ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, good morning, everyone. Buenos dias, bienvenido. I hope that everybody’s here ready to work.
I’m delighted this morning to inaugurate, to kick off this next round of the high-level partnership dialogue that we have with Colombia in which we have many working groups today that will discuss everything from environment to energy to culture and education to human rights. This really demonstrates the breadth of our relationship with Colombia. And I’m also delighted to have Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin here to head the Colombian delegation.
So without further ado, I will turn this over to our headliners and introduce Secretary of State John Kerry.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.
Buenos dias, good morning, everybody. Welcome. We are really very, very happy to have this bilateral meeting here today and this opportunity to continue the dialogue with ourselves and Colombia. And I am particularly happy to welcome Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin and the distinguished delegation that is accompanying her. We’re happy to have you all here.
Last summer I had the great pleasure of meeting Minister Holguin in Colombia and experiencing the incredible dynamism of the country, the generous welcome that they gave me visiting, a number of different activities. One particularly struck me. I went to a training center where physically challenged athletes, particularly veterans of their efforts against narcotics and also in the insurgency, were gaining new skills and learning how to train and work together as a team and deal with their new physical challenges. And it was really very, very moving, extremely professional, and fun. And I got to play a couple of games with them and it was a good exchange. So I really enjoyed it, and overall, could not have had a more generous welcome to a country that I know well by virtue of years of working in the Senate on Plan Colombia and going through a number of presidential races.
And I can remember going back in time to serious, serious security challenges. I mean, there are still challenges, but this was existential to the government. And it was great courage – great courage – leadership and courage by the Colombian people that really brought Colombia to a place now of incredible energy, growth, increased stability, and really playing a very significant role in the hemisphere and elsewhere. And we are very admiring of this journey, I must tell you.
So it’s a pleasure for me to be able to return the favor of that welcome and be able to host the delegation here today. President Obama spoke about Colombia’s bold and brave efforts to bring about a lasting and just peace. And I had an opportunity to see that courage firsthand. I met with the troops at the airport, saw how they deploy, what they do, got firsthand briefings, met with many of the Colombian people themselves. And so for me, it was a moving visit and one which really cemented in my mind the importance of what we’re doing here today and of this relationship.
I’m particularly proud of two major investments that the United States is announcing today to help transform all of our hopes into greater opportunities for Colombia’s citizens. And today, we are making a four-year, $15 million investment to some of the regions that are hardest hit by conflict in order to improve access to justice and to support local governments as they combat corruption and human rights violations. We’re announcing an additional $7 million in support to help implement Colombia’s landmark Victims’ Law, because we believe that addressing difficult issues like land restitution is absolutely essential for an enduring peace to be able to take hold.
Now, sometimes, when you talk about large investments like these, it’s easy to lose sight of the real people that this money will affect, the lives that it may have an opportunity to be able to transform, literally. So I want to give you an example.
Fanny del Socorro Valencia and her husband, Elid, who were some of the first Colombians to benefit from the Victims’ Law, years ago, because of the violence, they had to abandon everything that they held dear – their land, their livelihood, and even many of their loved ones. And because of the efforts that we are helping to support today, Fanny and Elid are back on their land. And Fanny said that years ago she stopped listening to the radio because all she heard was announcements of funerals for her friends and her neighbors. Now, she says, she can get back to listening to music, and like so many other Colombians, she can get back to living in peace.
As the lives of more Colombians change for the better, so does our partnership. No longer is that partnership defined solely by confronting criminality and subversion, but frankly, by working on the lasting prosperity that we are working to provide for people together in our efforts. And the kind of progress that we’re making on trade is really a preview of what is possible for a whole range of areas that we’re discussing today. I want you just to think for a moment about what we have accomplished. In the two short years of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, since it’s been on the books, trade has increased 18 percent. Today, because of the Andean Free Trade Preference Act, nearly all Colombian goods benefit from duty-free access to our markets, and 775 new Colombian companies are exporting to the United States.
