Secretary's Remarks: Joint Press Availability With Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos

Press Availability
Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
Bogota, Colombia
February 6, 2018


MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, good evening, welcome. Welcome to the press room at the Palace of Narino. We would like to greet all the TV viewers following our program and over the streaming through our different means. After the meeting between the President of the Republic of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos Calderon and the U.S. Secretary of State Mr. Rex Tillerson, we will now hear the joint statement to the media.

So Mr. President, good evening; the floor is all yours.

PRESIDENT SANTOS: (Via interpreter) Good evening. We have just had a very fruitful and productive meeting with the Secretary of State of the U.S., Mr. Rex Tillerson. Once again, Secretary Tillerson, you and your team, welcome, welcome to Colombia. Your presence in our country as well as all the meetings I’ve had with President Trump and Vice President Pence are very revealing of the importance of the strategic alliance we share, and it also takes place at a historic moment for Colombia. Colombia, as you have seen firsthand, is making progress in the construction of peace, and this is a very complex process, a process that takes time. And even though we stand before many challenges, the fruits are – is something that we are seeing now.

Last year, the year 2017, was the quietest year in our recent history. Thousands of lives have been saved, thanks to putting an end to the conflict. We have the lowest homicide rate in the last four decades. Colombian countryside that has been another victim of violence is now pushing economic growth and state agencies, as well as the military and police forces of Colombia continue strengthening their presence throughout the national territory.

We also are reacting to all forms of violence and threat that are not alien to any transition towards peace after such a long and cruel conflict. Throughout the process we have had the firm and decided support of the United States – a bipartisan support, a very effective support, free of interruptions. And that is why we are so grateful. We truly appreciate the support of President Trump’s administration at this crucial time in our history as a nation.

At the meeting with U.S. Secretary Tillerson, we looked at different items on our binational agenda, and I also explained the work we’ve been doing in areas of interest to both countries. We discussed the global problem of illegal drugs, an issue regarding which we agree with you, Secretary Tillerson, our countries have shared responsibility. There is no supply without demand, nor demand without supply.

As part of the candid, open dialogue between us, we detailed the different actions undertaken in this front as well as the achievements made between last year, 2017. And so far this year we have forcefully eradicated 54,000 hectares, which is more than the goal we had set, and by the end of this year we hope to have cleared 150,000 hectares.

As far as voluntary substitution is concerned, for the very first time we have a greater likelihood of being successful, and that has led us to sign agreements with 124,000 families that say that they have over 105,000 hectares of illegal crops. This is almost 30,000 of these families today are currently substituting their illegal crops.

We have also had record seizures, and the war on drugs has taught us that this is where we can be most effective. For example, during the eight years of my administration we have seized over 1,800 metric tons of cocaine – an unprecedented number; much, much higher than what was seized in the preceding eight years. Last year we seized 416 tons – another record number for a single year.

The joint work between our two countries is leaving very positive results. Last year alone our armed services, with U.S. support, conducted over 460 activities in areas such as criminal investigation, against kidnapping, counternarcotics, and combatting organized transnational crime. U.S. support to our efforts to become a country free of landmines after having been the most mined country in the world after Afghanistan, this has been very important. We have cleared 185 municipalities that are now mine-free.

And our joint work includes legal assistance, judicial support, and combatting corruption. Together we have provided assistance to Central America in the area of security, and Colombia has trained over 15,000 police officers from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama, and Dominican Republic.

During the meeting, I also explained to Secretary Tillerson our concern over the very serious situation that the people of Venezuela are going through. The harsh crisis in our neighboring country, the result of the failed revolution that is being defended by President Maduro, has had very serious repercussions, not just in Colombia but throughout the region. And the very serious humanitarian situation that the dictatorial government ceases to admit. We now have the summoning of presidential elections, elections that, in our view, would not be – are not valid because they offer no guarantees whatsoever, none, and will not offer any guarantees. Maduro would never, never accept participating in free, clean elections because he knows he will lose. And under those conditions it will be impossible for Colombia.

And I believe that this is true for many democratic countries, such as the Lima Group countries, to recognize any electoral result. It is therefore urgent to restore democracy in Venezuela because only citizens, the citizens that are suffering the hardship and consequence of this dictatorship. And once again, I repeat that Colombia is ready to continue providing humanitarian assistance to our Venezuelan brothers and sisters.

