Remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies Colombia Conference

James B. Steinberg
Deputy Secretary of State
Washington, DC
June 13, 2011

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, thanks, Mack, for that exceedingly generous introduction. I’m touched, and it means a lot coming from you because of all that you’ve done for your country and especially on Latin America. And the ambassador and to so many good friends, current and former colleagues in the audience and in and out government, it’s a really pleasure for me to be here. I was telling Lourdes on the way over, this could be my last speech as Deputy Secretary. I’ve only got about two weeks to go. And I was particularly eager to do it, frankly, for the reasons that Mack outlined because it has been an especial privilege for me to come back into government and continue the work that was begun in my last time in government under the Clinton Administration and to see both the enormous progress that was made and the realization of the vision we had back in the late 1990s and to be able to be a small part of carrying that work forward to a new height.

And it has, in every respect, been gratifying because, as Mack said, first, it is a wonderful case study in successful policymaking, which makes it useful for me going back to academic life to have a case study of – of a success story rather than what went wrong, which is the kind of standard case study, but also because it really does reflect an incredibly broad set of actors in both countries working together over an extended period of time, and it really does demonstrate that if you’re going to be successful in policy, you have to establish a broad base of support not just among policymakers, but among publics. And I think that has been a key feature of why this policy has been so successful – the strong commitment of both the American people and the Colombian people as well as the political and government leaders.

And it has been in the last two and a half years, really, just a tremendous opportunity to work with the two administrations in Colombia and now with President Santos, Foreign Minister Holguin, and the ambassador to take this forward. Over the two and a half years since I’ve been a deputy secretary, I’ve had the privilege of making this an important part of my job. I’ve made two trips to Colombia since becoming deputy secretary, and on my last trip, I had a chance to launch the high-level partnership dialogue and just a few weeks ago, host the second meeting of the high-level partnership dialogue here in Washington. So – and we’ve seen in very concrete terms and ways that I’ll outline in a minute just how much has been done.

But I also think it’s important to just remember how far we have come. When I came into government and not that long ago, people were – some quarters were talking about Colombia as a near- or potentially failed state. And yet today, Colombia is the fourth largest recipient of foreign direct investment in Latin America behind Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. And along with tremendous economic growth and the achievements on the security front, we have now seen a movement to an even more broad-based strategy – the democratic prosperity agenda that makes sure that not only will Colombia and Colombians be secure and that the country will be prosperous, but all of the people in Colombian society will share in these great achievements.

It’s true; you can talk about statistics, and statistics are really important. You can just think, for example, that since 2002, terrorist attacks are down 77 percent, homicide is down 56 percent, and kidnapping is down 92 percent. But what’s even more important – and I know many of you in the audience know – is the palpable sense of a future and security that so many people have. The work has not ended, but the sense of optimism, the sense that Colombia can not only survive, but thrive is really critical. And these most recent presidential elections, I think, are a strong reflection of the great democratic tradition of Colombia and the strength of the democratic commitment of Colombian society. This is a model that serves as an exemplar all through the region and around the world that people can look to as an example of societies that come together to vindicate that democratic objective.

And since the election of President Santos, you can see what a remarkable step forward that has been taken and the broad-based commitment of President Santos and his administration. In just a short period of time, we have seen the recently enacted land restitution and victims reparation law addressing the foundational causes of conflict within Colombia and assisting hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and other vulnerable populations recover land, which is both an important political achievement, but also a strong commitment of resources. He’s begun to heal the breach between the executive branch and the legislative branch and strengthening the independent prosecutor’s office as well as moving forward on a host of human rights cases. He’s working to strengthen relations with civil society, working with Vice President Garzon to build a sense of trust between civil society and the government rather than a sense of conflict and adversarialism.

And President Santos and his administration, led by the foreign minister, have made improving relations with their neighbors a priority, which is paying dividends already, including, as we’ve seen, the extradition to Colombia of important narco-traffickers. And the continued work that the Santos administration is doing at going after the FARC network and its key leaders, with the recent successful operations, is just a further example of the broad-based effort to deal with the full range of challenges.

And we in the United States are honored to partner with Colombia across this full set of issues. And to make sure that it is not a one-dimensional relationship, we instituted the High-Level Partnership Dialogue to broaden and strengthen the range of our engagements. And if you look at the topics that we have established as our formalized working groups, science and technology , energy, environmental protection and climate change, culture and education, social and economic opportunities, and of course, the very important set of issues around democracy, human rights, and good governance.

