Remarks with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos

Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Bogota, Colombia
December 12, 2014


MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Good morning, everyone. Welcome. We are going to listen to the statements by the President of the Republic Juan Manuel Santos Calderon and the Secretary of State of the United States of America Mr. John Kerry. Mr. President.

PRESIDENT SANTOS: (Via interpreter) Good morning. First of all, I would like to welcome Mr. John Kerry, Secretary of State. It’s a warm welcome and we’re very happy to have him here with us again in Colombia. The relationship with the United States is becoming stronger and stronger, and it is improving. We have reached a very positive level in our relation in all senses. In June, Vice President Joe Biden was here, and I’ve had a number of conversations with President Obama on the telephone and in in person.

And that’s why we’ve been able to build a very wide agenda on different topics. We’re working together on these topics not only in terms of trade, for free trade agreement – our trade relationship is improving aside from the normal situation that we have now with the coal and petroleum at an international level – but all the other products are growing, and this is something very good for both countries, as well as topics such as the environment.

Secretary Kerry arrived here yesterday from Lima. We were in Lima the day before yesterday and we spoke about our commitment, our desire to make sure that COP-21 in Paris is truly successful. And of course, the United States and Colombia, I think can work together. We also spoke about the opportunity that exists because of all the companies that exist that work in biotechnology in the United States. We want them to come here to do research because Colombia’s biodiversity is one of its greatest assets. Yesterday I was talking about this to a biologist. I think that is the most important biologist that the United States has ever had. He is a Harvard professor. His last name is Wilson and he knows Colombia very well. He said that biodiversity is to Colombia what petroleum is to Saudi Arabia.

But I would say that the topic that was the most important one with Secretary Kerry was the topic of peace. First we had talks with Mr. la Calle and Jaramillo on peace, and with the ambassador. We were able to inform him in great detail of the process so that President Obama, the Government of the United States, are fully informed. And we spoke about how they can help us to make sure that this is a successful process. The United States in a certain way has been a participant in this positive evolution that we’ve seen in Colombia from the very beginning, starting with Plan Colombia about 20, 21 years ago. All the process, the entire process, began then.

So if we are able to achieve peace, we would be closing this with a gold pin, as we say in Colombia. And this is a process that has united the United States and Colombia over all these years, and it will be the basis, the platform for us to be able to continue this relationship in the post-conflict era in a proactive manner and in a beneficial manner for both countries. I am deeply grateful to Secretary Kerry for the support that the United States and he in particular have given to this process.

We also spoke about the importance of making sure that we speed up the negotiations. These negotiations have their own dynamic, and in this sense we have this window of opportunity. If we let it go, then I’m afraid that this would be the only and last opportunity that we have to achieve that peace, and we have to take advantage of these conditions. And in this sense, the help and support of the United States is something fundamental.

So, Secretary Kerry, welcome to Colombia. Our relationship is improving and, of course, with every relationship – even in marriage – it can always be better. We know that, but we will continue improving it. And in the case of your country and ours, we are living a very interesting moment and we’re very happy to have you here with us. We’re happy that you’re here. We would like to reiterate the fact that we want this dialogue, this productive dialogue to continue. Thank you so much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Mr. President, thank you. Thank you for a very, very generous welcome. Thank you for your marriage counseling. (Laughter.) It’s a pleasure for me to be here with you, and I’m very grateful for the generous welcome that you always afford us, and most importantly, for the very serious conversation that we are able to engage in. I want to thank you, President Santos, and I want to thank my counterpart, Foreign Minister Holguin, for her terrific work on our relationship as well as on these issues. And I thank you both for a very productive meeting this morning, and I’m very appreciative to your team for having taken the time away from the talks to come here to engage with us in this discussion. The breakfast I had with them this morning was extremely productive. We gave each other some homework. We’re going to go back and do it, and I can guarantee you that we will come back to you with ideas of how to move the process forward.