We’re also creating new opportunities working together on energy and the environment. Since Colombia put forward its Copenhagen targets in 2010, we have collaborated on a strategy that has helped Colombia to meet ambitious targets for both emissions mitigation and economic growth at the same time. They don’t have to contradict each other. The truth is that moving to reduce emissions and moving to implement good environmental practices actually opens up enormous economic opportunity and can create jobs as well as new procedures, new technologies. And with our larger efforts to link energy markets and develop unconventional energy sources and deliver affordable power across the Americas, our partnership can actually prove what is possible when you take environment and energy and put them together and make the right choices.
We also show a shared commitment to preserving our resources for future generations with the MOU that we sign today linking our national park services. I think we can also look to the future by deepening our partnership in areas that are critical in a more interconnected and competitive global economy by expanding cooperation on information and communications technology. And launching a senior-level steering group today in order to advance those efforts, we are delivering on some of the most important commitments that Presidents Obama and Santos made last December.
As we expand our relationship in these new areas, the United States is also expanding our engagement with the Colombian people directly. Our Economic and Social Opportunities Working Group is reviewing how we can support that goal by reaching out to vulnerable populations, including Afro-Colombians, indigenous communities, and women. And we’re also deepening connections between our two peoples through the educational exchange with 100,000 Strong in the Americas, the Fulbright Scholarships, the Martin Luther King Fellow Program, and the English Access Microscholarships.
Underlying all of our cooperation is our shared commitment to protecting fundamental human rights. And today, we will continue our ongoing dialogue on strengthening democratic governance, combating impunity, protecting victims of conflict, and cooperating to affirm a human rights within the OAS and beyond our hemisphere.
The fact that Colombia is the only nation in South America which, like the United States, faces both the Atlantic and the Pacific, it really serves as a reminder of an important perspective and an important set of principles that we share in common. As we look on our sort of shared horizons – two of them – and the enormous opportunities that they present us for the future, there’s no question in my mind that this relationship has special value, special importance, has a special place in this hemisphere, and we really look forward to developing further this partnership and this friendship.
I think it’s my pleasure – am I introducing – well, without further ado, let me introduce my colleague and cohort and partner and friend, Maria Angela Holguin. (Applause.)
FOREIGN MINISTER HOLGUIN: Thank you very much, Secretary Kerry.
(Via interpreter) Thank you so much, Secretary Kerry. Ladies and gentlemen, delegates, officials of the Government of the United States, Mr. Ambassador of Colombia, dear friends – Mr. Secretary, the fact that I’m here starting this high-level dialogue is something very pleasant for me, for my delegation, and for Colombia. We have been able to diversify our bilateral agenda, including other topics such as technology, communications, telecommunications, the environment. We have been able to have an agenda with cooperation and securities.
We’re extremely thankful to the United States, thanks to the support it gave to Colombia in very difficult times. I am convinced that my delegation is in agreement when I say that we are very thankful to the United States, because today, we have a country full of opportunities, a country that opens up to the world, a country that wants progress, stability, the opportunities for all its inhabitants – it’s thanks also to that great effort that you made because you followed us during some very difficult times for us in Colombia during the government of President Santos.
We have promoted a very profound transformation in our country with growth, with equality and prosperity, and we have found reconciliation amongst Colombians. You talked about the law on land, of the victims, and I think that this is one of the most important steps that we have taken toward reconciliation. This is something that the state had to give its victims, and which fortunately, President Santos was able to make that necessary step and today, little by little. You mentioned a case, as many other thousands of cases. This is the path towards the reconciliation of all Colombians. We want a peaceful Colombia. We want opportunities for everybody with justice, equality, open to the region and the entire world.
The changes that we’ve had in the last few years have allowed us to find a position whereby we have greater investments. We have grown our production and our tourism. I would like to mention some of these attainments. We have created 2,300,000 jobs and 1,300,000 people have left extreme poverty, and as well as many other people – 2,500,000 have left poverty. Obviously, we have to give all this sustainability, and the government has created a series of programs that are focused on the generation of employment, training, education, health, and so on. We have had four of these high-level dialogues with the United States. We want to keep this high-level. And of course, we’ve had tangible results. We have also made our relationship even deeper.