And at our last meeting, we had more than 60 Colombian Government officials, including Vice President Garzon, Foreign Minister Holguin, and many other cabinet and sub-cabinet officials, who met with more than 120 U.S. Government representatives from more than 19 agencies. And this is more than a talk shop. As the Vice President and I agreed at the very first meeting of our group, the Human Rights Working Group, we’re focused on concrete agenda, concrete results, to demonstrate to our people in both countries that this is a partnership that delivers the goods.

So, for instance, on the human rights side, we agreed to jointly track certain key human rights cases on a monthly basis and to identify obstacles and better direct our assistance to Colombia. And we on the United States side reiterated our support to help build the fiscalia and make sure that we can continue the important work that’s taking place there.

On energy, a topic close to Mack’s heart, we reviewed existing partnerships in renewable and fossil fuel energy, as well as exploring additional avenues of collaboration in regional electrical interconnection, shale gas, and mining.

And Colombia will soon host the first plenary meeting for the Action Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality, a plan – a commitment that we jointly signed during my first visit to Colombia.

Beyond these efforts, we are supporting Colombia’s aspirations to become a member of the OECD. And in these HLPD meetings, we also agreed to enhance cultural and educational cooperation in Colombia and encourage economic and social opportunities for Afro descendents and indigenous communities, which are such an important part of the fabric of Colombian society.

And together, we’re working on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UNFCCC, including implementing the Cancun outcome and looking forward to working together at the next meeting in Durban, South Africa.

Now, having said that we broadened the partnership to all these issues, we continue to recognize that we can’t neglect the issue of drug trafficking on both the supply and the demand side and the impact that it has on all our societies. And so while we have not achieved all of our counternarcotics goals, our cooperation together has helped Colombia become more stable, denied millions of dollars in illegal drug revenues to the FARC, and reduced the amount of pure cocaine capable of being produced in Colombia by 59 percent, from 700 metric tons in 2001 to 290 metric tons in 2009, which has had a positive impact here on our society. And we must continue, and Secretary Clinton has made clear that we take responsibility for continuing to do our side of the business, which is dealing with the problem of drug demand.

Now, this is – I’ve talked so far primarily about our work together on bilateral issues and helping to strengthen Colombia’s security, economic prosperity, and inclusivity. But what has been especially rewarding for me is to see the growing role that Colombia is playing on the regional and international stage. As we like to say in our business, Colombia has gone from being a consumer of security to a provider of security and support for others who face even greater challenges.

Today, Colombia sits on the UN Security Council, trains police to help other nations meet their law enforcement challenges, and is playing a leading role, now successfully, in bringing Honduras back into the Inter-American system. And I think that is, as we’ve taken examples from our collective and successful work together, Colombia continues to help others deal with these challenges. So, for example, the institutional capability in counternarcotics built in Colombia over the last decade has allowed Colombia to share its security expertise with others. Over the last two years, Colombia has trained more than

9,000 police from 18 Latin American and three West African states. It’s trained hundreds of Mexican investigators and dozens of Mexican helicopter pilots. It’s offered similar assistance to its Central American neighbors, who are deeply affected by transnational crime and drug trafficking.

Now, of course, as Mack previewed, I wouldn’t want to end my discussion here without touching on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, which will open new markets and create new jobs and opportunities for both of our peoples. We’ve been impressed by the level of commitment and, more importantly, by the quick action by the Colombian Government to address labor-related concerns. In April, the U.S. and Colombian governments agreed to an ambitious and comprehensive action plan that includes major, swift, and concrete steps that the Colombian Government has agreed to take to address outstanding labor concerns, in addition to the good work it is doing on the human rights front.

The action plan contains several milestones, including 20 milestones due by April 22nd, which the Colombian Government needed to accomplish for the Administration to initiate technical discussions with the Congress. On May 4th, we finished our review of those accomplishments and announced that we were ready to move forward to the next stage in the process. Specific improvements that have already occurred under the action plan include expanded eligibility for Colombia’s protection program to include not only labor leaders but also rank and file activists and those seeking to form a union. Over 95 judicial police investigators have been assigned exclusively to pursuing cases of labor violence, with early identification of any union affiliation now mandatory. And ahead of schedule, Colombia enacted legislation to move up the effective date of new penalties for abuse of cooperatives, which try toevade worker protections.

