Background Briefing Previewing Secretary Kerry's Travel to Cartagena

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesperson
Senior State Department Official
Via Teleconference
September 22, 2016


MODERATOR: Great. Thank you so much, Kerry, and thank you all for joining us. It’s a pleasure today to be joined by our senior State Department official who will be previewing the Secretary’s travel. For the purposes of this call, not for reporting, our senior State Department official is [name and title withheld]. I’d like to note that this call will be embargoed until 12:00 noon on Sunday.

And with this, I turn it over to our senior State Department official. Go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. I’ll just make some brief opening remarks and then turn this open to questions.

As has been noted, this is a transformational event for Colombia, for the hemisphere, and I think for the international community. President Obama said it was one of the most important achievements during his presidency. It spells the end of the longest-running war in Latin America. It’s also the final chapter in the Cold War, as it’s the end of the last full-blown guerilla warfare inspired originally by Cuban and Soviet ideology against democratic institutions in this hemisphere.

And I would note as well, at a time when it’s conventional wisdom that we are so divided in partisan politics in the United States that we cannot find common ground, that our U.S. policy toward Colombia has had strong bipartisan support over the last 20 years starting with Plan Colombia, which was enacted by a Democratic president and a Republican Congress. And the conventional wisdom also would suggest that the international community is hopelessly divided over many crises and violent activities, but once again, the peace process in Colombia has earned and gained from the unanimous support of the international community the resolutions adopted by the Security Council this past week, and earlier this year were done so unanimously.

So – and finally, I think it’s important to note that the peace agreement that the President Santos and his team negotiated with the FARC, it’s about far more than just giving up weapons of war, as important as that is. It really includes a major transformation of Colombia itself, it includes a far-reaching commitment to bring government services, security, police, education, health, roads, economic development to the vast stretches of the interior that have been left out of national life. It’s a commitment to work with farmers to get land titles and credit and transportation networks to allow them to grow and prosper from legal crops, rather than cocoa leaf production. It includes a pioneering effort at transitional justice, which will provide justice to victims and allow for this conflict to be resolved and hopefully to reconciliation.

And it includes a large new security commitment by the government to take down the organized criminal gangs called BACRIM, some of which are successors to paramilitaries that have – and a few of them (inaudible) illicit activity and represent a security threat not just to the mobilized combatants of the FARC, but to the country itself.

President Santos asked both President Obama and Secretary Kerry to increase U.S. engagement in the process in 2014 and 2015. They responded by naming a special envoy, who participated in the talks and worked with both parties, to try to find common ground and bridge differences. We’re proud of the role we played, but the real tribute goes to President Santos and his team. He’s shown enormous political and moral courage, persevering through four and a half years of negotiations. And we respect his decision, as well, to submit the final agreement to a plebiscite of the Colombian people. That is not required by Colombian law or by Colombia’s constitution, but the president made it clear that he thought all Colombians should ultimately decide whether this agreement will be ratified. We obviously are not participants in that internal debate. That’s a debate among Colombians. But we are very gratified to see the negotiations having culminated in a agreement that all sides support, that the United Nations is helping to oversee and implement.

And we are hopeful about Colombia’s future and the prospects peace will bring. We think Colombia is already a great magnet for investments because of the way its economy has been managed so successfully over so many years, but this will obviously increase Colombia’s attractiveness for foreign investment, the efforts to develop the rural economy, to rid the country of land mines, or put lots of land into productive use for the first time. So we think this is a great opportunity for Colombia and we’re proud to have played a role in helping Colombians achieve this victory.

So I’m happy to take questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Senior State Department Official. With that, we’ll go to your questions. Kerry, can you go to our first question?

OPERATOR: Sure. Ladies and gentlemen, if you’d like to ask a question, please press * then 1 on your touchtone phone. And if you are using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Again, *1 if you’d like to ask a question.

Again, if anyone would like to ask a question or share a comment, please press *1 at this time.

MODERATOR: Okay. If we have no questions, then we are very pleased that you were able to join us, and we’d like to thank our senior State Department official for providing context for the Secretary’s travel and the background on this very important day. As a reminder, again, this call is embargoed until 12:00 noon on Sunday. And again, the call is on background, Senior State Department Official.

And with that, thanks to everyone and have a safe trip.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you.

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