Deputy Secretary Steinberg’s Remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies Colombia Conference
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, thanks, Mack, for that exceedingly generous introduction. I’m touched, and it means a lot coming from you because of all that you’ve done for your country and especially on Latin America. And the ambassador and to so many good friends, current and former colleagues in the audience and in and out government, it’s a really pleasure for me to be here. I was telling Lourdes on the way over, this could be my last speech as Deputy Secretary. I’ve only got about two weeks to go. And I was particularly eager to do it, frankly, for the reasons that Mack outlined because it has been an especial privilege for me to come back into government and continue the work that was begun in my last time in government under the Clinton Administration and to see both the enormous progress that was made and the realization of the vision we had back in the late 1990s and to be able to be a small part of carrying that work forward to a new height.
And it has, in every respect, been gratifying because, as Mack said, first, it is a wonderful case study in successful policymaking, which makes it useful for me going back to academic life to have a case study of – of a success story rather than what went wrong, which is the kind of standard case study, but also because it really does reflect an incredibly broad set of actors in both countries working together over an extended period of time, and it really does demonstrate that if you’re going to be successful in policy, you have to establish a broad base of support not just among policymakers, but among publics. And I think that has been a key feature of why this policy has been so successful – the strong commitment of both the American people and the Colombian people as well as the political and government leaders.
And it has been in the last two and a half years, really, just a tremendous opportunity to work with the two administrations in Colombia and now with President Santos, Foreign Minister Holguin, and the ambassador to take this forward. Over the two and a half years since I’ve been a deputy secretary, I’ve had the privilege of making this an important part of my job. I’ve made two trips to Colombia since becoming deputy secretary, and on my last trip, I had a chance to launch the high-level partnership dialogue and just a few weeks ago, host the second meeting of the high-level partnership dialogue here in Washington. So – and we’ve seen in very concrete terms and ways that I’ll outline in a minute just how much has been done.
But I also think it’s important to just remember how far we have come. When I came into government and not that long ago, people were – some quarters were talking about Colombia as a near- or potentially failed state. And yet today, Colombia is the fourth largest recipient of foreign direct investment in Latin America behind Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. And along with tremendous economic growth and the achievements on the security front, we have now seen a movement to an even more broad-based strategy – the democratic prosperity agenda that makes sure that not only will Colombia and Colombians be secure and that the country will be prosperous, but all of the people in Colombian society will share in these great achievements.
It’s true; you can talk about statistics, and statistics are really important. You can just think, for example, that since 2002, terrorist attacks are down 77 percent, homicide is down 56 percent, and kidnapping is down 92 percent. But what’s even more important – and I know many of you in the audience know – is the palpable sense of a future and security that so many people have. The work has not ended, but the sense of optimism, the sense that Colombia can not only survive, but thrive is really critical. And these most recent presidential elections, I think, are a strong reflection of the great democratic tradition of Colombia and the strength of the democratic commitment of Colombian society. This is a model that serves as an exemplar all through the region and around the world that people can look to as an example of societies that come together to vindicate that democratic objective.
And since the election of President Santos, you can see what a remarkable step forward that has been taken and the broad-based commitment of President Santos and his administration. In just a short period of time, we have seen the recently enacted land restitution and victims reparation law addressing the foundational causes of conflict within Colombia and assisting hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and other vulnerable populations recover land, which is both an important political achievement, but also a strong commitment of resources. He’s begun to heal the breach between the executive branch and the legislative branch and strengthening the independent prosecutor’s office as well as moving forward on a host of human rights cases. He’s working to strengthen relations with civil society, working with Vice President Garzon to build a sense of trust between civil society and the government rather than a sense of conflict and adversarialism.
And President Santos and his administration, led by the foreign minister, have made improving relations with their neighbors a priority, which is paying dividends already, including, as we’ve seen, the extradition to Colombia of important narco-traffickers. And the continued work that the Santos administration is doing at going after the FARC network and its key leaders, with the recent successful operations, is just a further example of the broad-based effort to deal with the full range of challenges.
