July 16, 2014 - Issue: Vol. 160, No. 111 — Daily Edition113th Congress (2013 - 2014) - 2nd Session
COLOMBIA; Congressional Record Vol. 160, No. 111
(Senate - July 16, 2014)
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[Pages S4546-S4547] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] COLOMBIA Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, on June 15, 2014, President Juan Manuel Santos was elected to a second term as Colombia's President. This is not only a tribute to President Santos, who had staked his presidency on a courageous and risky peace initiative with the FARC who have waged a 30-year guerrilla war against the government, but also to the Colombian people. There was every reason to believe that if President Santos' opponent, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, had won the election the peace negotiations would have been abandoned. Mr. Zuluaga had the strong backing of former President Uribe, whose aggressive leadership style and emphasis on security contributed to significant battlefield advances against the FARC, but his administration was plagued by scandal and human rights abuses. He has been a vociferous critic of President Santos and the peace negotiations. Instead, the Colombian people wisely recognized that the path to a more prosperous, secure country is through a peace process that addresses the underlying causes of the armed conflict, not an open-ended civil war fueled by cocaine that has already claimed countless innocent lives, uprooted millions of people, and impeded foreign investment. I know from my own conversations with Members of Congress that President Santos has the support of people here of both parties. Since 2000, the Congress has supported billions of dollars in aid for social and economic development, counternarcotics, military, and humanitarian programs in Colombia. While there have been disagreements in some areas, particularly the slow pace of Colombia's justice system in holding accountable members of the security forces and paramilitaries who have been implicated in massacres of civilians and other human rights crimes, our support for Colombia has remained strong. Colombia's greatest resource is its remarkable people. It is no wonder that Colombia, despite its many challenges, has remained a vibrant democracy while the governments of neighboring Venezuela and Ecuador have been dominated by messianic leaders who have systematically dismantled the institutions of democracy and a free press. But another of Colombia's unique features is its biological and cultural diversity. The country is not only home to more species of flora and fauna than practically any other country in the world, it is also inhabited by a multitude of indigenous groups who speak many languages and live in various stages of isolation. Many of us have visited Cartagena and Bogota, but I suspect few people here are aware that Colombia boasts one of the hemisphere's most extensive systems of national parks. They range from Caribbean islands and coral reefs, to glacier-covered mountain peaks, semi-arid desert, and tropical rainforest with dramatic rock outcroppings and cascading waterfalls. The variety of Colombia's species of birds alone dwarfs that of most countries. I mention this to pay tribute to President Santos who has been a strong supporter of Colombia's national parks and indigenous reserves, [[Page S4547]] and Julia Miranda who has ably led the National Park Service with tireless energy and unwavering commitment for a decade. I also want to commend President Santos for his decision last week to protect the Estrella Fluvial de Infrida under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. This is one of the most important reserves of fresh water in the world, covering an area larger than Florida's Everglades. It is home to 415 of Colombia's bird species and 470 fish species, so this designation will play a crucial role in protecting Colombia's biodiversity for future generations. Coupled with last year's doubling in size of the extraordinary Chiribiquete National Park, these steps to protect Colombia's natural environment will be even more important if a peace agreement is signed that ushers in a period of greater security. While Colombia's oil and coal reserves are finite and their extraction can cause lasting social and environmental harm, Colombia's national parks offer limitless eco- tourism potential that over the long term can bring far greater benefits to the country. ____________________