U.S., Colombian Presidents Outline Summit Successes
By Charlene Porter,
IIP Staff Writer,
April 16, 2012
The United States and Colombia have signed a free-trade agreement that will become effective in May, resolving the final details of the deal as President Obama visited Cartagena, Colombia, for the Summit of the Americas.
Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the agreement in a late-day news conference April 15. Santos said it is the achievement of a long-sought goal.
“Since I was a minister of commerce 20 years ago, we were dreaming of having free trade with the U.S., and this has become a reality today, here in Cartagena,” Santos said.
“It’s a win for the United States by increasing our exports by more than $1 billion, supporting thousands of U.S. jobs and helping to achieve my goal of doubling U.S. exports,” Obama said. “It’s a win for Colombia by giving you even greater access to the largest market for your exports — the United States of America.”
Providing greater support for Central American nations battling drug trafficking rings is another achievement of the April 14–15 meeting noted by the two presidents. “Today, President Santos and I agreed that our two countries will work together to support our partners in Central America as they pursue a regional strategy to improve the security of their citizens,” Obama said.
Santos said Colombia is obligated to lend its expertise in counter trafficking to other nations — expertise that was gained in part through U.S. financial assistance.
Obama said Colombia’s action on this issue represents its emergence as a leader in the region: “Colombia has shared its expertise in security by training police officers in countries from Latin America to Afghanistan.”
Winning multinational support for a plan to increase access to electrification for some 31 million people in South America who do not have it was cited as another achievement of the meeting. Colombia proposed a plan called Connecting the Americas 2022, and other Western Hemisphere nations are supporting the initiative. Expanded electrification is considered an opportunity for greater economic growth and the creation of better jobs.
President Obama proposed a Broadband Partnership of the Americas to bring fast Internet access to more areas, particularly rural areas. Such an initiative will ensure that “no one is left behind in the digital age,” he said.
At the closing briefing, Obama and Santos also announced that the United States will extend the term of U.S. travel visas issued to Colombian citizens from the current five years to 10 years.
“This will make it easier for more Colombians to visit and experience the United States,” Obama said, “and this is one more very tangible example of Colombia’s transformation and the transformation in the relationship between our two countries.”
Colombia’s transformation in overcoming drug cartels and a terrorist insurgency served as a recurring theme through the days of the summit. Those dual challenges so plagued the nation that it was on the verge of being considered a “failed state” in the mid-1990s. Colombia’s emergence from that troubled period is considered an example for other nations undergoing similar challenges.
Latin Americans made note of the fact that Obama is the first U.S. president to make a visit to the region lasting several days. Asked about that in the news conference, Obama said Colombia’s progress is among the factors that allowed him to commit to the journey.
“This represents my confidence in the security of Colombia and the progress that’s been made,” Obama said. “It represents my confidence in President Santos and the work that we’ve done together, as a culmination of the efforts that we began when we first met a couple of years ago.”
Since then-President Bill Clinton convened the first Summit of the Americas in 1994, two issues have been perennial points of friction between Latin American nations and the United States: how to address the flow of illicit drugs between North and South America, and how to treat Cuba.
The United States maintains that Cuba can’t participate in the summit because it is not a democratic nation, as required in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a document adopted at the third Summit of the Americas in 2001 in Chile. Other Latin American nations, with closer ties of blood and culture, want Cuba to be invited to the summit meetings.
Questioned about these opposing points of view, Obama said his administration has taken strides to open doors to Cuba, liberalizing policies on family remittances and travel. But he still needs to see greater progress in Cuba’s policies on human rights.
“We recognize that there may be an opportunity in the coming years, as Cuba begins to look at where it needs to go in order to give its people the kind of prosperity and opportunity that it needs, that it starts loosening up some of the constraints within that country,” said Obama. “And that’s something that we will welcome.”
Santos saw greater candor in the Inter-American Dialogue at the 2012 summit, and he calls that progress. “Summits such as these, where 33 countries participate, each one bringing to the table their own interest, each one bringing their own prism through which they look at things,” Santos told reporters. “But the positive thing is that we discuss these issues candidly and productively — a number of issues that were not even on the table before.”
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- White House Fact Sheet on U.S. Engagement with the Americas
- President Obama at CEO Summit of the Americas