And we in the United States are honored to partner with Colombia across this full set of issues. And to make sure that it is not a one-dimensional relationship, we instituted the High-Level Partnership Dialogue to broaden and strengthen the range of our engagements. And if you look at the topics that we have established as our formalized working groups, science and technology , energy, environmental protection and climate change, culture and education, social and economic opportunities, and of course, the very important set of issues around democracy, human rights, and good governance.
And at our last meeting, we had more than 60 Colombian Government officials, including Vice President Garzon, Foreign Minister Holguin, and many other cabinet and sub-cabinet officials, who met with more than 120 U.S. Government representatives from more than 19 agencies. And this is more than a talk shop. As the Vice President and I agreed at the very first meeting of our group, the Human Rights Working Group, we’re focused on concrete agenda, concrete results, to demonstrate to our people in both countries that this is a partnership that delivers the goods.
So, for instance, on the human rights side, we agreed to jointly track certain key human rights cases on a monthly basis and to identify obstacles and better direct our assistance to Colombia. And we on the United States side reiterated our support to help build the fiscalia and make sure that we can continue the important work that’s taking place there.
On energy, a topic close to Mack’s heart, we reviewed existing partnerships in renewable and fossil fuel energy, as well as exploring additional avenues of collaboration in regional electrical interconnection, shale gas, and mining.
And Colombia will soon host the first plenary meeting for the Action Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality, a plan – a commitment that we jointly signed during my first visit to Colombia.
Beyond these efforts, we are supporting Colombia’s aspirations to become a member of the OECD. And in these HLPD meetings, we also agreed to enhance cultural and educational cooperation in Colombia and encourage economic and social opportunities for Afro descendents and indigenous communities, which are such an important part of the fabric of Colombian society.
And together, we’re working on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UNFCCC, including implementing the Cancun outcome and looking forward to working together at the next meeting in Durban, South Africa.
Now, having said that we broadened the partnership to all these issues, we continue to recognize that we can’t neglect the issue of drug trafficking on both the supply and the demand side and the impact that it has on all our societies. And so while we have not achieved all of our counternarcotics goals, our cooperation together has helped Colombia become more stable, denied millions of dollars in illegal drug revenues to the FARC, and reduced the amount of pure cocaine capable of being produced in Colombia by 59 percent, from 700 metric tons in 2001 to 290 metric tons in 2009, which has had a positive impact here on our society. And we must continue, and Secretary Clinton has made clear that we take responsibility for continuing to do our side of the business, which is dealing with the problem of drug demand.
Now, this is – I’ve talked so far primarily about our work together on bilateral issues and helping to strengthen Colombia’s security, economic prosperity, and inclusivity. But what has been especially rewarding for me is to see the growing role that Colombia is playing on the regional and international stage. As we like to say in our business, Colombia has gone from being a consumer of security to a provider of security and support for others who face even greater challenges.
Today, Colombia sits on the UN Security Council, trains police to help other nations meet their law enforcement challenges, and is playing a leading role, now successfully, in bringing Honduras back into the Inter-American system. And I think that is, as we’ve taken examples from our collective and successful work together, Colombia continues to help others deal with these challenges. So, for example, the institutional capability in counternarcotics built in Colombia over the last decade has allowed Colombia to share its security expertise with others. Over the last two years, Colombia has trained more than
9,000 police from 18 Latin American and three West African states. It’s trained hundreds of Mexican investigators and dozens of Mexican helicopter pilots. It’s offered similar assistance to its Central American neighbors, who are deeply affected by transnational crime and drug trafficking.
Now, of course, as Mack previewed, I wouldn’t want to end my discussion here without touching on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, which will open new markets and create new jobs and opportunities for both of our peoples. We’ve been impressed by the level of commitment and, more importantly, by the quick action by the Colombian Government to address labor-related concerns. In April, the U.S. and Colombian governments agreed to an ambitious and comprehensive action plan that includes major, swift, and concrete steps that the Colombian Government has agreed to take to address outstanding labor concerns, in addition to the good work it is doing on the human rights front.
