SECRETARY BLINKEN: Buenas tardes. Gracias. Gracias a todos. I looked for this because I was almost rendered entirely speechless, quite literally.
To all of you here, this is a special place, and even in the few minutes that I’ve been here, I can feel that. It’s very, very powerful.
Vice President Marquez, thank you for your leadership and also for your partnership, and I’ll have more to say about that in a few minutes.
Ambassador Murillo, so many others here from the Colombian Government, from multilateral organizations, from civil society, from other institutions working toward the full implementation of the Peace Accord – thank you, thank you for your commitment to this effort.
And I very much want to recognize the service of Mr. Wouriyu Valbuena and all of the Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, and other civil society leaders who are here today for their brave and sustained efforts on the part of their communities.
Let me also acknowledge María Belén Sáez for hosting us in this remarkable museum. I’m grateful for that.
It’s quite simply moving – moving to be here and to bear witness to the harrowing consequences of more than 50 years of conflict that are depicted all around us. From the paintings that reflect the agony of forced disappearances for victim’s families, to the floors beneath our feet, crafted from melted guns, hammered into tile with the participation of victims of sexual violence.
Every part of this space shows the cost of conflict. Every part makes an urgent case for peace, for justice. And every part also shows profoundly our common humanity, as translated through art, an ability to connect so powerfully one human being to another.
The United States has been proud to be a partner to Colombia and its people throughout the peace process. Today, we’re taking another step in support of securing a lasting peace, by becoming the first international accompanier to the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Accord.
The chapter recognizes that there can be no lasting peace without justice and equality for the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous people, who have been disproportionately harmed by this conflict.
Over five decades, 38 percent of Afro-Colombians, 27 percent of Indigenous people registered as victims of the conflict. By 2017, nearly a million had been forcibly displaced. Countless others suffered atrocities and human rights abuses – massacres, torture, disappearances, killings, sexual violence. Too often, those crimes went unpunished.
These injustices were rooted in centuries of racism – a living legacy of slavery and colonization.
Many persist to this day. According to the United Nations, of the more than 400 human rights defenders killed between 2016 and 2020, 16 percent were Indigenous, though Indigenous people make up less than 5 percent of the population.
And as so many of you in this audience know very, very well, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous people continue to experience systemic marginalization and inequality. To give just a few examples, even when they have the same qualifications, Afro-Colombians tend to earn less than their peers. And on average, Indigenous people receive two years less education than other Colombians.
The Ethnic Chapter sets out a vision for an inclusive peace that addresses this history of inequity and ensures the rights of Afro-Colombians and Indigenous people going forward.
It’s a vision that the United States shares and that we’ve long worked to try to help make a reality.
Since supporting the negotiation process, we’ve supported Colombia’s efforts to help protect vulnerable communities, dismantle criminal organizations, support investigations and prosecutions of perpetrators of violence and human rights abuses. In all, we’ve contributed more than $1 billion to support Colombian-led efforts to implement the Peace Accord.
We’ve also worked to expand opportunities for marginalized communities. The United States Congress – thanks in large part to the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Chairman Meeks in particular – has helped provide significant economic development aid for Afro-Colombian and Indigenous people for the last nine years.
And last year, the U.S. Agency for International Development launched a five-year, $60 million program to support economic, political, and social inclusion in Colombia – the largest program of its kind in the world. We’re partnering with nine Afro-Colombian and Indigenous organizations to create and implement peacebuilding and sustainable development initiatives, with a special focus on empowering women, young people, LGBTQI+ people, people with disabilities, people who are affected by violence.
Working toward greater equality will not only strengthen the foundations of peace in Colombia, but also the country’s democracy. Because when every community has equal access to opportunity, to justice, to development, and security, all of society benefits.
That’s true in Colombia. It’s also true in the United States, with our own deep history of discrimination, which is still felt in our institutions, policies, and society. That’s why President Biden has made the fight for equity and racial justice a priority for our administration, at home as well as around the world.
Now, you know better than anyone that this work can be challenging. But our willingness to confront the painful parts of our history – as well as our present – and do it out in the open, that is one of democracy’s greatest strengths, and it’s one that the United States and Colombia share.
The work that we’re here to support – like the Ethnic Chapter itself – is only possible because of incredibly courageous Colombians who have risked everything in the fight for equal rights.
People like the vice president, who has spent her entire life defending Colombia’s underserved communities, their lands, their rights – “los nadies,” as she says. As a teenager, when the vice president helped protect a river in her community from exploitation; later, when she helped lead a march of women for more than 300 miles to protest illegal mining; and throughout the peace process, when she made sure that the voices of Afro-Colombians and black women were heard. Work she did despite harassment, despite death threats, work she continues to this day, not only as vice president but also as her government’s first minister of equality.
