Remarks at the Signing of a Statement of Intent for Agricultural Technical Assistance and Education

Heather Higginbottom
Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources 
Bogota, Colombia
February 19, 2016

Good morning. Thank you Ambassador Whitaker for the kind introduction. Minister Iragorri, it is a pleasure to join you today to celebrate and expand our collaboration in agriculture, education, and rural development – three critical areas to securing the peace in Colombia.

Before we came downstairs, the Minister and I were discussing how the United States can support Colombia’s efforts at this important moment in Colombia’s history. One reason for our partnership is our shared commitment to peace. With our support, Colombia has made profound political, economic, and security gains over the past decade and a half. But, as we all know important work still lies ahead. One critical priority is the economic development of former conflict zones. These areas will play a critical role after a peace accord is signed. The Minister and I agree that we need to work together to help meet the needs of those most affected by years of conflict: the farmers, the businesses, the schools – people and institutions that will help ensure a lasting peace in Colombia.

Yesterday, I joined Post-Conflict Minister Pardo, Interior Minister Cristo, and the heads of the Colombian police and army on a trip to one of these communities: the small town of Caceres in Antioquia. In Caceres, I saw firsthand how our two governments are working together to strengthen these conflict-affected communities and help them prepare for future peace and prosperity. I not only met with government officials, but I spoke to the people of Caceres -- women, children, farmers. In each of my conversations, I was impressed by each person’s optimism and hope for the future.

In Caceres, I was particularly struck by my conversation with German Sanchez. After the violent death of his father in the conflict, German turned to the cultivation of coca as one of few viable options to support his family. But German soon was a victim himself of the chronic violence that is endemic to coca production. With the support of the United States, German chose a new path for his future: he decided to substitute coca with cacao and lead local efforts to help others do the same. Today, German is the president of the region’s largest cacao marketer, Chocolate Colombia, and he leads efforts to export Colombian cacao to major buyers in Europe and elsewhere. His dedication and hard work continue to give the region’s farmers opportunities for sustainable and licit sources of income.

Inspired by German and other farmers like him who have transitioned from coca to cacao, I am here today to pledge the support of the United States as Colombia works to bring economic prosperity to the former conflict zones throughout the country.

In a few minutes, the Minister and I will launch two new initiatives. The Cacao for Peace Initiative is a $5 million program to be run by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cacao for Peace will support Colombian efforts to advance licit rural economic growth, particularly in conflict-affected areas, through cacao.

The second initiative that we launch today is the Land Grant University Scholarship Program, which will provide scholarships to Colombian students for post-graduate agricultural studies in the United States. We are pleased to have here today representatives from Penn State University, Purdue University, and the University of Florida – three of our universities who will partner with Colombian institutions for agricultural education, exchange, research, and innovation.

Cacao for Peace is an example of the new strategy President Obama announced during the recent visit of President Santos to Washington: Paz Colombia. Our assistance will support Colombian efforts to provide meaningful justice to victims of the conflict; extend the rule of law and government services to areas previously controlled by the FARC; increase accountability, promote economic development; and maintain Colombia’s security gains.

The statement that we will sign today, and the full scope of U.S. assistance, are investments in the future of this country. It is a symbol of our shared commitment to the cause of peace. Peace that strives to end a conflict that has endured for nearly half a century. Peace that aims to reunite a fractured country, to decrease poverty, to reclaim land and livelihoods that have been lost to violence.

Thank you.