Press Availability with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
February 5, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon, everybody. Thank you very much for being here with us. A few minutes ago, President Santos and members of the Colombian and American delegations completed a working lunch next door in the Jefferson Room. And now, Mr. President, I am delighted to welcome you to the Ben Franklin Room, Mr. Franklin back up there on the wall. It was named for a unique American diplomat, and I think you know that Colombia’s first vice president, Francisco Antonio Zea, who was second in power to the great liberator, Simon Bolivar, was sometimes compared to Franklin because of the breadth of his expertise and also – not only in diplomacy, by the way, and politics, but also as a writer and as a student of nature.

And as for Bolivar, his name is proudly claimed by no fewer than eight different towns in America. So, Mr. President, there are a lot of connections between our two countries – many more than those, as you know – but the most basic is the founding commitment to liberty and peace, and that is why President Obama was so pleased to meet with you at the White House yesterday and is why I am particularly pleased to be able to welcome you here to the State Department.

Years ago, as a member of the United States Senate and the Foreign Relations Committee, I was privileged to join with then-Vice President Biden and Senator Dodd and others in working to help put together what came to be known as Plan Colombia. And at the time in the late 1990s, Colombia was literally on the verge of becoming a failed state, besieged by financial difficulties, guerilla movements, violent drug cartels. I can remember one day in the Senate reacting to the news that almost the entire supreme court, if not the entire supreme court, had been assassinated in Colombia at one moment – more than 12 or 13 people, if I recall correctly.

So we responded and passed Plan Colombia amidst big question marks, as you know well. Today, you have come to us at a time where Colombia stands as an example of possibilities, and I’ve been privileged to now visit twice as Secretary of State, and the transformation that one witnesses is absolutely remarkable. Today, Colombia’s democratic institutions are strong, the level of violence is at the lowest in decades, the economy is growing and poverty is falling. And as President Obama said yesterday, this is one of the strongest partnerships in the hemisphere, and increasingly we are global partners.

Even more encouraging, Colombia, under President Santos’s strong leadership, has reached a pivotal stage in the effort to try to end the war with the rebel group FARC, a war that has lasted almost half a century. I am grateful that the United States, through our Special Envoy Bernie Aronson, has been able to support Colombia step by step in this historic process. When I went to Colombia two years ago, President Santos expressed this vision of possibility to me and asked for our help, and because of our early engagement in the Plan Colombia effort, it was only natural that we would say, of course, we are pleased to be able to try to help.

But as the President can attest, these negotiations are always difficult. They’re always complicated. Given the years of strife, that is hardly surprising. Today, our delegations discussed the tough issues that still remain to be resolved, including plans for disarming and demobilizing the FARC and measures to assure accountability for wartime atrocities.

The outlook is promising, but the stakes are much too high to take anything for granted, and we don’t. No one is in a celebratory status. There is work to be done. We’re here to renew the commitment for these months in order to complete the task.

Having gone to war myself, I can tell you I know what it means that in peacetime, children are supposed to bury their parents, but in wartime, obviously, parents bury their children. Colombia has known too many generations of parents burying their children. And looking ahead, we have to remember that the key to Plan Colombia’s success was always its comprehensive vision of how security is established, and a commitment to stay the course until the job is done.

Peace has to be built on a solid foundation – always, anywhere. And improvements in maintaining law and order are only a beginning. In addition, with support from the United States, Colombians have been moving ahead on multiple fronts in order to improve governance, strengthen the rule of law, build a more inclusive economy, extend protections to journalists and to civil society. Just as important, the government came to terms with the fact that terrible human rights abuses were committed solely by – not solely by rebel groups, but also by government and paramilitary forces. And those abuses also have to end and be accountable.

Mr. President, as defense minister you helped to address a dark chapter of this conflict, that of the false positives. And today we welcome your commitment to forging a peace agreement that ensures meaningful justice for those and other crimes. For the United States, Plan Colombia required an investment of funds over some 15 years, an unusual degree of perseverance by our government on a bipartisan basis. But we would never have made that investment if the Colombian people and government had not made an even greater commitment and been willing to devote their resources and their energies to it.