Her persistence, and that of so many indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders like her – including some of you gathered here today – you’ve brought the nation to this moment, and you will continue to carry it forward.
As the vice president said, now is the time – now is the time – to work toward peace – “decisively, without fear, with love and with joy.” I can think of no more powerful and no more fitting words for this moment.
And I can conclude simply by saying the United States is proud, proud to be your partner in this endeavor. Thank you. Gracias a todos.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Now it is my honor and pleasure to welcome the vice president of Colombia, Francia Marquez, for her remarks. Madam Vice President. (Applause.)
VICE PRESIDENT MARQUEZ: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon, everyone. Everyone who is here today in this space, I would like to extend my special greetings to Mr. Antony Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States, and of course to your entire team of colleagues who are with you as a part of this special delegation. I would also like to extend my greetings to the representatives of the United Nations for human rights, Juliette de Rivero. Thank you for being here and for always being so willing to stand by our side and our arduous fight to protect life.
I would like to greet Luis Gilberto Murillo, our ambassador, who has been a part of this historic fight that we have waged as peoples. I would like to extend my greetings to the director of the victims unit, Patricia Yagari, who is here with us. I would like to greet the secretary of the high-level instance for ethnic peoples, Mr. Armando Valbuena. My greetings to all leaders who are here as well, social organizations, members of the media, and my greetings to the community in general.
The first thing I have to say is that we are very pleased to receive this visit from the Secretary of State of the United States. We receive you and are happy to do so as a government, as an administration, because accompanying the Ethnic Chapter for peace is to take on the commitment for total peace, complete peace. These floors upon which we have walked are wrinkled; they are made of weapons, weapons that were used to murder and hurt millions of Colombians, but especially Colombians who were Indigenous and Afro descendants, raizales and palenqueros. As the Colombian state recognized and as was recognized by the FARC at the time, there was a disproportionate effect on these people, and that continues to be so in the framework of the armed conflict.
I can’t be here as a black woman, as a victim, without reaffirming our commitment to peace to tell you, Mr. Secretary, that we have still not silenced every bullet. There are many weapons here that we were able to place here, but there are still many weapons out there, out there murdering, taking life, denying possibilities, hopes and dreams for our people. And I would like to especially talk about youth, about black and Indigenous youth, youth who today do not see any roads that are open to them, who see that the future is murky. They don’t see that it’s possible for them to achieve their dreams. Young people who on the Pacific coast of Colombia are committing suicide because they do not see a road ahead for themselves, young people, children, women who continue to be victims of forced displacement, who are expelled from their land, who are still undergoing a terrible humanitarian crisis.
And this armed conflict is not uncoupled from structural racism. My presence today as vice president is just one step; it is not the end. The end is to find dignity for our people, black people, raizal and palenquero people, our Indigenous peoples, for peasant workers, for women, for young people, and for all of Colombia. That is why, as we discussed during our meeting with the president, it is necessary that we solve the drug problem, the drug trafficking problem, the problem of death economies, towards an economy that allows for peace for us all. We must plant happiness, hope, and love on our land, because unfortunately and sadly, our land has been planted with pain, sadness, and blood.
With that hope, Gustavo – President Gustavo Petro came into office, as did I, in order to be a part of the state in order to change those realities. We celebrate the fact, then, that the U.S. Government today is taking on being a partner in this exercise of ensuring rights for the victims of this country, and especially for victims, of ethnic peoples, in order to find a decent life for them and to make strides in seeking total peace. I will repeat: this is a huge stride to the end. This is a demonstration of the fact that we are on the right path, that hope continues to grow, so that we may overcome our fear – a fear that still takes hold of our people, that still takes hold of our leaders.
That is why, then, I would like to thank you on behalf of our national government, on behalf of my people, on behalf of our leaders, on behalf of those who are no longer here because they gave their lives for this moment so that we could reach this place. But we would like to reaffirm our commitment to total peace, to justice, to social justice, to human dignity. We would like to reaffirm our commitment to tackle, in a radical way, structural racism which has not allowed us to be as people and as communities.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for being here. I would like to thank the media, and a message of hope, of happiness, of love, and of brotherhood is what I would like to extend to the Government of the United States. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Madam Vice President of the Republic of Colombia, Francia Marquez. And now we will move to this very important moment, a moment that Indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants have waited for for so long and that we have worked on together with the United States Government. We will move to the signing ceremony.