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Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Trip to Bogota, Colombia, July 28-30, 2013

July 31, 2013

Our goals for this visit to Colombia were: a) to recognize Colombia as the first country to be certified by the World Health Organization as free of onchocerciasis, or river blindness; b) to receive a briefing from President Santos about peace talks with the FARC; c) to explore a role for The Carter Center in helping to evolve a national human rights policy for the post-conflict era; d) to launch a mental health journalism fellowship program; and e) to ascertain whether to join in a project to develop a national human rights policy.

The Carter Center has been engaged in eliminating onchocerciasis in this hemisphere for almost 20 years, and transmission of the disease has also been interrupted in Ecuador, Mexico, and Guatemala. There is one small tribe of Yanomami Indians on the Venezuela-Brazil border that still requires treatment, and we are seeking cooperation between the two governments to permit access to the remote area by helicopter.

President Santos joined me and many other officials in an exciting and emotional ceremony during which the WHO certificate was awarded to Colombia. This achievement was quite significant because it provided the first proof that onchocerciasis could be eliminated instead of just controlled by annual treatments. The Carter Center has now adopted this policy of elimination in Africa, where the disease is much more prevalent, with an estimated 120 million people at risk.

The heroic effort to negotiate a peace agreement with the FARC rebels after several decades of internecine warfare is going well with one of the negotiating phases complete: the distribution of land. There are vast areas of largely unused land in eastern and northern regions. The current phase of negotiation in Havana, Cuba, deals with how the rebels (once disarmed and peaceful) can be incorporated into society, with rights to vote and even to run for public office. Future issues will be equally difficult to resolve, both for the negotiators and also for the general public to accept. Santos is constantly criticized by his predecessor and other political opponents. We at The Carter Center give him as much private and public support as possible.

We also discussed the ongoing debate about how best to reform the existing ineffective and often counterproductive effort to control the global drug trade. Its associated crime wave is growing, and there is excessive imprisonment of people who need treatment.

I joined Rosalynn for a meeting with top officials of La Universidad de la Sabana and the new group of journalists who will be Carter Center fellows. There have been about 150 professional journalists from the United States, Australia, South Africa, and Hungary who have learned to report more accurately about events and issues that concern people with mental illness.

We had informative meetings with a group of human rights leaders and a group of private sector and media leaders. All are committed to peace and making Colombia safe and productive for all members of society.

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