While the United States provided some 10 billion for Plan Colombia, that was less than 5 percent of the total. The success of Plan Colombia may well serve as a model for other countries in and beyond our hemisphere. But even as the day of a potential peace agreement may be drawing near, we are not about to be complacent. We believe the same comprehensive approach that brought Colombia this far is needed for the country to sustain its impressive progress and to capitalize on the benefits of peace.

That is why yesterday, President Obama announced that we will collaborate on the successor strategy to Plan Colombia. And that strategy, which we are calling Peace Colombia – Paz Colombia – will support the Colombian Government’s efforts to provide security and economic opportunities in areas that are vacated by FARC, areas that require also the delivery of justice, and help us to intensify the fight against trafficking in illegal drugs.

As with Plan Colombia, Colombians themselves have agreed to take on the largest portion of this cost. But unique U.S. capabilities can help Colombia to win the peace. And we are determined to do that.

In addition, the United States and Norway have launched a global demining initiative to help Colombia rid itself of these deadly devices by the year 2021. And together, we will commit an initial $50 million toward the initiative.

I was just recently in both – in Cambodia and Laos, where the detritus of the war that we were engaged in in Vietnam is still maiming people and taking lives, where we are still working on demining and on unexploded ordnance. So we understand this challenge, and it’s one of the reasons that we are particularly committed and proud to be joining with Norway in this initiative. It is critical to save lives, literally, and open the door to greater rural development. And today I can share with you that we have already received commitments to participate from the EU and 11 countries, including Argentina, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay.

Mr. President, you know better than anyone that the challenges ahead for your colleagues and you are obviously substantial. But with courage and determination, a just and lasting peace can be achieved. I know you understand that and the prospects for Colombia can continue to grow brighter and brighter.

The great Colombian writer Alvaro Mutis wrote that life always holds in store more surprises that are more complex and unforeseeable than any dream. La vida siempre depara sorpresas que son mas complejas e imprevisibles que cualquier sueno. Colombians now have good and tangible reasons to dream for a future that is more peaceful and prosperous than at any point in the last half century. In the effort to make that dream a reality, have no doubt that the United States of America will continue to stand with Colombia as a partner and a friend. I thank the president for his visit here, which has been, we think, warm and really exceptional, and it’s because we are in common cause for peace.

I’m pleased to yield the floor to our distinguished guest, President Santos.

PRESIDENT SANTOS: Thank you. (Via interpreter) Good afternoon. I’d like to thank Secretary Kerry and his team for their hospitality, the way we were received here at the State Department. We had a very interesting and important meeting after yesterday’s announcement by President Obama, when we – he said we’re going to start a new chapter in our relationship. We closed Plan Colombia and now we open the chapter called Peace Colombia.

This meeting allowed us to land this initiative and think about where we’re going to center efforts. We identified priorities such as, for example, to continue with the area of working in security and fighting against drug trafficking, especially fighting against organized crime, so that the vacuum that will be left by the FARC won’t be filled by organized crime. And we’re going to fight against drug trafficking and organized crime in other countries in the region. We’ve already started and there is a great potential of mutual cooperation for mutual benefit.

The other issue we identified was the implementation of the operational and logistical part of the agreements. We need help there, and the U.S. has great experience and knowledge in these areas.

A third important issue has to do with rural development. What are we going to do with the conflict zones – productive projects to bring the presence of the state to those areas; strengthen justice; build roads, hospitals, schools in areas which, because they were under conflict, had been completely abandoned, the state wasn’t there, the government wasn’t there.

And the fourth point, as mentioned by the Secretary, is the demining process. Colombia, after Afghanistan, is the second most – country with the most mines in the world. It’s an enormous effort. Our objective is very objective – very ambitious. Until 2021, we want to have eradicated all mines from Colombia. This means a very large effort. And thank you, Secretary Kerry, and we want to thank the U.S. Government as well and the Government of Norway and other governments who have shown their interest in – to have committed resources for this demining process.

