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IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release No: 0191-08
March 11, 2008

Colombian Minister of Defense Visits Pentagon

            The Department of Defense announced that Colombian Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos visited with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates at the Pentagon today. Minister Santos provided an update on the Government of Colombia’s efforts to counter the decades-long FARC insurgency’s campaign of terror against Colombians.
 
            Secretary Gates said of the visit, “I am pleased to welcome Minister Santos back to Washington for the third time since early 2007.  We applaud the Government of Colombia for its success in rolling back the FARC’s narco-terrorism and making significant advances in protecting the safety of the Colombian people. To them we pledge our continued support.”
 
            During the meeting, both Secretary Gates and Minister Santos underscored the importance of moving forward with a free trade agreement between our two nations. As stated by President Bush, “the free trade agreement will show the Colombian people that democracy and free enterprise lead to a better life. It will help President Uribe counter the radical vision of those who are seeking to undermine democracy and create divisions within our hemisphere.”
 
            Secretary Gates noted that Colombia has made great progress against terrorism, drug trafficking and political violence this decade, and added that it has directly benefited the security of its neighbors throughout the hemisphere, including the United States. He remarked, “Colombia’s success can be credited to inspired leadership, national commitment, and the courage and professionalism of its armed forces, sustained in part by U.S. security assistance.”
 
            The Minister and Secretary agreed that Colombia needs to shoulder more of the financial burden itself, with its own resources, but will be unable to do so without a substantial boost to its economy.“A free trade agreement with the United States would lock in opportunities to create businesses and expand employment rolls, thus providing a tax base for the government to continue strengthening institutions that protect ordinary citizens,” Gates said.
 
            The meeting was closed as the two affirmed their solid commitments to working together in combating shared threats to the region posed by narco-terrorists.