The action plan contains several milestones, including 20 milestones due by April 22nd, which the Colombian Government needed to accomplish for the Administration to initiate technical discussions with the Congress. On May 4th, we finished our review of those accomplishments and announced that we were ready to move forward to the next stage in the process. Specific improvements that have already occurred under the action plan include expanded eligibility for Colombia’s protection program to include not only labor leaders but also rank and file activists and those seeking to form a union. Over 95 judicial police investigators have been assigned exclusively to pursuing cases of labor violence, with early identification of any union affiliation now mandatory. And ahead of schedule, Colombia enacted legislation to move up the effective date of new penalties for abuse of cooperatives, which try toevade worker protections.
And I’m pleased to see that there’s been strong support, not only here in the United States but in Colombia, for the Action Plan. According to Julio Roberto Gómez, the secretary general of the Confederación General del Trabajo, it is, in his words, “Positive that President Santos has put forth an agreement that includes issues such as freedom of association, human rights, and guarantees for workers as they are related to the FTA.” Or as José Luciano Sanín, director of the – general of the Escuela Nacional Sindical, has observed, “We are witnessing a moment that we have not had in at least 20 years. After the 1991 constitution this would be our most important agenda for the labor movement.”
All of these steps are a strong indication of Colombia’s commitment to working to address the issues that the Administration and others have identified. Now, of course, there’s still more work to be done under the action plan, including several items that we’ve agreed to see completed before June 15th. We are confident and optimistic about the steps that Colombia will take, and allow us to move our own process forward to pass the FTA this year, as the Secretary has said.
This is really a set of remarkable achievements. Just think, in the last two weeks, separate from commitments under the Action Plan, the Colombian Government has engineered a breakthrough protection agreement with the teachers union; moved forward on a decree for collective bargaining for the public sector; concluded a tripartite agreement signed by the country’s second-largest labor federation, itself, and business; achieved the first convictions in a controversial, so-called Soacha false positives murder case; and seen Colombians elected to the administrative tribunal of the ILO.
And in all these issues, President Obama said it best, “I believe,” in his words, “that in Americas – in the Americas today, there are no senior partners and there are no junior partners, there are only equal partners.” Of course, equal partnerships, in turn, demand a sense of shared responsibility. In Colombia, I have found, and we have, a true and willing partner. I am, as I say, truly impressed by what’s been achieved, but also know that you all understand that this is a never-ending effort and that each step needs to be succeeded by more determination to see the achievement of these goals of security and prosperity, of inclusivity, and to see that the fate of Colombia, as it seeks to achieve them, is deeply intertwined with our own.
This is a special partnership for us in the United States, and I have been privileged to be a small part of it over the last two and a half years. So thank you for your attention today, and I look forward to your questions. (Applause.)
Go ahead. Do we have mikes? There we go. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. I do not have a question. My name is Juan Carlos Isgara (ph), but there is an assessment I have to make. I was brought here to talk about justice, and if I was brought here to talk about justice, there is an act of justice that I have to make, and that is, Mr. McLarty, to say again, after all these years, I remember that when almost nobody believed, you believed. When almost everybody turned around, you gave us your hand, and you were a great supporter of Colombia in the middle of the night during very bad circumstances. And now that we are seeing a bright sky and a beautiful day, we have to remember the night just in order to say in the name of the Republic of Colombia and of every Colombian, thank you very much, Mr. McLarty. (Applause.)
QUESTION: Steve Lande, Manchester Trade. I don’t think there’s any question that a combination of Obama Administration education and Colombia action has really made this agreement ready to pass. The question, of course, is that we have a serious domestic political problem in the United States that has nothing to do with Colombia, well known. I’ve been in trade policy for umpteen years, and it is very strange that something as basic as trade adjustment assistance, which has been U.S. policy for 34 years is now being questioned.
