Remarks During Discussion With Victims of Conflict Representing Disadvantaged Youth, Former Combatants, and Landmine Victims

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Escuela Taller
Cartagena, Colombia
September 26, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: So I’m just trying to measure how long ago you all were starting out with a different set of courses.

So let me first of all tell you how really proud we are and how grateful we are that you’ve made the decisions that you’ve made. You’ve gained a lot of wisdom in a short period of life, and all of us who are involved in trying to work for peace congratulate you on the decisions that you have made to be here, to work at peace.

Peace is hard work. Anybody can pick up a gun, blow things up, hurt other people, but it doesn’t take you anywhere. What life is really all about is trying to build community and trying to help make life better for everybody around you. And this step that your country is going to take today is a giant step. You are really opening up a new set of opportunities not just for yourselves, which you’ve talked about, but for all those other kids who might step on a mine in the jungle or in a field. Think of the violence that has taken so many lives and held Colombia back from growing, developing, and becoming a country that lives in peace and stability every single day. Your country has traveled an amazing journey for the last 15, 20 years.

We’re blessed to have with us today two members of Congress – one United States senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin; and one congressman from California, Sam Farr. And all of us worked together in the Congress in 1998, ‘99 for Plan Colombia. So the United States is very invested in your struggle for change. And we really admire what you, the people, and your leaders have done. I know many people have criticized President Santos, but he’s been very courageous in pushing this process forward. But he can’t do it without you, all of you.

And we can’t do it without all of you. So I want you to know that we are very committed, financially and otherwise, to continuing to help. The United States is chairing, along with Norway, a demining initiative. And last week in New York, we raised $105 million to advance that program. And in our budget, we’re putting another $390 million into the effort to help implement the peace.

So my respectful advice to you is keep doing what you’re doing, don’t lose faith, and don’t get discouraged. There is so much space for development and growth and for all of you to find work helping other people and doing things to help build your country. So I simply want to say thank you to you for your courage, for being in this school, for taking to time to grow your skills and your ability to be able to contribute more.

This fellow sitting here is our special envoy, Bernie Aronson, who worked in the negotiations. And we’ve been working very closely with President Santos now for three years, three and a half years. And our ambassador is here every single day, working to help advance this process. So felictacion to everybody for an incredible effort.

And let me just ask Bernie to share a quick observation because he’s been so invested in this, and he can do it directly in Spanish. And one of my promises to myself is – when I have time, I’ve been listening to my Rosetta Stone tapes. (Laughter.) But when I finish this job, I want to go spend six weeks somewhere and just immerse.


SECRETARY KERRY: Aqui. Si, aqui. (Inaudible) aqui. So I promise you, I’ll learn.

MR ARONSON: Well thank you, Mr. Secretary. I was very moved to hear all of your stories, and like the Secretary said, I have great respect for the choices you’ve made. These negotiations took four years. They were very hard and difficult negotiations, but this is a good peace. And it’s a good peace because there were no winners and no losers. Everyone won, and Colombia won. My father always told me to act on your hopes, not on your fears. And when I hear your stories of the journey you’ve made, I’m filled with hope about Colombia and have great respect for each of you, so muchos gracias.

SECRETARY KERRY: So thank you very much. Muchos gracias a todos, and I’m telling you, keep fighting for peace and help to lead the way for all of the other young people who will look to you, to your example. You’re great leaders. Thank you very much.