SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon, everybody. Buenas tardes. I am delighted to be joined by my friend and my colleague Foreign Minister Maria Holguin of the Republic of Colombia. And we have been delighted over the course of the last day and a half or so to be engaged in the sixth session of the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Partnership Dialogue. It is underway here at the department, and I think Maria Angela would agree with me that this partnership continues to grow and to expand in ways that are beneficial to both of our countries, and most importantly, to our people. I also think that the leadership and efforts of Colombia and the growth in our joint efforts together have also provided a example and a level of stability to the region which has helped, and we want to continue to be able to do that.
Peace in Colombia is a global concern, not just something for Colombians, not just something that we happen to be supporting because it’s in our hemisphere. This is the longest conflict on the face of the planet and it needs to end, and great courage has been displayed by those who have come to the table over four years now under difficult circumstances to be able to work towards peace. Making peace is hard work. People don’t understand that. They think you can just declare something over, finished, done. There are all kinds of difficult issues to work through to keep faith with victims, to keep faith with the law, to keep faith with people’s values, and at the same time find the measure of compromise that is critical to being able to make difficult choices. I think governments around the world are supportive of this effort, as well as regional organizations, NGOs, humanitarian groups, and religious leaders, including his Holiness Pope Francis.
So we are committed to working at this. And as the Colombian government and the FARC are nearing – and I say nearing – a final agreement, there are still difficult issues to be resolved. But as they are doing that, we stand ready in the United States – as President Obama has said and I have said again and again, we are ready to help with the implementation; we are ready to help make this peace real and durable.
And as the difficult – as difficult as the negotiations have been at times, we don’t believe that peace should have to wait any longer. I know that our special envoy, Bernie Aronson, is going to continue to do everything that he can in order to assist, and I have said that I stand ready, if necessary, to try to be helpful in any way that I can also.
Now, in February, here in Washington, President Obama joined President Santos in announcing Paz Colombia, a strategy that will support the Colombian Government’s efforts to provide security, to strengthen the rule of law, to protect human rights, and to generate economic opportunities in areas that have been most negatively affected by the conflict with FARC. It is going to be crucial that those who have been victimized by the violence have a means of redress, and an assurance that those most responsible for abuses will be held accountable. Everybody understands that.
At the same time, the United States and our partner Norway have launched a global demining initiative to help Colombia rid itself of land mines within a period of five years. That’s our goal. And I want to emphasize that this is urgent. I have traveled to a number of countries that have suffered the aftermath of war – most notably Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, as well as in the Middle East – where we have seen what happens when the instruments of war are left in place and innocent people stumble on them. Last year in Colombia, 222 people, including 27 children, were killed or injured by land mines – a toll that is higher than any country in the world except Afghanistan. And that is why survivors’ groups have welcomed our initiative and that is why we will offer increased resources and technical help together with Norway, that’s co-chairing this initiative – 24 countries have now joined up, including the EU as an entity, and some 20 more other countries.
The peace process and Paz Colombia were just two of the elements of our dialogue today. It was aimed at – the dialogue was aimed at strengthening every single aspect of our relationship.
For example, our delegations also focused on the importance of education and people-to-people ties, where we continue to draw closer together. And before the day is done, we are going to have taken steps to make academic research easier to conduct in order to ensure the appropriate cataloging and preserving of archaeological sites, and to implement the next round of 100,000 Strong in the Americas Initiative that President Obama started.
We’re also talking about new agreements under the U.S. Trade and Development Agency’s global partnership – excuse me, Global Procurement Initiative. And Colombia is now participating in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Global Entry Program, and we continue to examine new ways to promote small business development and entrepreneurship, because that’s really how you make the greatest difference. It’s not the big companies that are creating jobs. It’s small entrepreneurs who start up and grow that is the real foundation of growth in most countries.
