PRESIDENT DUQUE: (In Spanish.)
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, President Duque. Good to see you again. Good morning, everyone. In the United States, today it’s Martin Luther King Day. Happy recognition of this great American leader.
Before I recap my meeting with the president, I want to comment on the tragic loss that Mission Colombia and the entire State Department suffered this past weekend. As you may already know, one of our team members, an American, is missing and presumed dead as a result of a boating accident that occurred on Saturday. We’ve notified the next of kin but are withholding the name of the victim for privacy considerations. Other government personnel – some assigned to Colombia and others visiting – were also rescued at the scene of the accident. Some sustained modest injuries, and one was airlifted to the United States yesterday for treatment.
I want to thank President Duque – you, and your team, and your government – also the private citizens of Colombia – for the outstanding assistance that they provided during the course of the rescue operations. And to my entire State Department team, Susan and I are with you in your grief. You have my word the department will do everything in our power to comfort and support those who have suffered from this devastating loss.
Turning back to my meeting with President Duque, it’s always a privilege to come here to Colombia and visit with dear friends of the United States of America. It’s great to get here so early in the new year. As President Duque said, I’ve been to Colombia multiple times. This is, in fact, my ninth trip to the region. This region is our shared home. What happens here in Colombia affects all of us in the United States. And I’ve said repeatedly, most recently at the OAS just a few days ago, I’m glad to see that cooperation between democratic nations of the Western Hemisphere is at an all-time high. Citizens are rejecting authoritarianism and embracing freedom, and that’s good for all of us. We aspire to have a hemisphere of freedom.
The longstanding friendship between the United States and Colombia has been key to this democratic vision, and to its evolution over these past few years. President Duque and I just discussed our commitment, our reaffirmation of a commitment and our shared values. At the top of the agenda was the enormous humanitarian crisis in Venezuela caused by Nicolas Maduro and his regime. I saw firsthand the devastating consequences of what Maduro brought when I traveled to Cucuta a few months back. The world must continue to support the Venezuelan people’s efforts to restore their democracy and put an end to Maduro’s tyranny, which harms millions of Venezuelans and has an impact on Colombia, and indeed on the entire region. The United States is grateful for the Colombian people’s generosity. Their outstanding effort to take care of 1.6 million refugees is truly remarkable and stands in sharp contrast to the misery inflicted by Maduro.
I’m also proud of what we did together last year at the UN General Assembly in New York. Under the Rio Treaty, we joined forces with 13 countries to share information and apply sanctions to current and former regime members, and their families. The United States and Colombia will continue to work with those countries bilaterally to help the Venezuelan people restore democracy.
Turning to security matters, a major purpose of this trip is to build on the hemisphere’s good counterterrorism work that we did in Buenos Aires last July. We’ll do that again with our ministerial here in just a little bit this morning. This multilateral cooperation, so much of it targeting the financial activity of Iranian proxy groups, would have been unlikely even just a few years ago. Colombia’s active role reflects its enduring security partnership, and your exemplary commitment to fighting all forms of terrorism is deeply appreciated and benefits everyone in the region.
Colombia has also done this at great cost. In just a few moments I’ll attend a memorial ceremony for the 22 police cadets slain and dozens wounded by ELN terrorists just over a year ago. President Duque and I both know that those losses, that suffering, was not in vain.
Our talks, too, affirmed our shared resolve to continue to fight drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime. As a result of aggressive counter-narcotics efforts by President Trump and President Duque, President Duque’s administration has rolled back record high coca cultivation and cocaine production levels. Much work remains; we’ll keep the progress going. I know that we can.
And finally, too, Colombia is a champion in this hemisphere of freedom. Through our shared commitment to democratic governance, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, we applaud how the Colombian Government responded to protests last year with professionalism, good planning, respect for human dignity and decency, and calls for a national dialogue. The United States values this important friendship. We will continue to prioritize it and prioritize our relationships here in the region, and we’ll continue to build partnerships for that hemisphere of freedom.
Thank you, Mr. President, for being with me this morning.
PRESIDENT DUQUE: (In Spanish.)
(Via interpreter) Thank you very much, dear Secretary Pompeo. I would also like first of all to express our solidarity and our condolences. Our solidarity for the incident that occurred over the weekend, which was an accident and that affected some U.S. citizens, and naturally express our condolences for what has been a several-days search for embassy officials.
As you all know, we have the national navy teams as well as all the local and coast guard services engaged in the corresponding investigation in an effort to reach fruitful results so as to find the body of the person that has not been found yet. You know, Secretary Pompeo, that we have a shared solidarity in this respect and the people of Colombia regret the incident.
