ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: Good morning. Buenos días. I would like to welcome all of you, especially our guests from Colombia. Bienvenidos a todos. This is the 10th year we mark the – this High-Level Dialogue, and we are honored to host this year. The High-Level Dialogues present remarkable opportunities to engage at a deeper level on our shared interests. The dialogue continues to speak to the strength of the bonds between our two countries. We are especially honored today by the presence of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will formally open the dialogue.
Mr. Secretary, welcome.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good morning, everyone. Wonderful to see you all here. And to our friends from Colombia, bienvenido. I just am particularly pleased to do this because I also have a little history with this. In fact, I’ve taken part in these dialogues going back to 2015 and 2016 when I was deputy secretary of state. So as Brian said, this has been an ongoing and, I believe, very important process between our two countries.
A very special welcome, Álvaro, to you. Wonderful to have you here for what is indeed the 10th dialogue between – High-Level Dialogue between our countries.
I had the opportunity to lead our delegation to the last dialogue, in Bogotá, in 2021, and it’s a testament to the strength of the relationship that this exchange, as I said, has continued, and indeed has expanded, across administrations in both of our nations.
The dialogue – like a two-centuries-old friendship – is built on a shared foundation of two vibrant democracies committed to ensuring that our people can reach their full potential.
We recognize that when it comes to tackling the global challenges that are affecting the lives of Colombians and Americans alike – from the existential threat posed by climate change to the unprecedented movement of people across our hemisphere – we’re simply better off when we’re tackling these challenges together. And the ripple effects of our cooperation on these and other issues extend far beyond our two countries. They extend to the hemisphere; indeed they extend to the world.
Across the upcoming dialogue, we will focus on concrete steps to strengthen our cooperation and work to deliver tangible results for our people. So let me just take a few minutes to highlight some of the areas where we are going to work to do that.
We’ll continue working to help Colombia reach its ambitious climate goals, from providing ongoing technical assistance on wind and solar projects to strengthening protection of the Amazon.
We’ll expand pathways for farmers, for textile producers, and other small- and medium-sized businesses in rural areas to get their products to global markets, and reap the benefits of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
Our dialogue will also focus, of course, on improving civilian security. For decades, we have worked to strengthen cooperation on security and law enforcement, and that will continue.
At the same time, we recognize that to sustainably reduce violence, we have to tackle the root causes of insecurity – like corruption, like impunity – impunity for crimes – human rights abuses, and the lack of economic opportunity.
That’s why we continue to partner on bolstering the rule of law and expanding access to justice. And it’s also why USAID is investing $60 million over five years to expand opportunities for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities.
Ensuring equitable development is a central focus of the Ethnic Chapter of the 2016 Peace Accord. It recognizes that there can be no lasting peace without justice and equality for the country’s underserved communities. Back in October, I joined Vice President Marquez at the extraordinary Fragmentos Museum; I had the honor of signing the United States on as the chapter’s first international accompanier.
Ambassador Murillo – who is here today – was with us in Bogotá on that historic day. He has dedicated much of his life to giving voice to these communities, including the Ethnic Chapter.
In the time since we signed on as an accompanier, the U.S. embassy in Colombia, led by our Chargé Michael Palmieri, who is with us here today as well, has dedicated a full team supporting the Ethnic Chapter’s implementation, building on our longstanding partnerships with both Colombia’s Government and with civil society. And let me just give one example of those relationships.
A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to join our First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, in honoring International Women of Courage at the White House. The awardees included Josefina Klinger, a remarkable Afro-Colombia leader who rallied her community around transforming the national park where they live into an ecotourism destination, preserving the environment, providing a sustainable livelihood to local families.
For years, we have been a proud supporter of her organization, including when she was threatened by drug trafficking organizations for the work that she was doing.
Countering these illicit groups and the flow of illegal drugs is a key part of our ongoing discussions on security, including here at the High-Level Dialogue. We’re bringing a holistic approach to this challenge.
That means looking at ways to further reduce demand by investing in substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery for those who are struggling with addiction in our countries – because this is fundamentally a public health problem.
And it means discussing ways to reduce supply – from strengthening interdiction by land and sea, to providing vulnerable communities with alternative ways to earn a living.
The dialogue also gives us an opportunity to deepen our joint efforts to address unprecedented migration across our hemisphere. Indeed, we are all experiencing unprecedented migration around the world. There are more people on the move, forcibly deplaced from their homes around the world – more than 100 million – than at any time since we’ve been recording these numbers. Colombia was a crucial partner in shaping the Los Angeles Declaration, which has put its principles into practice in responding to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. More than 1.5 million Venezuelans have been granted Temporary Protective Status in Colombia, allowing them to work, to send their kids to school, to access public health services.
Here again, I had a chance to meet last time I was in Bogotá with some Venezuelan families – this is back in October at the integrata centers – and heard first-hand how TPS has allowed them to become productive members of their new communities. Colombia is showing the way that migration, when it’s managed safely, humanely, and as a region, can actually increase stability and can be an opportunity, not a burden, for communities.