In addition, we discussed our joint responsibility, together with the rest of the world that came together in Paris last year, to prevent the most harmful impacts of climate change. Colombia’s geography makes it particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events, to sea level rise, to fluctuations in rainfall. And so we talked today through the dialogue about the challenge of climate resiliency and also about what each of our countries could do in order to be able to bring the Paris agreement to full force. It’s essential that we implement this historic agreement and that we go forward in order to curb greenhouse gas emissions by revolutionizing the ways in which we produce and use energy and by protecting our forests and other natural landscapes.
Finally, we continued our dialogue on the subjects of democracy and good governance. In these areas, Colombia is emerging as a regional model. But, as we know from our own experience here in the United States – so I say this with some humility – building effective democratic institutions is a job that is never really finished. It takes constant nurturing, constant attention. We welcome the steps that Colombia is taking to ensure that women are able to participate fully and fairly in economic and political life, and in order to defend and expand human rights and to be able to allow civil society to flourish. And we continue to count on Colombia’s partnership in defending human rights at the Organization of American States and the United Nations.
In closing, I want to once again thank the members of both the U.S. and the Colombian delegations for their very hard work in the course of the day and for a very productive and candid exchange.
And I’d just conclude by saying to the foreign minister and to all Colombians: La amistad entre nuestros dos paises tiene como base una solida fundacion de valores compartidos, de apoyo de libertad, de consecucion de la justicia y de amor a la paz. Nuestro deseo es que se siga perfeccionando esa amistad, que prosperen nuestros pueblos y que florezcan nuestras sociedades durante muchas generaciones futuras.
Thank you, and now, Maria Angela, the floor is yours.
FOREIGN MINISTER HOLGUIN: (Via interpreter) Thank you. A special welcome to Secretary Kerry and to our colleagues who are here with us today. I would like to thank you, Secretary Kerry, and your delegation for the hospitality and the commitment to the sixth high-level dialogue. Colombia has had in the United States a wonderful partner, during decades an ally against violence and terrorism. And today, it’s a great ally in peace and post-conflict.
Through this dialogue, we’ve been able to diversify and deepen our agenda and our strategic outlook, and you’ve talked about many of the issues. I want to repeat, Secretary Kerry, how important it’s been for us to have the United States in the peace process. And I thank you and Mr. Bernie Aronson very much for your help. Colombia has had a great transformation these past few years and cooperation with the United States has been fundamental through Plan Colombia, one of the greatest bilateral cooperation efforts ever. It helped us in very difficult moments for the country, and now the initiative Paz Colombia announced by President Obama when he – when President Santos visited here in February can also make a great contribution to the post-conflict stage in Colombia. We thank the government and the President Obama and for – the Congress for its bipartisan support for the country.
You mentioned an issue that’s been very important that I think – which is the great challenge that we have in front of us, and that is the de-mining. Unfortunately, Colombia is the second-most mined country on the planet and the effort that you have been making together with Norway since February and also when Santos visited was announced with a generous contribution of $30 million. And this has been an impulse for other countries, 24 of whom are already supporting us. It’s greatly important.
When you think about de-mining, generally you think about people who died and people who are injured, but we’re in a country where it also means freedom, where people have been deprived of their freedom because of the land mines, and that’s something fundamental for Colombia’s future. We have been strategic partners in this high-level dialogue with concrete results in many issues on our agenda, where education has been something basic where we have had the most progress for Colombia and the government of President Santos. Education has been a primary interest.
Now, we already have a lot of cooperation with the United States through the Fulbright Program. We also have scientific exchanges and in rural development and research. We are also partners in other institutions in social inclusion and we also, with the exploitation of hydrocarbons and energy and renewable energy we’ve progressed, as well as the environment. And the minister of the environment is with us this time and we’ve been trying to strengthen our capacity for cooperation on climate change and maritime issues and the development of businesses.
We’ve worked together with the U.S. on small and medium-sized businesses, and on this issue of business, we’re truly very happy. We hope that by the end of this year, we will have in place the private sector and – of the U.S. and that of Colombia working together with the governments.