And I am very pleased, Secretary Tillerson, to ratify that in spite of all the challenges we face, our bilateral agenda goes far beyond combatting illegal drugs and promoting security. Our tie – our trade ties are very strong. Thanks to the coming into effect of the Free Trade Agreement, U.S. investment in Colombia has exceeded three – 2.3 billion U.S. dollars. Over 230 U.S. companies are currently installed in our country – are currently established in our country, and we’re happy to see that a growing number of Colombian products are entering the U.S. market.

As of November of last year, Colombia exported to the U.S. 3000 – 3.7 billion U.S. dollars in non-mine or energy resources. And we want more and more U.S. companies doing business with Colombia and investing in our country. The private sector has a key role to play in promoting trade and investment, and that is why we value the U.S.-Colombia Business Council role that brings together 40 of the most important CEOs of both our countries’ companies.

On the other hand, the high level of dialogue have yielded wonderful results in the area of cooperation in energy, in education, in rural development, science, and technology. Colombia is starting to use its full potential. We still have a long road to go; however, we have seen some very important headway in combatting poverty, infrastructure development, and economic growth.

The world is discovering our country. Last year, we received almost six million visitors. Over 470,000 of them came from the United States. And we want to continue advancing along the road of development, and hence the importance of our joining the OECD, and that’s why we would like to thank you, Secretary Tillerson, if you can help us complete our accession to the OECD.

U.S. and Colombia share the values of democracy and liberties that our forefathers have left us in both our countries, as well as the interest in consolidating a region that is in – that will thrive evermore. We have a very broad and diverse agenda, and we hope to continue working with you, with President Trump’s administration, to deepen further our great relationship, a relationship more so than allies and partners; we are also friends.

Once again, Secretary Tillerson, thank you, thank you for visiting our country and for the ongoing decided support of the United States for the future of Colombia. Once again, welcome, sir, to our country.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, first allow me to thank you, President Santos, for the kind welcome I’ve received in Colombia and for the opportunity for us to have such a meaningful meeting and exchange on views on a number of import issues. And it’s truly a pleasure to be in Colombia to visit you today.

The United States knows in Colombia we have first and foremost a partner who shares our democratic values and also a partner that is very capable as well. And I am grateful for this opportunity to say a few words about our priorities and things that we talked about today that are important in the bilateral relationship.

We did discuss our concerns about the surge in coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia, but the president also gave me a very good report of the steps that are being taken, the progress that’s being made, and he just spoke to much of that. And we are quite encouraged by what we hear, and we will continue to work with Colombia to support these efforts where we can be of assistance as well. This is a shared challenge for both of our nations as well to work together to undermine the transcriminal organizations that create the networks that are devastating for citizens in Colombia, and they’re devastating to the American people as well. And so we look forward to continuing that cooperation.

As you highlighted, we have had many, many years of joint law enforcement efforts and have very strong laws in Colombia that help us deal with those who are apprehended as well. And we thank you for that. The U.S. Government does continue to support Colombian police and military forces, having trained over 13,000 law enforcement here in the hemisphere as well. And we appreciate what Colombia has done for Central America as well, as you’ve mentioned too.

Colombia has been a key player in the hemisphere’s efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela, and the president spoke extensively about that, and we had a very extensive exchange on how we can work together, along with others in the region, through the Lima Group, ultimately through the OAS, to restore democracy in Venezuela. And this is our only objective, is to see Venezuela return to its constitution, return its duly-elected assembly, and to hold free and fair elections and give the Venezuelan people the right for their voices to be heard in elections.

We are all heartbroken by what we see happening in Venezuela, such a great a country, and we are also heartbroken to see the impact it’s having on Colombia. And we appreciate Colombia’s efforts to deal with the situation of so many Venezuelans seeking refuge here in Colombia as the situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate. We will continue to work as partners in seeking a solution to that tragedy that we’re all watching unfold in Venezuela.

I also want to note our appreciation for Colombia’s full support on our concerns about the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and the DPRK. And we appreciate that Colombia sent a representative to the Vancouver meeting in Canada this past month, and it was important participation on the part of Colombia to support that international effort and that joint statement, which was very clear as to the desire of the entire international community that North Korea denuclearize and give up their nuclear weapons.

And finally, I do want to state again, we support Colombia’s accession to the OECD and have underlined our commitment in helping Colombia complete and implement the technical requirements to qualify for membership in the OECD, and we have closed just about all of the technical issues. We’ve committed that we will continue to work with Colombia to close all remaining issues, and we know the urgency. The president has spoken very clear on this, and it is our intention to continue to be engaged, and we’ll close out the remaining issues as well.