The United States has been a steadfast partner in these efforts, providing more than $900 million in humanitarian, economic, development, and health assistance to Colombia, to help Colombia address the consequences of the Venezuela crisis.
Next month, we will host our first-ever Cities Summit of the Americas in Denver, Colorado. The mayor of Bogotá, my host at the integrata center, will be there, along with the mayors of Cartagena, Barranquilla, dozens of other cities across the hemisphere, including in the United States. This summit will allow them to share best practices in tackling many of the issues that we discuss here.
I think one of the things we know is that there needs to be and there is an integrated response across national governments, but these challenges also have answers in work – at a subnational level, between and among municipalities, between municipalities and the federal government, states, et cetera. Again, it’s a reminder that important as this dialogue between our national governments is, there are U.S.-Colombian dialogues at every level of our societies – between our governments, businesses, civil society, and directly between our citizens.
And I’m convinced, based on the experience that we’ve had over many years, that these dialogues are one of the most important ways to actually benefit our people, to benefit our communities, to benefit the region that we share.
So with that, thank you all for being here, thank you for your participation, for all the hard work that’s gone into today, for all the hard work that will continue today and in the days that follow.
And with that, Álvaro, the floor is yours. (Applause.)
FOREIGN MINISTER LEYVA: (Via interpreter) Mr. Secretary of State, Mr. Blinken, it is a great honor for me to be here with you. I’d first like to extend greetings from President Petro, and to, of course, President Biden. We are allies. And this is not new; we’ve been for a long time. We are actually on the tenth High-Level Dialogue, and I have to say it’s impressive. Look at the delegation we’re bringing to you. Behind each and every one of these people there’s a wise person, and I’m not exaggerating. People who have great reputation on the moral and intellectual levels, and they have devoted their careers to the seven points that once again bring us here, which are the social and economic opportunities; public diplomacy; the environment and climate change; energy, mining, and infrastructure; democracy, good governance, and human rights; security, counternarcotics, and rural development; and migration.
These are issues that in the eighth and ninth dialogues were there, but they didn’t have the significance that they have today. Today there’s a geopolitical dimension; new things are happening every day; new visions are crystallizing on each one of these topics. And so today’s conference goes beyond expectations. We are allies; we truly are, because we acknowledge that we have a new role in this world. Just to give you an example, we used to be a nation known for cocaine, but now we are one of the biggest sponges when it comes to observing solutions for seeking ways of putting an end to the disappearance of humankind. We’re saving the planet, and so our relationship is thus modified. Because there’s a new head of state, he has a discourse, but it’s not surprising – there will never be a surprise coming from my administration, in our relationships, and certainly not with – in our relationships with our longtime allies, such as the United States.
This brings me to manifest something that is very important: migration. Migration is a political issue for many countries – for us, for the United States, for Mexico. That’s why the President has managed to convince Mexico of the importance of celebrating as soon as possible a Latin American conference on migration.
Bangladesh had never been through Colombia. Afghanistan had never gone through Colombia. China had never gone through Colombia. But they’re coming through Colombia too on their way north, and they’re coming back. We not only have the migrants coming from Venezuela, which of course has its own circumstances, but we’re seeing a phenomenon that touches the whole planet. So I wanted to tell you that, just as Mr. Petro said, we are going to celebrate that conference on migration as soon as possible.
The conference on drug trafficking – that stopped being a Colombian topic. There is a multinational organization that is impacting the globe. We saw that in Ecuador. In one single day, 11 attacks that left people dead. Talking to people – Lula, right after he took charge, he said, “President Petro, Brazil – in Brazil the multinational drug enterprise is creating problems for us. We have to attack them with intelligence.” So how best to do this? By using the knowledge that Colombia has and creating and celebrating a conference on migration that involves the whole continent to discuss drug trafficking, and we will not only comply with what was said in Havana, but also we will analyze demand because we’re all in the same boat here. I think it’s of the utmost importance to highlight the call that President Petro has placed upon all of us.
In terms of fighting greenhouse emissions, something completely new, we are going to hold – and I think Canada has already said yes – we’re going to have a conference on the power interconnection grid from Patagonia, just so we can bring to the North electricity coming from renewal – clean energy methods. This is just to say that this High-Level Dialogue goes beyond business as usual, and we are going to need the U.S. to be present, to be by our side in each and every one of these topics, because we are the same people, the same continent, the same security, the same issues – perhaps a little bigger now up north, of course, given the global responsibility that the U.S. has in its role in the world. But each one of the people that you see here is an ally, and they can bring solutions – definitive solutions to the problems that are afflicting the world.
I am very thankful for your presence. Please take into consideration this new vision that President Petro is bringing. He is trying his best to deal with continental circumstances, to deal with the problems afflicting humanity, and of course to deal with problems that are also happening in the U.S. We’re all in the same boat, and we are guided by the same goal.
Thank you for being here today. (Applause.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: Thank you, Foreign Minister Leyva. Thank you, Secretary Blinken. And with that powerful introduction, I have the honor to declare the 10th High-Level Dialogue open. I expect great things, and I am sure that you will deliver for both of our peoples.
Have a great day. (Applause.)
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