You also mentioned the Equal Futures program, reiterating your commitment to gender equality and we agreed that within the training programs, we would work on SMEs that are led by women. We’ve also signed something that’s going to be very transcendental for the country, for rural development, with the National Federation of Coffee Growers for promotion Cacao for Peace. Not just coffee is going to be their job, but this is the first time they’re going to be supporting the whole issue of cacao, which is one of the products that we are convinced will generate development in the country.
This dialogue has also given us successful process for migration issues. You know that for Colombia, how important we go from visas from five to ten years, and now we’re entering into the Global Entry program after two years, since 2014. We began it, and today Colombians are going to be able to have access to entering the United States much faster and with far few processes with – that have to do with immigration procedures.
For us it’s also very important that we’re starting the fifth strategic dialogue on security. As you know, we share issues on security and the fighting drug trafficking and fighting all kinds of crime, and now, this time, this morning was very successful with the minister of post-conflict to see how Colombia is thinking about that process. And today, our meeting was very successful to be able to see how the United States is also with us in post-conflict, and it’s going to be helping us with security challenges that we obviously will be facing.
I also want to touch on two issues. One is the support that you have always given us, to the OECD. We hope that this is going to be soon. There are some pending issues, but Colombia expects to resolve all those issues and continue working. And also, the Pacific Alliance, where we already have a very explicit cooperation with the United States and the four countries that are members of the alliance. For entrepreneurs, we think that this is a transcendental support. You sent a person – a special envoy to the meeting of presidents that took place in Chile, and your commitment with a regional mechanism, I would say, is very successful.
Mr. Secretary, I thank you for your time, your support for the peace process in Colombia, and your hospitality. Thank you.
QUESTION: I’m with the AP Spanish wire here in D.C., and I’m glad I’m able to ask you a question. This is my first time asking you something, so I appreciate the opportunity. (Laughter.) First, I would like to ask you two questions, if I may.
I would like to ask you on Syria: Are you disappointed that the target date came by today and still there are no concrete results?
And also, I would like to ask you about Venezuela: The electoral authorities are expected – maybe they already did, but we were all flying here – they are expected to announce today a final decision on whether or not they’ll move forward on the recall, the final recall. What do you expect of the decision, and what is your assessment so far on the dialogue? Do you want to see new mediators in the process, or are you satisfied so far with the process?
(Via interpreter) And Madam Minister, I would like to ask you also if you can tell me what your government’s plans are with more than 2,000 Cubans who are in Antioquia in a situation that’s not very positive – the position they’re in – if you expect to deport them or – we also we also have contracts with other countries – whether they’re going to send them back to Cuba or where they’re going to go from there? Also, Guyana.
FOREIGN MINISTER HOLGUIN: (Via interpreter) Well, first of all, we have about 4,000 illegal immigrants who are in the northern part of Antioquia. This has happened over the last few months. You know well that we’ve closed – many countries – Panama, Costa Rica – has closed their borders to this illegal migration. Ecuador unfortunately was not asking Cubans for visas. They were able to enter Ecuador legally, and that was the route that they used to get here to the United States. We’ve been working with the entire region, with Ecuador now, which now does require a visa. Last week, the Ecuadorians, they made the decision to deport several Cubans back to Cuba. We are first looking at what their conditions, their situations are. But the idea is to deport them. We can’t have citizens of any other nationality who are in the country illegally, and we’re working towards that.
We have an agreement with Ecuador, and the Cuban citizens who came through Ecuador would go back to Ecuador.
SECRETARY KERRY: So with respect to the issue of the target date, the target date was set with the agreement that the parties were going to be able to go to the talks and begin immediately to negotiate. But because of the continued offensive operations of the Assad regime, the opposition found it impossible to sit in Geneva and actually negotiate without the cessation of hostilities according to the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 being upheld and adhered to. And so almost all of the time from the moment of the announcement of the target date until today has been consumed by trying to get a cessation of hostilities in place that is meaningful. And that is precisely what we are engaged in right now.