With that, Mr. President, I want to thank you again for receiving me so warmly in Colombia, and for the time you gave us. It was a very, very useful exchange and very important for me. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) We will now take questions from the media present here tonight, and we are going to start with Nicholas Wadhams from Bloomberg.

QUESTION: Thanks very much. My name is Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg. Mr. President, I have a question for you first about which message you listen to and which message you put the most emphasis on. We’ve heard President Trump just last week talk about threatening to cut foreign assistance to countries that are – have a drug flow flowing into the United States. He did not mention Colombia specifically, but it was very clear from his comments that Colombia was among the countries he was referring to. He said countries are laughing at the United States and that aid should be cut. So given the more moderate message you’ve heard from Secretary Tillerson today, who do you believe? Are you confused by these conflicting messages?

And also, for Secretary Tillerson, given, as you mentioned, that coca production has tripled in the last five years, would the U.S. consider, as the President has done now with Pakistan and others, would the United States consider cutting foreign assistance to Colombia as a way of provoking action? And did you commit to not cutting aid to Colombia in your conversation? Thank you.

PRESIDENT SANTOS: Well, first of all, I don’t think that President Trump is – was referring to Colombia because Colombia is not laughing at the U.S. On the contrary, we think we’re working together in a problem and a challenge that needs cooperation from both countries. As I said, there would be no supply of drugs if there is no demand, and there would be no demand if there is no supply. And Colombia does not laugh at this very important issue for us because it’s a matter of national security.

We have lost our best leaders, our best journalists, our best judges, our best policemen in this war against drugs. There’s no other country in the world that has paid such a high price in this war on drugs that the world declared more than 40 years ago. No other country, compared to what Colombia has paid. So what I hope to continue is this cooperation that is needed. This is a global problem that needs a multilateral solution and cooperation between all the countries that suffer from this very damaging traffic of drugs.

So what I heard from Secretary Tillerson is that the U.S. wants to continue to work together, and you’ve seen the results. The amount of coca seized in the last years has been at record levels. This is where the drug trafficking is hit with more effectiveness. And we will continue. And as I said, we, in Colombia, for the first time – for the first time in 35, 40 years – have a unique opportunity to reduce the production of coca, and we’re working on that because for the first time, thanks to the peace agreement, we can go into these areas that before were not controlled by the state and offer the peasants an alternative, a viable alternative. And they want – I’ve been speaking to many of them – they want to get out of coca cultivation and into legal crops.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, Nick, I think one of the things that’s important about this relationship is because we are so close in terms of the bilateral partnership, is that we can speak very openly and very frankly about the things that are of concern to both of us. And I know President Santos had a very open and frank exchange with President Trump in his visit to Washington, and we are able to speak very frankly with one another about our concerns and how can we help one another.

The rapid increase in coca cultivation in many respects was an unintended consequence of the peace that was negotiated with the FARC, and I think, as the president has described now, it’s the long process of reversing those trends, both through eradication but also, importantly, as the president just mentioned, programs to offer alternative crop – cash crops to the farmers and the local people who have been living off of the coca cultivation. And the president described a very comprehensive program to me this evening in our exchange. It appears to be having good results. We talked about ways that the U.S. might support that effort, as well as other ways to more efficiently support their efforts to eradicate coca production as well.

We do know that there are obviously significant criminal organizations involved, and we will continue our joint work to attack these transnational criminal organizations, and Colombia continues to be very aggressive in going after the leaders of these organizations, and working very cooperatively with our law enforcement people as well to interdict.

We also, importantly, in the last year have come to agreements cooperatively between the U.S., Mexico, and Colombia on maritime interdiction, and this is an area that’s been a real – we’ve had real obstacles in the past. And through joint efforts with Mexico, the U.S., Colombia, we now have agreements that are allowing us to be much more aggressive at interdicting routes of transportation along the Pacific, in particular maritime routes.

So I think what you see is President Trump has made this a high priority of his, both in terms of addressing the supply, but as you know, he’s made it a high priority to acknowledge that the U.S. is the market – we are the demand, we are the consumer – and the President has put in place a very comprehensive program at drug demand reduction as well. And so I think what’s important is the way we’re now approaching this is to recognize we need to work on the demand side of this, we need to work on interdicting more cash that flows back to supplying these illicit activities, and we need to do more to interdict weapons that go into the hands of the criminal organizations, while working closely with the neighboring countries who are suffering from the criminal activity that’s associated with the production of these illicit drugs and the transportation of those. I think our expectation is that Colombia is going to make significant progress this year in reversing these trends. And we want to support that reversal, we want to make that sustainable, and we want to ultimately win this war that has been underway for so long.