And I’m pleased to see that there’s been strong support, not only here in the United States but in Colombia, for the Action Plan. According to Julio Roberto Gómez, the secretary general of the Confederación General del Trabajo, it is, in his words, “Positive that President Santos has put forth an agreement that includes issues such as freedom of association, human rights, and guarantees for workers as they are related to the FTA.” Or as José Luciano Sanín, director of the – general of the Escuela Nacional Sindical, has observed, “We are witnessing a moment that we have not had in at least 20 years. After the 1991 constitution this would be our most important agenda for the labor movement.”

All of these steps are a strong indication of Colombia’s commitment to working to address the issues that the Administration and others have identified. Now, of course, there’s still more work to be done under the action plan, including several items that we’ve agreed to see completed before June 15th. We are confident and optimistic about the steps that Colombia will take, and allow us to move our own process forward to pass the FTA this year, as the Secretary has said.

This is really a set of remarkable achievements. Just think, in the last two weeks, separate from commitments under the Action Plan, the Colombian Government has engineered a breakthrough protection agreement with the teachers union; moved forward on a decree for collective bargaining for the public sector; concluded a tripartite agreement signed by the country’s second-largest labor federation, itself, and business; achieved the first convictions in a controversial, so-called Soacha false positives murder case; and seen Colombians elected to the administrative tribunal of the ILO.

And in all these issues, President Obama said it best, “I believe,” in his words, “that in Americas – in the Americas today, there are no senior partners and there are no junior partners, there are only equal partners.” Of course, equal partnerships, in turn, demand a sense of shared responsibility. In Colombia, I have found, and we have, a true and willing partner. I am, as I say, truly impressed by what’s been achieved, but also know that you all understand that this is a never-ending effort and that each step needs to be succeeded by more determination to see the achievement of these goals of security and prosperity, of inclusivity, and to see that the fate of Colombia, as it seeks to achieve them, is deeply intertwined with our own.

This is a special partnership for us in the United States, and I have been privileged to be a small part of it over the last two and a half years. So thank you for your attention today, and I look forward to your questions. (Applause.)

Go ahead. Do we have mikes? There we go. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. I do not have a question. My name is Juan Carlos Isgara (ph), but there is an assessment I have to make. I was brought here to talk about justice, and if I was brought here to talk about justice, there is an act of justice that I have to make, and that is, Mr. McLarty, to say again, after all these years, I remember that when almost nobody believed, you believed. When almost everybody turned around, you gave us your hand, and you were a great supporter of Colombia in the middle of the night during very bad circumstances. And now that we are seeing a bright sky and a beautiful day, we have to remember the night just in order to say in the name of the Republic of Colombia and of every Colombian, thank you very much, Mr. McLarty. (Applause.)

QUESTION: Steve Lande, Manchester Trade. I don’t think there’s any question that a combination of Obama Administration education and Colombia action has really made this agreement ready to pass. The question, of course, is that we have a serious domestic political problem in the United States that has nothing to do with Colombia, well known. I’ve been in trade policy for umpteen years, and it is very strange that something as basic as trade adjustment assistance, which has been U.S. policy for 34 years is now being questioned.

But the real question to my mind is: Does Colombia understand this? Do they realize that this is not really aimed at them? What happens if because of trade adjustment assistance, if Colombia – or because of disagreement, if Colombia, which I assume they will live up to the obligations. And I’d like to ask Mack to speak a little bit on this question, too, because of his experience over the previous couple of – excuse me, during the previous democratic administration in this area about what do we do if the Republicans – and I know I shouldn’t say this, but I’m a Democrat – what do we do if the Republicans really keep their feet in and do not compromise on this trade adjustment assistance act?

Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Let me just say a quick word and then I’ll either invite or allow our people sitting here who are not really part of the presentation to either decide whether they want to answer or not. I think – as you know well from the perspective of the Administration, in the long run, we have to – if we’re going to pursue a trade agenda, which is enormously important to our future for jobs and competitiveness, that there has to be a broad-base of support in society. And that there’s no doubt, from our perspective, that the Colombia FTA, like Panama and South Korea, are win-wins for both societies but not for every single person. And trade, inevitably, has some dislocating features.

And the best way to move forward is not to retreat from trade, but to make sure that everybody can benefit from it, that people who are inadvertently – at least in the short term – suffering from trade have an opportunity to have that blow cushioned and to be ready to compete in that world. And that’s why we want a comprehensive approach that includes active pursuit of FTAs, including new ones that we’re negotiating like the TPP in East Asia, but also to make sure that our – that the American worker and the American people are part of this and feel beneficiary. So that’s why we think this is all a part of a package and we strongly hope that the Congress sees that we won’t have the support of the American people if we don’t have a comprehensive strategy.

All right. Mack.