Now, there are obviously great concerns about what is happening on the ground there; we all share them. And there is a situation where Assad regime attacks, conducts offensive operations, but Nusrah, which doesn’t want a cessation, also attacks and goes into offensive operations. And you get into a cycle of one side versus the other saying who started what. What we’re working on is trying to make sure that we get out of that cycle and actually stop the violence. And it is critical, obviously, that Russia restrain both itself and the Assad regime from conducting offensive operations, just as it is our responsibility to get the opposition to refrain from engaging in those operations.
Now, my hope is that we can arrive at that. If we can’t, nobody’s going to sit around and allow this pretense to continue. These are important days to determine whether or not Russia and the Assad regime are going to live up to the UN, live up to the cycle, or not. And the evidence thus far is very, very troubling to everybody.
So we are – we will see in the course of the next hours, few days, whether or not that dynamic can be changed. But it’s very complicated when both parties on the ground want to fight rather than live up to the obligation of the UN Security Council resolution.
Now, with respect to Venezuela, look, we remain deeply concerned about the deteriorating economic and political conditions in Venezuela. And the foreign minister and I just finished a conversation about this. The basic needs of the people of Venezuela are not being met by the government, and the situation is getting worse and worse in many ways. And it’s our judgment that these situations, the deterioration, is the direct result of Venezuelan Government’s mismanagement of the economy and unwillingness to listen to and work with the opposition and the people of Venezuela.
So we very much believe in and support the notion of the dialogue. Dialogues are difficult under these circumstances. We continue to support the dialogue. We have had our own Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon, who has gone down to Venezuela, met personally with President Maduro, met with the opposition, met with other players, in an effort to try to help encourage that dialogue. But the Venezuelan constitution guarantees Venezuelans the right to have their voices heard through the referendum process. And we call on Venezuela’s authorities to allow this process to go forward in a timely and a fair manner, and not to play a game of delay that is to the advantage of one side versus another instead of to the advantage of democracy and the advantage of the upholding of the constitution of the country. And that is our position and we will continue to encourage that.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) I’m from the Colombian press. Our question would be about the peace process. Did the U.S. already begin the process to remove – to be able to remove FARC guerilla from the terrorist list group? That’s the first question.
SECRETARY KERRY: I’m sorry. What is the question?
QUESTION: Did the U.S. already begin the process to be able to remove the FARC guerilla from the terrorist group list? And on the other hand, even though the U.S. has said no at many opportunities, FARC guerilla members say that while you were in Cuba you gave them hope about releasing Simon Trinidad from jail. Is it absolutely off the table, or is there a possibility that the U.S. is considering releasing Simon Trinidad before time?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. Well, look, we had a very good meeting when I was in Havana, and I appreciated the opportunity to meet with the leaders of FARC. It was a serious conversation and I think a very constructive conversation, but I don’t know where the interpretation was regarding Simon Trinidad. We’ve been very, very clear that he is not part of the peace process, so it is not part of this discussion and part of the process. He is in jail serving time for crimes committed against American contractors and he is in jail under American law. And so we’ve been very clear about that consistently, as has Bernie Aronson.
Now with respect to the terrorist group designation, we consistently review terrorist group designations with respect to any country that has been designated. And I would say this: that if FARC makes peace and FARC lives up to the agreement and keeps the elements of the agreement which are now within the four corners of the document that ultimately, we hope, will be signed; and if they engage in that disarmament and they engage in peaceful activities and they give up the violence and they move to uphold the full measure of this agreement; it would be only natural that within the context of our review process that the United States would take account of the steps that they have taken, which may change or may not change the situation. But that would obviously be very much part of a new Colombia and a new situation with respect to them particularly. So clearly, I would say to you that as part of the natural review process we would be reviewing the new facts.
Source: U.S. State Department