Florida’s Marco Rubio says he never pledged support for Colombia peace plan

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in the Capitol.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in the Capitol. AP

Two days after telling Latin American leaders that the United States should support continued aid to Colombia’s peace process, Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted Thursday that he has never “backed” the controversial Colombian peace deal, which has divided residents of that South America country – and apparently South Florida.

“Puzzled by this article. Speech never said I ‘backed’ the #Colombia peace deal. Said continued aid with conditions,” Rubio tweeted.

Rubio declined an interview request to clarify his tweet. The Florida Republican was responding to an article published in McClatchy’s Miami Herald and Nuevo Herald that detailed a speech he gave Tuesday at the U.S. State Department on the importance of U.S. engagement in the Western Hemisphere.

“For far too long we have neglected our partners in the region,” Rubio said then. “We need to build on deepening the ties we have with countries like Canada, Mexico, and Colombia.”

He went on to urge the United States to maintain its commitment to peace and prosperity in Colombia “by reassuring the Colombian people that the United States supports the implementation of Peace Colombia, but that it will be conditioned on full compliance of the agreement by the FARC.”

The speech couldn’t have come at a more sensitive time for Colombia. President Juan Manuel Santos is due to arrive in Washington next week to meet with President Donald Trump about the agreement, which is major issue as potential presidential candidates jockey for position among Colombians in both South America and Miami.

The Cuban-American Rubio, whose wife is of Colombian-descent, has come under heat for his seeming support for aid to the peace deal, which many saw as a rejection of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who opposes the peace agreement.

“Rubio’s endorsement made it clear he rejects the objections made by Uribe and his political allies, who had earlier been ignored by the UN Security Council while visiting Colombia,” Jack Norman wrote for the Medellin-based Colombia Reports website.

All of that is a result of U.S. engagement. Not U.S. disengagement.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Peace Colombia is the multimillion dollar U.S. aid package to help implement Colombia’s peace agreement that ended more than a half-century of bloody conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known as the FARC. Nearly every Colombian knows someone who has been personally affected by the war, which has killed thousands and displaced millions.

The agreement the Colombian government struck with the leftist rebels – with strong support from former President Barack Obama – however, is fraught with controversy.

Millions of Colombians can’t bear the idea of providing any concessions to a guerrilla group known for drug trafficking and kidnappings. A Colombian referendum on the agreement failed to win the support of the majority of Colombians, but Santos pushed a revised version through the Colombian Congress anyway.

Santos is expected to ask Trump to fulfill a $450 million promise made by Obama to support the peace deal. The money is in doubt as the Trump administration plans to slash foreign aid as part of 31 percent cut to the State Department’s budget. The Colombian government currently receives $358 million a year under the aid program.

Uribe has made several trips to Washington lobbying against Santos’ efforts, including arranging to briefly meet with Trump at Mar-a-Lago. He also sent a letter to the Trump administration and Congress warning that Santos’ efforts to complete a peace deal with the rebels could lead to Colombia becoming an authoritarian state similar to Venezuela.

Rubio has been critical of the peace process. He’d noted repeatedly that the FARC remains a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization and has argued that Congress shouldn’t commit any additional money to the Colombian government until the peace plan is approved by the Colombian people.

But on Monday, the Santos government thanked Rubio for his help securing U.S. funding for the next phase of U.S. support for Peace Colombia at a special ceremony at the Colombian ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C.

Eric Farnsworth vice president of the Washington-based Council of the Americas, which co-hosted the 47th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas where Rubio gave the keynote speech, said U.S. leaders have sought to do a delicate dance supporting peace efforts without getting bogged down in another country’s internal politics.

The visits from competing delegations of Colombians reminds him of the 1980s when Central American leaders fought their political battles in Washington.

“I don’t personally think that is a good thing,” Farnsworth said. “The politics of Colombia need to be worked out in Colombia.”

CORRECTION: This story has been revised to make clear that Rubio has not backed off his support for the Peace Colombia aid plan and has not supported the peace agreement struck between the Colombian government and leftist rebels. The headline also has been revised to better reflect Rubio’s position on the peace deal itself.