Colombia's peace deal could cost $44.4 billion over 10 years; Obama offers U.S. support

Soldiers board a helicopter in Guerima, in the eastern province of Vichada, Colombia, Wednesday March 9, 2011.  (AP Photo/William Fernando Martinez)

Soldiers board a helicopter in Guerima, in the eastern province of Vichada, Colombia, Wednesday March 9, 2011. (AP Photo/William Fernando Martinez)

A peace deal that would end the bloody 50-plus year conflict between Colombian forces and left-wing guerrillas could cost at the South America country’s government a minimum of $44 billion, a Colombian politician said earlier this week – adding that this cost is still far less than how much they are spending on the current war.

Senator Roy Barreras, president of the Colombian Congress's peace commission, gave the first estimate of the cost of a peace accord to end the conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and said that the money would be used to finance reintegration programs for former rebels, victim compensation, the return of displaced populations and land reform.

“The minimum cost for the next 10 years is estimated at 90 trillion pesos,” Barreras said, according to Reuters. “There will need to be adjustments, modifications, and we need budget reform, a structural tax reform for peace.”

Converted to U.S. currently, that would cost about $44.4 billion.

Barreras said the government in Bogotá will have to implement a number of structural reforms to make sure there is sufficient funding for such post-conflict programs and added that the government needs to re-evaluate spending and taxation.

The price tag for the peace deal has gained backing from newly re-elected Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, whose administration is asking Colombian legislators to approve a tax reform package to raise an additional $26 billion between 2015 and 2018. Santos’ backing coalition holds the majority of seats in the country’s Congress, making approval of the tax reform package likely.

“Peace may cost 9 trillion each year, that's to say that with one year of war we pay for peace and from there on out Colombia will keep growing without the burden of the conflict,” Santos said.

During a phone call on Wednesday, the current peace talks between Colombia and FARC rebels in Havana got the support of U.S. President Barack Obama.

“The President underscored continued strong U.S. support for the work done so far by the Colombian government to bring an end to the longest running conflict in the Americas and expressed U.S. readiness to work closely with Colombia during the post-conflict period,” Obama told Santos over the phone, according to a statement released by the White House.

Santos himself seemed upbeat following his talk with Obama and pleased the U.S. offered its support as the peace process moves forward.

"I explained the progress (negotiation), explained the challenges ahead and something very important, I want to publicly thank him, he reiterated his full support to the Peace Process," Santos said.

Both the Colombian government and the FARC have made some headway by promoting an agrarian forum in Bogotá; setting up a website that has elicited more than 2,000 proposals for citizen participation in the peace process; and receiving thousands more ideas collected from Colombians by lawmakers back home.

The Colombian government and the FARC are looking for points of agreement upon which to build a peace accord in their talks in Havana.

Formed in the 1960s, the FARC is believed to have about 9,000 members and is the oldest active guerrilla army in the Western Hemisphere.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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