Post-conflict situations offer enormous challenges, but at the same time, they offer enormous opportunities. Life will change completely in the country. It will be much better. We will not be afraid anymore. We won’t be afraid of being in war. Unfortunately, we’ve lived with that fear for more than 50 years. Fifteen years ago, nobody would imagine that today, we would have the results that the world is seeing. We had a very similar meeting as the one we had 15 years ago today, and I was reminding Senator Kerry how the two governments were sitting, one in front of the others, thinking about the next 15 years and what we would be able to do. And we can now say that the purposes of Plan Colombia were achieved. And we hope that in the next – that in 15 years from now we meet again so that we can say that Peace Colombia also was achieved successfully. This mutual assistance, this cooperation with the U.S., has yielded enormous results for the U.S.’s main strategic and trade partner, the most important investor in the country. That’s why we give so much value to the help and cooperation we’ve received and will continue to receive. There is a real commitment not just to work for Colombia but to work with Colombia for the good of our country and for the good of the region.

This visit, this three-day visit, is at an end and it’s been the most fruitful we’ve had in the last few years. I was telling Senator Kerry that I have been coming with presidents to this type of visit for 25 years. I was here with President Gaviria, President Pastrana, President Uribe, and never, never have we had such a constructive visit, such a fruitful visit, as the one we had today, yesterday, and the day before yesterday. Not only have we met with the government, we also had meetings with the highest representatives of the two political parties. Part of the success of the help we have received from the U.S. derives from the fact that the policy was bipartisan and we were able to talk with the leaders in Congress, Democrats and Republicans. And we leave very optimistic, believing that this bipartisan approach will continue with support from both parties and that it will be the guarantee of Peace Colombia for the future.

We are very happy with this visit. We’re very proud of it because Colombians have to start believing more in themselves. Like our allies and our friends believe in us for objective reasons, we have to believe more in ourselves so that we can start working on this better future we will have once peace is signed. Peace is a golden opportunity for the union of the Colombian people, for them to set to themselves ambitious objectives, and as a nation united we continue to try to attain those objectives which were the objectives that the founders of this country set to themselves – Benjamin Franklin that we see here, in the other room Jefferson – the same objective to seek happiness, peace, justice, which is what our founders also wanted for our countries so that we can continue going forward together with a shared vision, with common objectives. And that is how changes are attained for the good of our two nations. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MR KIRBY: Thank you, sir. We will now take two questions, one from each side. The first question will come from Lesley Wroughton from Reuters.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, good morning – or is it afternoon by now. What can you do before the Munich meeting next week to keep the Syria peace talks from totally collapsing? You’ve come under criticism that you’re believing in the Russians too much over opposition who you convinced to go to the peace talks, yet the Russians bombed – was bombing the very parties at the table. Is Russia pretending to pursue diplomacy while actually seeking a military solution?

President Santos, what new assurances did you receive from the Republicans you met yesterday that they will get you the money that President Obama has asked for? Also, this peacetime opportunity that you refer to has come at a time of very low commodity prices. Is there any effort by the Colombian Government to perhaps seek additional financing facilities from the World Bank to help you get through this?

SECRETARY KERRY: So first of all, let me just say that neither Russia nor Assad nor the supporters of Assad are at this moment in compliance with the United Nations Resolution 2254 that they voted for – that at least Russia voted for. Obviously, Assad didn’t have a vote. That resolution calls for in December – on the 18th of December called for immediate access for humanitarian assistance to all Syrians in all parts of the country. Neither the Assad regime nor the supporters have made that happen.

Secondly, it also calls for an end to all aerial bombardment and all artillery bombardment of civilians, and that should have ended, according to the United Nations resolution that Russia voted for, and it hasn’t. Moreover, there is evidence that is clear that Russia is using what are called free-fall bombs – dumb bombs, as they are known. They are not precision bombs, and there are civilians, including women and children, being killed in large numbers as a consequence. Hospitals have been hit, civilian quarters have been hit, and in some cases after the bombing has taken place, when the workers have gone in to try to pull out the wounded, the bombers come back and they kill the people who are pulling out the wounded.

