WASHINGTON – Colombia’s foreign minister on Tuesday signed an accord allowing the return of the Peace Corps to the Andean nation after an absence of almost three decades.
Jaime Bermudez signed the pact with the director of the Peace Corps, Aaron S. Williams, at a ceremony at the Colombian Embassy in Washington.
The accord establishes the return of the organization to Colombia starting in the second half of 2010 with an initial group of 20 volunteers.
Created by President John F. Kennedy almost half a century ago, the Peace Corps operated in Colombia from 1961 to 1981, sending a total of more than 4,600 volunteer workers in the areas of nutrition, health care, agriculture, education and small business activities.
“This Peace Corps program will encourage Americans and Colombians to work side by side on Colombia’s education initiatives, with a focus on youth development in local communities,” Williams said.
In 2009, at the invitation of the Colombian government, the Peace Corps made an evaluation of the possibilities for resuming the program, taking into account the country’s social needs and the security conditions within its territory.
The U.S. ambassador to Bogota, William Brownfield, expressed in the communique that the return of the Peace Corps to Colombia “marks a sign of our deep, long-standing bonds and Colombia’s continued progress in delivering security to its people.”
“(T)he presence of Americans teaching English to Colombians promotes a better understanding of each other’s cultures and the democratic values we share. Improved English skills will, in turn, better Colombians’ economic and educational opportunities allowing them to compete in a globalized world,” the U.S. envoy said.
The first group of about 20 volunteers will arrive in Colombia in the fall or in the last quarter of this year, and they will work as English teachers in primary and secondary schools and at institutions for teacher training.
They will also work on community development initiatives all along Colombia’s northern coast.
Bermudez signed the accord within the framework of his official tour of the U.S. capital to participate in the 40th Washington Conference on the Americas.
The minister also will meet with the White House national security adviser, Gen. James Jones; Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee in the House of Representatives; and Dan Restrepo, an adviser to President Barack Obama on Latin American affairs. EFE