Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited U.S. Southern Command here April 25 to thank the command’s personnel for their steadfast support to his country’s security efforts.
During the visit, Santos presented Southcom with his country’s Orden de San Carlos (Order of San Carlos) Medal for the command’s unwavering support for Colombia’s peace and security throughout the years.
The Colombian government established the decoration in 1954 to recognize civilian and military recipients of Colombian and foreign nationality for “distinguished service to the nation, especially in the area of international relations.”
Santos praised the strong cooperation and joint efforts between Colombia and the U.S., particularly through Southcom. Colombia is and will remain the strongest U.S. strategic partner in the region, he said.
Santos’ administration has implemented a national strategy aimed at ending more than 50 years of internal conflict, disrupting transnational criminal groups operating within its borders, and improving the safety and quality of life of its people.
The Colombian president reached a landmark peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Plan Colombia, and now Peace Colombia, were crafted by Colombia’s democratic leaders, carried out by its security forces and financed primarily by its citizens with assistance from democratic and defense partners like the U.S.
Since 2000, the U.S. invested significant funding to support Colombia’s security efforts, including military assistance from Southcom, which changed over time as Colombia’s internal security improved and its requests for assistance from the command decreased.
In August, while testifying before a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, William Brownfield, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, who served as U.S. ambassador to Colombia from 2007-2010, summarized how Colombia’s strategies have improved its security climate.
“In 2016, Colombia had its lowest reported homicide rate in 40 years,” Brownfield told the committee.
The world witnessed one of the country’s security successes July 2, 2008, when Santos was Colombia’s defense minister. On that date, the Colombian armed forces carried out a daring rescue of more than a dozen hostages kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group, among them three U.S. citizens. The FARC held the three U.S. defense contractors captive for 1,967 days, after an aerial mission the former hostages were conducting to help Colombian security forces detect cocaine crops ended when their aircraft crash-landed in an area controlled by their captors.
Santos last visited Southcom in 2007, after assuming duties as defense minister, to discuss U.S.-Colombia defense cooperation, Southcom support for Colombia’s security strategies and bilateral cooperation to secure the safe rescue or release of the three U.S. citizens held hostage by the FARC.
Helping Colombia Fight Drug Cartels, Insurgents
Colombia launched Plan Colombia, the U.S. initiative to help Colombia battle drug cartels and insurgent groups, almost two decades ago. Southcom provided assistance to Colombia’s armed forces during Plan Colombia included equipment, training and information sharing.
Over time, U.S. military assistance to Colombia has transitioned based on requests, with the earliest assistance aimed at bolstering critical operational capabilities, such as combat lifesaver and joint planning skills. More recent assistance has included training for Colombian military instructors who’ll support demining missions or support for Colombian military helicopter units seeking to improve their fleet logistics and sustainment capacity.”
Southcom is one of the nation’s six geographically-focused unified commands with responsibility for U.S. military operations in the Caribbean, Central America and South America.