This has to stop. Nobody has any question about that. But it’s not going to stop just by whining about it. It’s not going to stop by walking away from the table or not engaging. You have to have a negotiation to arrive at the modalities of all parties complying and providing the access and providing for a ceasefire.

Now, the next days will tell the story of whether or not people are serious or people are not serious. We are engaged right now as I talk, yesterday in direct discussions, in order to determine whether or not access could be quickly provided. A number of modalities for providing that humanitarian access are being discussed. And the modalities of a ceasefire itself are also being discussed, and the Russians have made some constructive ideas about how a ceasefire, in fact, could be implemented. But if it’s just talk for the sake of talk in order to continue the bombing, nobody’s going to accept that. And we will know that in the course of the next days.

As you know, the parties met in Geneva. The parties came to the table. Under the UN auspices, we are not at the table, but we obviously are following it closely and are engaged with the opposition and with the other members of the International Syria Support Group, which includes Russia and Iran and others. And so we are pushing in the direction of trying to get the full implementation of Resolution 2254.

Now, these talks have not, quote, “failed” or “stopped.” They have interrupted at the judgment of the UN envoy, who made the decision to suspend them while the modalities of the access of humanitarian assistance and potential ceasefire are worked out. And that makes sense, particularly since we have a meeting scheduled in Munich on the 11th in a few days, where the entire International Syria Support Group will come in order to see whether or not these parties are serious.

So as I said, we will know in the next few days who is serious and who is not. And that has always been the intention of the diplomatic process. The diplomatic process has to use the tools that are at its disposal. Diplomacy is the opposite of the actual pointing of a rifle and the pulling of a trigger. It is the effort to come to an agreement and to find a way forward that ends the pointing of the rifle and the pulling of the trigger.

And that is precisely what we’re engaged in right now. I believe that over the course of the next few days, we will know the answer to the question you’ve asked – whether or not it’s an effort to delay. If it’s an effort to delay, the talks will not go forward. If it’s an effort simply to game the process, then as I have said from day one, it will not end. The war will not end under those circumstances.

And when I was in Russia, I said very directly to President Putin, in the next month or two you and others who support Mr. Assad are going to have to make some very fundamental decisions about the way forward. Because if all you’re trying to do is leave Assad in place, the war will not end and there will be more terrorists created, more violence, and it will be even harder to hold Syria whole and united as a single country.

So that’s our mission. That’s the purpose of these talks. And as I say, we will have a much better sense in the next few days of how serious each part is.

Russia has indicated to me very directly they are prepared to do a ceasefire. The Iranians confirmed in London just a day and a half ago they will support a ceasefire now. We now have to have all the other members of this – all the other parties come to the table and acknowledge that they too are prepared to do that. And as of this moment, we don’t have that full acknowledgement.

PRESIDENT SANTOS: Regarding your question to me, I had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the Republican Party both in the House and the Senate. I spoke to Speaker Ryan and the chairs of the different committees in the House; the same thing with the Senate leader and the chair of the different committees, and other members of Congress from the Republican Party and also from the Democrats. But from the Republicans, I did not hear one single voice that put in doubt the enormous success of Plan Colombia. And one of the reasons that always emerged in the discussions of this success is that it was a bipartisan effort. And many even mentioned it’s a very high return on your investment. What we see now and compared to what we had 15 years ago, you can see the change, dramatic change for the better.

And what I received was expressions of continuing support. I did not mention – I did not know the exact numbers of how much the Paz Colombia will contemplate, how much President Obama and the government is going to ask Congress. We heard this figure yesterday – over $450 million – and I hope that the U.S. Congress supports the government, because this an effort, a bipartisan effort, that has been extremely successful, good for the United States, good for Colombia, and good for the whole region. And don’t forget that Colombia bears the lion’s share of the cost: 95 percent of the effort was financed by Colombians.

On the second question, we have been adapting ourselves to a new reality. The price of oil has hit us hard. We depended – 20 percent of our total revenues from the oil sector. For this year, we have budgeted zero. But the adaptation to this new reality has been done in a well-planned manner. We have been pragmatic. We call this intelligent austerity because we are doing it in a way that will allow us to maintain our fiscal policies, our fiscal responsibility, but without affecting too much growth and especially the most vulnerable sectors of society. That we have been doing and that’s why we are leaders in growth in the whole of Latin America. Last year we were number one, not only in economic growth but also in the reduction of unemployment, in the reduction of poverty, and in the increase and strengthening of the middle class.

