Colombia’s ongoing peace talks with leftist rebels are a likely benefactor of the Obama administration’s new rapprochement with Cuba.
“There is more room to talk more openly,” said Luis Carlos Villegas, Colombia’s ambassador to the United States.
Cautioning that Colombia has no role in the direct talks between the United States and Cuba, Villegas told a small group of reporters at his residence Tuesday that the dialogue has spillover effects throughout the region. It removes a source of tension that has hung over the relations across the region.
“The defrosting of the relationship will let us talk more openly,” he said.
Colombia has been in peace talks since 2012 with two leftist guerrilla groups, the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces or FARC, and the National Liberation Army or ELN. The talks began after secret negotiations in Havana, and they resumed Monday in the Cuban capital after a year off.
Because of its support of the FARC, the United States in the 1980’s branded Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, a designation it maintains and President Barack Obama is widely expected to soon lift.
Cuba long ago disassociated itself from the FARC leadership, called on the group to abandon armed struggle and has tried to broker a lasting peace settlement. Cuba does still maintain influence over the smaller ELN.
The United States helped arm and fund successive Colombian governments and provided them with the technology and military support that decimated the FARC’s leadership structure over the past decade. Despite having the upper hand militarily, the Colombian government has not been able to fully reintegrate the conflict zones into its economy much less the global economy.
To that end, Villegas said it will be crucial for Washington and other developed nations to provide the funds and the support to help develop the former conflict zones, and create a system of justice and security in zones that for decades have known neither. The lack of such a plan decades ago in Central America’s armed conflicts led to today’s chaos and wide-scale emigration, he suggested.
“We’re paying for that mistake 25 years later,” Villegas insisted.
President Barack Obama’s proposed budget Monday held constant planned U.S. aid to Colombia, said the ambassador, noting that last year lawmakers added to the president’s request.
“I don’t discard that it could happen this year again,” he said.
Colombia stands to both benefit and lose under Washington’s planned restoration of ties with Cuba. If the United States lifts its half-century trade embargo on Cuba, it could attract investment and tourism dollars that would have gone Colombia’s way.
“We will see that,” Villegas said.
But if Cuba rejoins the ranks of free-market nations, the economic expansion would provide opportunities for Colombian companies, and regional tourism is likely to grow, benefiting Cuba and its Caribbean neighbors alike.