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Rubio: U.S.-Colombia partnership should be strengthened

During my recent visit to Colombia, I was often asked what the new Republican majorities in Congress mean for the future of the U.S.-Colombia alliance. The simple answer is that the American people remain as supportive as ever of the Colombian people's aspirations to build a safer and more prosperous republic after a half century of armed conflict against violent narco-terrorist groups. This new Congress should now re-invigorate the U.S.-Colombia partnership at a time when recent security and economic gains have brought the promise of a lasting peace within reach.

This must happen in four key areas:

First, we must help expand Colombia’s leadership role in Western Hemisphere affairs. With U.S. support, the Colombian people have authored an inspiring success story that proves what can be achieved by countries that commit to democratic governance, free enterprise, and defeating terrorist and narco-trafficking organizations that threaten their people. Colombia is now looked to for training for federal police forces from many countries in Central and South America, including the northern triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that are currently under siege from drug cartel violence. Colombia's success against the FARC, an entrenched counterinsurgency, is a global model for all nations that face similar threats. As Colombia cements recent security gains, Colombian forces can be deployed to support peace keeping efforts and advise other nations looking for help protecting their people.

But the U.S. must not only hold up Colombia as a model; we must also work together to promote and defend democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere while challenging provocative actions in the region by others who do not share our values. Unfortunately, the recent trend in Latin America has been against democratic expansion and free market economics, with the consequence being the disenfranchisement of millions, imprisoned political opposition leaders and obstacles to the development of prosperous middle class societies throughout the region. This, coupled with a lack of U.S. leadership in the Western Hemisphere, has created a vacuum our adversaries have eagerly exploited.

Because of Colombia's rise, the U.S. does not have to stand alone in addressing these and other threats throughout the Western Hemisphere. However, we cannot take this partnership for granted; we must nurture and mobilize it toward a common purpose of peace and prosperity.

Second, we must build on the success of Plan Colombia, one of history’s most successful counter-insurgency programs.

Third, the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement that finally passed in 2011 was a major step to boost both of our economies. To fully capitalize on the economic potential of our relationship, we need to ensure its implementation gives businesses on both sides the confidence to invest in each other. We must also work together on regional energy initiatives. And the U.S. must engage our Pacific allies to create pathways for Colombia to eventually join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will eventually help us achieve a hemisphere-wide free trade area.

Fourth, we must never forget the human suffering that exists in Colombia because of criminal enterprises that rely on modern day slavery for funding. In spite of the Colombian government's efforts, human trafficking remains too prevalent there, primarily manifesting itself through exploited kids in the child sex tourism industry. We need to work with Colombian law enforcement to crack down on U.S. citizens that are traveling to Colombia solely to exploit vulnerable Colombian children.

In addition to our work in these four areas, one thing that must never be overlooked is the need for U.S. leadership to, once again, put some heart into our alliance with Colombia.

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