In the second place, I would like to thank you for coming back to Colombia, and I want to thank you for visiting this school, the General Santander Police Academy. This is a cadet training center of national police of Colombia – men and women, young men and women who have made the decision to follow the path to do good, to serve the community, to serve the people, to be willing to put their life on the line for others.
So your visit today is something that we receive as homage to those 22 angels that were brutally and cruelly assassinated by terrorism, but they accompany us from the sky and they hope that we build in Colombia, but in other parts of the world, a concept of peace with legality where we see the rule of law, to impose exemplary sanctions against whoever resorts to these despicable actions. And I thank you for participating in this homage. And I believe that this hemispheric effort against terrorism is of paramount importance. It’s important because there are too many Latin American countries, there will be many Latin American countries present here, and they will continue the efforts that started not just in Buenos Aires and in Santiago, the preparatory meeting, but in D.C. so that we have the best possible coordination to stand up to this global scourge.
And once again, if this, Mr. Secretary Pompeo, should be a meeting where the countries of Latin America can progress in the implementation of all the instruments derived from the UN Security Council on the fight against terrorism, and underlining Resolution 1373 of the year 2001 whereby we all condemn, censor, sanction, and adopt the necessary actions whenever we see states sponsoring, protecting, or allowing that terrorist activities take place in their country.
In this morning’s conversation, we were able to share our concerns regarding the support that the tyranny and dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro is giving to terrorists in its territory. And I will address that topic during the conference. But I am convinced that this meeting that also has TIAR member countries, will allow us to elevate those denouncements and sanctions, and the international community will be more strict in its combating terrorism.
Allow me to add our deepfelt gratitude for last week’s visit by Dr. Adam Boehler, who reports to you directly. And Adam is currently leading the new financial instrument for development that has been an evolution of what – it used to be the OPIC. His visit to Colombia was very, very important because it was clear that the United States has an agenda to support the territorial approach development projects, as well as to build peace with legality by bringing financial and development tools to the regions to enhance the provision of public goods in regions harshly hit by violence and poverty. I believe that the effort made last week with this very important announcement for coming years reaffirms that we will be in the regions with security and justice, and at the same time with the provision of public goods. So we truly thank you for your support.
I would also like to express – as you yourself have said – that the work in combating drugs will be maintained. It is comprehensive, and it responds to a government policy and to a state policy that combine a multiplicity of tools. But we can clearly say that in the year 2019 was a year where Colombia reached peak numbers in manual eradication and seizures, as well as achieving record numbers in destroying the illegal labs and capabilities of these illegal groups. In 2019, we also made great strides in development projects in regions harshly hit by this scourge. And there is yet a lot more to be done, but every day we need to improve our capabilities. And I am convinced that this alliance of shared responsibility and coordination must be preserved in order to stand up to one of the worst scourges faced by our societies.
Mr. Secretary Pompeo, allow me now to address the topic of the humanitarian assistance provided to Venezuelan migrants in Colombia. U.S. support has been very important. We need to mobilize more resources from the international community to service the migrant population, particularly the one arriving in our country seeking medical care or vaccination that know they cannot find in Venezuela. We also need to mobilize additional efforts from the international community to deal with the malnutrition of the children arriving in our country. That’s why we are so interested in the next few days urging and calling other countries to join us in our cause.
But I would like to thank what has been true coordination to denounce the evil effects of the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro in the worst humanitarian and migration crisis that Latin America has seen in its recent history. And we discussed it today, because we are talking about over 6 million people who have left Venezuela in recent years. And Colombia has received 1.6 million Venezuelan migrants, and we know the fiscal, social, and economic pressure this brings with it. But it is clear to us that the only way to solve this is when we see a credible transition taking place in Venezuela. And hence the importance of what you and I discussed today and that we have announced publicly in recent days: the urgent plea to hold and call – to call and hold free, credible elections in Venezuela. And for such free and credible elections will also go hand in hand with an economic reactivation plan, and there we see the entire international community converge around that.
We stand firm in that regard, Secretary Pompeo, and we will do the same in all international instances. We will repeat this plea, this call, and I would like to say that the progress made in TIAR to denounce all that the Venezuelan dictatorship is doing through its criminal structures must translate into pressuring that political transition as promptly as possible.
The other topics we have looked at today are of the bilateral and hemispheric nature. But allow me to close by saying the following: This meeting that has brought us here today, where we will talk about the binational agenda reaffirms the commitment of two countries to strengthen their trade, their investment, their joint work in favor of security, combating terrorism and combating narco-trafficking. Colombia and the United States have had a historical alliance, and it will be preserved, maintained, and enhanced. And today we are strengthened because we want to defend freedom in a country such as our sister nation of Venezuela.
Thank you very much, Secretary Pompeo. And once again, my solidarity with you for the incidents occurred in recent days. Thank you very much. (Applause.)