This year we think we can repeat that because we have put in place the largest investment in our history in infrastructure, which is already going on. The housing projects that have already put in place will stimulate the economy very much, and we hope to grow around 3 percent this year also.

And in terms of needing more finance, we have ample room in terms of access to markets, financing, because of the way we have been adjusting ourselves to this new reality. Fiscal responsibility, confidence of the markets in the Colombian economy is a priority, will be a priority, and we will maintain these policies in order to sort of weather the storm and maintain our course in the correct direction.

MR KIRBY: The final question today will come from Michael Buitrago from Red Mas Noticias.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon, Secretary Kerry, President Santos. President Santos, what conditions have been put by President Obama for Paz Colombia, and what guarantees have you offered – have you been offered? Because we know that there’s a new government coming. We’ve heard criticisms from Republicans to the Paz Colombia.

Secretary Kerry, I would like to ask you, what commitments and conditions will be imposed by the U.S. Government to the FARC, given their request that they be taken away from the list of the terrorist groups and also the extradition?

PRESIDENT SANTOS: (Via interpreter) I will answer your two questions – the two questions you asked me. Conditions of President Obama’s government to Colombia – no conditions. This is a cooperation between two countries that are friends, that are seeking common benefits. If things go well for Colombia, they’ll go well for the U.S. If the objectives that we want to reach are attained, both countries and the region as a whole will benefit. Peace in Colombia is not just the peace for one country. It’s peace for the region. This is the last armed conflict in the whole of the Western Hemisphere. It’s the oldest, one of the most cruel; and to end this conflict will be a success, a victory for the whole world.

So the enormous support we’ve had, not only from the U.S. but from the world as a whole, what happened in the UN last week – and I’ve already expressed my gratitude to Secretary Kerry, who was there. We had Ambassador Samantha Power in the meeting, and the U.S. supported the UN resolution that was unanimously approved. And that is very significant because it represents the support of the world to the peace in Colombia and to the plan Paz Colombia.

Now, guarantees in terms of continuity of the support of the Republican Party, I will answer the same thing that I answered the prior question. What I received from the Republicans was a recognition and a unanimous acknowledgment of the success of Plan Colombia, and their will to continue supporting it. This was the most successful bipartisan foreign policy initiative of the U.S. in the last few years, and what I received – no formal commitment, of course, because that was not the case – but I received a commitment to continued support. Of course, in all processes, there are people who are not in favor of one thing or another. Peace processes never, by definition, are perfect. They cannot be perfect, and there will always be some people who will be against them. It is normal here; it’s normal in Colombia; it’s normal in the world as a whole. But what I have perceived here in the U.S. is an enormous support from the majority of the Americans, from members of Congress who have supported this peace process in Colombia, because peace in Colombia means peace for the region.

SECRETARY KERRY: So let me reinforce what President Santos has said. There are no conditions. We have reached no agreement of any condition whatsoever. There’s been no discussion of that. The United States and Colombia enjoy a very robust, outstanding law enforcement relationship, and an extradition relationship, and it benefits the United States and Colombian justice systems, and in the end the extradition process itself relies on decisions by two sovereign nations. And we respect that, and that is exactly how we will continue to proceed. We always – when appropriate, we will seek extradition, and countries will make their decisions and we will proceed forward.

With respect to the issue of the FARC and the designation of terrorism, there’s – it’s just entirely premature and impossible to even begin to answer that question, and inappropriate to deal with that question, because there is no peace – because nothing has yet happened to make that a relevant question to this moment of time. So for the moment, there is no process. We’re not thinking about it. If and when peace is achieved and there’s a reason to take stock, we will appropriately take stock, as we always do. But this is not the moment, and I have nothing to say with respect to that particular designation except that it stands as it is.

MR KIRBY: Thank you, everybody. That concludes today’s press conference.