Let’s talk about some of our attainments in the energetic field. We signed the Memorandum of Agreement between the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Department of Energy, where we have tried to make sure that the exploitations of hydrocarbons is very important, the nonconventional ones. This is a work plan that is important to us because we want to be more competitive in terms of energy, and what better than having you with us in this undertaking? Colombia is totally convinced of the importance of the electrical interconnection in the Americas – we’ve talked about this with your delegation – to diversify our energetic forces. We want to take electricity, hydro-electricities from our Andean Mountains to California, going through Central America and the Caribbean. We do not want a single one of our citizens to live without energy in their home. This is one of our attainments. In the 21st century, we have to make sure that this never happens.
In terms of the environment – the environment and the climate change – we want to remember the memorandum of cooperation in 2013. As you were saying, the climate change has been terrible and we have had severe damage that we’ve all lived through. We have to take the necessary measures. We’re working in a very committed fashion and we want to make sure that we collaborate with you.
In terms of opportunities in order for our third dialogue at – high-level dialogue, the United States presented a small business network program, SBNA. This is an initiative that the United States shared with us, and it has a very positive repercussion in our country. We also signed a memorandum in 2012 and 2013. We created the Center for Development and Job Creation in Aguablanca in Cali. This is a model that also included the small- and medium-sized industries with the community, academia, the private enterprise with an investment of about $1 million with the ministry of commerce, industry and tourism, and the town administration of Cali.
These are the efforts that we have to continue with so that we can help our small businessmen and businesswomen. We also have to create techniques whereby we can train a number of people. We want to replicate the model of the 400 units for business creation in our country so that they can become centers for small businesses.
In terms of human rights, we also had a memorandum which was signed in the Presidential Program for Human Rights, USAID, and this – and we were able to use – we were able to do this with the observatory for the national system of information in Colombia. In the next few years, we know that we still have quite a lot to do in terms of making sure that this moves ahead. Our country was also part of the Cancer Research Network with the United States and Latin America as part of its commitment, and the – with our National Institute of Health and the Ministry of Health.
These are the type of projects that we hope to be able to take forth because these are all of great help for Colombia. This version of the high-level dialogue brings to fruition many of the initiatives that were discussed by President Santos and Obama – in particular, technologies, information technology, and telecommunications.
Today, I would like to talk about the launch of the executive committee for the plan of action and the group of – the work group between Colombia and the United States in terms of technologies, the information technologies and telecommunications. This is an initiative that started during the meeting between our presidents in December. Through this committee, we know that we will have the participation of big companies, technological companies, academia, and so on. We hope to be able to have this type of exchange so that we can reach the development of better applications and digital solutions so that the Colombian population, especially those people that have lower incomes, are able to have access to this technology.
We also have signed an agreement whereby 15 percent of our natural parks are protected, and we have great potential here because our natural parks can promote tourism. Mr. Secretary, we have to work so that there is more and more people – there are more and more people from the United States that come to visit Colombia and its national parks. The 2014 science, technology, and innovation plan will be the roadmap for our scientists, and linking up our scientists, the research centers and universities between our countries so that they can focus on the sector of agriculture and health. We want to become a totally bilingual country in terms of education, where English is taught in all of our schools. We also want to attract Colombians that come to Colombia to learn Spanish. We want to make sure that we can simplify all the procedures for us to be able to do this. We want to make sure that there are quite a few student exchanges between students in Latin America.
I would also like you to take advantage of this wonderful meeting so that we can follow up on all the activities that we started, so that we can promote new areas where we can strengthen our cooperation. Colombia is undoubtedly an example of how a country that has lived through decades of violence, yet we have been able to maintain and strengthen our institutions. We have kept a solid democracy, and we have found a way to grow, overcoming poverty. This has been done thanks to the cooperation of the United States. We have been able to recover our national security.
Mr. Secretary, thank you kindly for your hospitality. Thank you to all the officials who made this meeting possible. I would like to reiterate my conviction that this will only make our bilateral relationship deeper. Thank you. (Applause.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I thank the Secretary and the Foreign Minister, and I think with those words of inspiration we all need to get to work. Thank you all very much, and good luck today.
SECRETARY KERRY: I’d like to just mention very quickly – I have a feeling we’re going to be talking about visas and things. I don’t know. (Laughter.) Anyway, I want you to know that the foreign minister has a good judgment – or her son has a great judgment – to be studying in Boston. He’s part of the 100,000 Strong – (laughter) – so we’re in great shape. (Applause.)