I agree with your comment about time being very important. The longer it takes, the harder it may get. And I would urge everybody to use time to advantage and to move, because as with any negotiation, they cannot be open-ended. They just exhaust possibilities without actually embracing the possibilities fully. So I encourage movement, and the United States will absolutely do its part with respect to that. The peace negotiations with FARC are a courageous example of leadership. And the United States is an unwavering supporter of the Colombian Government’s efforts to achieve a negotiated peace.

It’s not easy to do. There are always critics on one side or another. There are always people who will push back. But President Obama and I are deeply committed to peaceful resolution of conflict and we believe very deeply that the – if the parties can reach agreement, if they can finally bring peace to a country that has seen over 50 years of internal conflict, that peace will unleash enormous potential not just in Colombia but for the region itself. It can have global implications. As we discussed this morning, these negotiations are not easy. I’ve never known a conflict of great length of time where the negotiations to resolve it are easy. If it was easy it would have happened a long time ago. But despite the fact that these kinds of negotiations are tough, if both parties – if all the parties want to achieve the goal, if they want to make peace, and if they’re willing to make the tough decisions that go with doing it, it can be achieved. And I think with courage, with continued courage and with determination, this peace in Colombia can be achieved.

Again, I repeat, we have great admiration for President Santos, who took the risk of moving in a different direction and of making the decision to put his leadership on the line in order to try to end the killing and make people safer and make the country safer to build security for this nation. So we admire the President’s commitment to peace with justice, and we all admire his vision of a prosperous and a peaceful post-conflict Colombia.

And one of the things we talked about today is how you can build now for the post-conflict. The fact that these negotiations are taking place can actually build institutions and opportunities that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

So I come here today with humility from the United States. Vice President Biden was here. President Obama has had, as President Santos said, many conversations. We are all deeply committed to this vision of peace, and we urge all Colombians to unite behind this vision. And if Colombians do, you will have the full support of the United States of America every step of the way. And we’re already helping to build the key foundations of a post-conflict future through Colombia’s justice sector, which we’re providing support to; agrarian reform, ongoing counter-narcotics efforts, sustainable development, and the demobilization of combatants.

So we’re also taking steps to reinforce Colombian – the Colombian Government’s reconciliation and reintegration programs, which are very important. And with U.S. support, it is interesting and quite unique – Colombia has successfully graduated nearly 8,000 former FARC and paramilitary ex-combatants into a national reintegration program, and has also made financial reparation to nearly half a million conflict victims, and restored over 84,000 hectares of land to more than 1,000 families that had been forcibly removed from their homes by the armed conflict. That’s an extraordinary accomplishment and people should feel encouraged, and that should help shape the vision of the future.

Part of the reason that these talks have been so productive is that Colombia has done much to improve the security environment throughout the country. Colombia literally has become the most capable security partner that we have in this region, and it is no longer solely a recipient of security assistance. Today, Colombia is exporting its hard-won expertise and professionalism to other countries. And thanks in part to the cooperation between the United States and the Colombian national police and military, this is happening. From the year 2009 to 2013, the Colombian police trained 22,000 international police personnel from more than 60 countries. That’s a great contribution and it’s an important statement about Colombia’s capacity for its own security and to shape the vision for the future.

Now we know that the chance for peace directly translates to a more stable and prosperous future for Colombia. And every day, our partnership is helping to pave the way for that partnership. We are deepening our economic relationship through ongoing engagement under our free trade agreement, and we’re doing it in innovative and high-standard trade pacts like the Pacific Alliance. Our energy cooperation is another example, and more. And President Santos’s goal of Colombia the most educated is going to ensure that Colombia has the human capital that is absolutely vital to succeeding for decades to come.

So again, I thank President Santos for his partnership. The United States, President Obama thanks Colombia for its partnership. And we are grateful for the commitment to a better future not just for the Colombian people, but for having assumed a role of leadership in the region and helping to spread these values and this vision to others. The United States stands with you in this journey, and we hope that 2015 can be the year that brings the Colombian people the security, the prosperity, and most importantly, the peace that people here have longed for, for such a long period of time. We will do all we can to help make 2015 the year of that peace.

Thank you, Mr. President.