MR. MCLARTY: Well, I’ll be very brief. I think Secretary Steinberg outlined precisely the balance here that needs to be achieved, should be achieved. It started really with President Obama’s comments and remarks of doubling our exports and that really set the predicate for moving forward on trade agreements.

There’s not that big a gap in a dollar sense between the Republicans and Democratic position. Clearly, there needs to be a deal in the middle. I believe there will be. It should take about an hour. It’s going to take a little longer than that. (Laughter.) But I think at the end of the day, they’ll get there.


QUESTION: Phil McLean from here in CSIS. Since you’re returning to academia, let me ask you a classic college-type question – compare and contrast. Compare and contrast what happened in Colombia and U.S. policy in Colombia with what – pick a country out there in the Middle East and how we did things differently and what’s to be recommended and not recommended.

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, I think – I’m glad it was a compare and contrast and not a what-if. I’ve spent two and a half years resisting hypotheticals, and I’m now going to go back to a world where I can actually ask them of my students all the time. (Laughter.)

I think that the biggest success of Plan Colombia, what we’ve done together, were really the things that Mack touched on, which is, first, we had a strong bipartisan basis for this in the United States. And on the big challenges, whether it’s providing security and moving forward on social inclusion in Colombia or dealing with democratic transformation in the Middle East, these things don’t happen overnight. They require a sustained commitment of both policy and resources to make it happen. And there needs to be a sense among all the parties that you’re in it for the long term. If you don’t have that, then people will game the system because they’ll assume it’s a flash in the pan or that the kinds of benefits – the costs are often upfront in – or front-loaded and the benefits are in the long term.

So let’s take Egypt for example. One of the biggest challenges and one of the biggest impulses to the revolution in Egypt was the lack of economic opportunity, the fact that the system, although there had been some economic reforms, was not providing jobs and opportunity, particularly for many of the reasonably well-educated young people who are coming out of universities or training programs.

And so addressing that economic need and those social and economic needs is critically important, but it doesn’t happen overnight. We can give some short-term economic assistance, but what’s really needed is to stimulate long-term economic opportunity. But that doesn’t happen overnight, and so the people of Egypt, like the people of Colombia, need to know that we have a long-term plan, that there will be some short-term sacrifices to get the Egyptian economy into a place which can produce good jobs for people over the long term, and we need to find ways to give them the confidence that if they take the necessary steps that the United States and Europe and others will be with them.

That’s what we did in Plan Colombia. We were ableto be convincing because we had bipartisan support, because there was a strong commitment to whatwe could do this; it wasn’t one congressional session or one presidential administration. Those are hard to do, as Mack will tell you. But when it’s done, it’s America at its finest. And I think that’s something that we all need to focus on is how do we build these strong commitments that have the support of both parties – the people as well as government, and in both countries – to sustain these kinds of long-term challenges. And the fact that we’ve done it together in Colombia, I think shows it can be done and that can give people some confidence and encouragement to look for ways to replicate that.

Okay, one more.

QUESTION: Thanks. And I wish you the very best. My question goes to the congressional play going on with the FTA. You thought and said you were confident that by the end of the year we would see something. In my conversations with, for example, with folks – I won’t say who – in connection with Korea, were thinking that they are going to see an FTA approved in Congress by the August 2nd recess. I guess my question is both to you and to Mack whether Colombia is prepared for the possibility that this thing will go beyond August 2nd? And how does – how do we explain this under the circumstances and do we really need to have to explain it? Do you think that deal that, Mack, you thought was so close to getting can be gotten by August 2nd?

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, I’d say just my reference to the end of the year, I’ve learned a couple of things in my government service, is first it never hurts to quote your boss. (Laughter.) And second, it’s never smart to say something different from your boss. (Laughter.)

But I think what the Secretary meant to imply with that is – I mean, she is realistic. She served in the Congress. I don’t think she wanted to set some commitments to make it feel like somehow if we don’t get it by June, July, whatever, that that’s a failure. I think it was a strong commitment that we ought to find a way to do it this year. Obviously, we’d all like to see the logjam broken and move forward on these things sooner. So I don’t mean to imply that it’s not possible to get it done sooner. I just want to err a bit on the side of caution because often, even as Mack says, even if we resolve the issues around the TAA, there are always floor scheduling things. I worked in the Senate myself. And so the unpredictability of congressional action is something we just all have to live with.

I don’t know if you want to add anything to that.

MR. MCLARTY: (Off-mike.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: All right. Good. Well, thank you all. Really appreciate it. (Applause.)