So that’s what we’re focused on, is how can we turn the trend around, how can we be supportive. And we’re going to continue to work closely through our joint law enforcement, our intel sharing, and other programs to support gaining on this problem here in Colombia.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) We will now continue with Luis Eduardo Maldonado, Caracol Noticias.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Mr. Tillerson, does the U.S. Government recognize that it is the number-one consumer of drugs in the world? But what is happening? I mean, how is the U.S. Government failing? How – why hasn’t it been able to reduce drug consumption? And you spoke of reciprocity. When you say that, what do you mean? More economic aid? I mean, in short, what does that mean?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, the U.S. certainly does recognize that we’re the largest consumer of drugs because we had 65,000 deaths in the United States last year that were related to drug consumption – 65,000. So we need no reminders of the fact that drug consumption is a serious problem in the United States, and as I said, that’s why the President has tackled this with new initiatives at drug reduction. Some of this has to get at how do people – how do they find their entryway into addiction, and interdicting that as well. So we certainly are committed to undertaking the effort to reduce that drug demand in the U.S. Our journey, too, will likely be a long one to win this battle as well.

In terms of assistance, it’s the same assistance we’ve been providing for some time in law enforcement, in terms of providing some capabilities with information sharing, and finding how can we best support the effort here to eradicate and also dismantle the networks themselves.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Dave Clark from AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Secretary Tillerson. I’m David Clark from AFP. Secretary Tillerson, until yesterday, you’d said the time was not right for U.S. officials to sit down with North Korea. Since then, both yourself and Vice President Pence have said, well, let’s see. They’re talking about the – you’re talking about the week ahead in PyeongChang. What has changed until yesterday? And what is it that you’re hoping to see? Thank you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, nothing’s really changed other than the President has asked the Vice President to lead the U.S. delegation – official delegation to the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, to be there to support a very successful Olympics being hosted by our ally, South Korea, and also support a great U.S. Olympic Team that’s going to be marching into that stadium. Hundreds of young athletes are realizing their dream to compete at the Olympic level, and we anticipate the Vice President being there will result in more gold medals, obviously. (Laughter.)

But also, I mean, as you well know and it’s well known, through the dialogue between South Korea and North Korea, North Korea is participating in the Olympics as well. So we don’t know what might present itself and that’s why, again, I think we just say we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) And we will now hear Francy Sepulveda from CM&.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good evening, Secretary Tillerson. I have two questions for you, the first on Venezuela. The two of you are in agreement that the way in which President Maduro is managing the crisis is not right. I would like to ask you, how will the U.S. commit to truly provide resources and aid to Colombia that is the country most affected by the crisis in Venezuela, who are coming now to Colombia looking for refuge, and now Colombia needs assistance? And like the minister of foreign affairs has said, that we need resources from international agencies. So what does the U.S. commit to in this respect?

Second, are you happy with the eradication results in the illegal substitution program presented by President Santos? And this warning done by President Donald Trump of decertifying Colombia because of its work against drugs will become a reality or not?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, with respect to the impact that the Venezuelan situation is having on Colombia, I spoke to that earlier in my comments, as did President Santos. We are looking at resources that we had earmarked to address humanitarian situations inside of Venezuela. Our ability to provide that aid to Venezuela has not been easy because of the situation, so we’re going to look at what we have available, and some of that may be redirected to serve Venezuelans who are – who have had to leave and are here in Colombia, and we discussed that tonight and we’ll be in consultation with the president and his team as to whether what we are able to do would be useful. And we recognize that it is putting a burden on Colombia as well.

And in terms of the eradication and the crop substitution program, again, I was very encouraged to hear what was discussed in our meeting, in our bilat meeting. And obviously, results are what matter. In the end, we need to see the results, we need to see the trends reversing, we need to see the number of crops – number of acres or hectares under cultivation going down. We need to see the seizures going up and we need to see all of the metrics. And we talked about important ways to measure whether we’re gaining on this. We need to see those metrics going in the correct way.

And that’s all President Trump wants as well, and I think what he was communicating is how serious he sees this problem and how seriously he takes the steps to reverse these trends. And he clearly is very interested and we’ll be following the results, and that’s what matters, is the results.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much, and this is the end of this joint statement. We would like to thank the U.S. Secretary of State and the president of the republic. Thank you, everyone, for joining us tonight.


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