ahead of the March 23 target date for a major disarmament deal between the Colombian government and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC — the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

“Having helped Colombia create the conditions for a peace accord, the United States must now help Colombia seize the enormous promise that peace affords,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry wrote in an op-ed published by the Miami Herald over the weekend.

While he asserted that “Colombians themselves will bear most of the cost,” Mr. Kerry revealed that the Obama administration will “soon present to Congress a successor strategy” to Plan Colombia.

The strategy, the secretary of state wrote, will center on “further enhancing security gains, cracking down on trade in illegal drugs, and providing the means for redress and recovery in areas vacated by the FARC.”

The FARC, originally founded as a Marxist peasant insurgency in Colombia, is believed to control some 60 percent of the nation’s illicit cocaine trade and concerns are high the group won’t relinquish its main source of income under the peace deal.

Mr. Santos, who is slated to meet with President Obama Thursday, will likely press for increased U.S. funding for programs aimed at fostering development and combating drug violence and organized crime in rural parts of the country presently under FARC control.

Politico reported Monday that the Colombian president is expected to ask for hundreds of millions of dollars in new U.S. aid — a proposal likely to be scrutinized by human rights groups wary of the impending deal with the FARC, as well as by fiscal hawks worried about U.S. commitments overseas and some lawmakers unhappy with Cuba’s role in the deal.

Havana has been seen as essential to the peace talks, and the Obama administration has suggested recent breakthroughs toward a final deal are linked to Mr. Obama’s own pursuit of a diplomatic detente with the leftist Castro regime in Cuba, which long backed the FARC.

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