WASHINGTON – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday explained to members of the U.S. Congress the details of the modified peace accord reached with FARC guerrillas.
The 2016 Nobel Peace Prize recipient told reporters that he had had productive meetings with both Democratic and GOP lawmakers, including the chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee.
He said he acknowledged to the U.S. lawmakers that the revised accord was far better than the earlier deal that his government signed in late September with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, but which was narrowly rejected by voters in an Oct. 2 nationwide referendum.
The “no” campaign in the referendum was led by Santos’ hardline predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, who slammed the initial accord as too lenient on the rebels and presented the government with hundreds of proposed changes after it was voted down in the plebiscite.
Santos said the modified accord had received broad support, including from sectors such as Christian groups that had opposed the earlier deal.
He acknowledged, however, that Uribe’s Democratic Center party, had not yet weighed in on the new agreement, which was published online earlier this week.
The Colombian president said his administration hoped the U.S. legislators would soon approve President Obama’s request for $450 million in funds for the so-called “Paz Colombia” (Peace Colombia) post-conflict aid program.
Santos said one of the main concerns of legislators was the fight against illegal drug crops, an issue he said the agreement addressed with a “structural solution.”
Corker told reporters after meeting with Santos that his administration had achieved a stronger accord in talks with the FARC following the adverse referendum result, adding that Colombia would continue to have the support of the U.S. Congress and noting that Santos had already had a good conversation with President-elect Donald Trump last Friday.
The U.S. Congress has not yet passed legislation to fund the government through the end of the 2017 fiscal year, which ends next September. Funding for Colombia’s post-conflict stage is to be included in those spending bills.
During his stay in the United States, Santos also is scheduled to undergo new medical tests at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center in Baltimore after an examination this week in Colombia raised concerns about a possible cancer relapse.
The Colombian president underwent surgery in 2012 to remove his prostate after a cancerous growth was detected, saying afterward that he was completely cured.