But the real question to my mind is: Does Colombia understand this? Do they realize that this is not really aimed at them? What happens if because of trade adjustment assistance, if Colombia – or because of disagreement, if Colombia, which I assume they will live up to the obligations. And I’d like to ask Mack to speak a little bit on this question, too, because of his experience over the previous couple of – excuse me, during the previous democratic administration in this area about what do we do if the Republicans – and I know I shouldn’t say this, but I’m a Democrat – what do we do if the Republicans really keep their feet in and do not compromise on this trade adjustment assistance act?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Let me just say a quick word and then I’ll either invite or allow our people sitting here who are not really part of the presentation to either decide whether they want to answer or not. I think – as you know well from the perspective of the Administration, in the long run, we have to – if we’re going to pursue a trade agenda, which is enormously important to our future for jobs and competitiveness, that there has to be a broad-base of support in society. And that there’s no doubt, from our perspective, that the Colombia FTA, like Panama and South Korea, are win-wins for both societies but not for every single person. And trade, inevitably, has some dislocating features.
And the best way to move forward is not to retreat from trade, but to make sure that everybody can benefit from it, that people who are inadvertently – at least in the short term – suffering from trade have an opportunity to have that blow cushioned and to be ready to compete in that world. And that’s why we want a comprehensive approach that includes active pursuit of FTAs, including new ones that we’re negotiating like the TPP in East Asia, but also to make sure that our – that the American worker and the American people are part of this and feel beneficiary. So that’s why we think this is all a part of a package and we strongly hope that the Congress sees that we won’t have the support of the American people if we don’t have a comprehensive strategy.
All right. Mack.
MR. MCLARTY: Well, I’ll be very brief. I think Secretary Steinberg outlined precisely the balance here that needs to be achieved, should be achieved. It started really with President Obama’s comments and remarks of doubling our exports and that really set the predicate for moving forward on trade agreements.
There’s not that big a gap in a dollar sense between the Republicans and Democratic position. Clearly, there needs to be a deal in the middle. I believe there will be. It should take about an hour. It’s going to take a little longer than that. (Laughter.) But I think at the end of the day, they’ll get there.
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: One more.
QUESTION: Phil McLean from here in CSIS. Since you’re returning to academia, let me ask you a classic college-type question – compare and contrast. Compare and contrast what happened in Colombia and U.S. policy in Colombia with what – pick a country out there in the Middle East and how we did things differently and what’s to be recommended and not recommended.
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, I think – I’m glad it was a compare and contrast and not a what-if. I’ve spent two and a half years resisting hypotheticals, and I’m now going to go back to a world where I can actually ask them of my students all the time. (Laughter.)
I think that the biggest success of Plan Colombia, what we’ve done together, were really the things that Mack touched on, which is, first, we had a strong bipartisan basis for this in the United States. And on the big challenges, whether it’s providing security and moving forward on social inclusion in Colombia or dealing with democratic transformation in the Middle East, these things don’t happen overnight. They require a sustained commitment of both policy and resources to make it happen. And there needs to be a sense among all the parties that you’re in it for the long term. If you don’t have that, then people will game the system because they’ll assume it’s a flash in the pan or that the kinds of benefits – the costs are often upfront in – or front-loaded and the benefits are in the long term.
So let’s take Egypt for example. One of the biggest challenges and one of the biggest impulses to the revolution in Egypt was the lack of economic opportunity, the fact that the system, although there had been some economic reforms, was not providing jobs and opportunity, particularly for many of the reasonably well-educated young people who are coming out of universities or training programs.
And so addressing that economic need and those social and economic needs is critically important, but it doesn’t happen overnight. We can give some short-term economic assistance, but what’s really needed is to stimulate long-term economic opportunity. But that doesn’t happen overnight, and so the people of Egypt, like the people of Colombia, need to know that we have a long-term plan, that there will be some short-term sacrifices to get the Egyptian economy into a place which can produce good jobs for people over the long term, and we need to find ways to give them the confidence that if they take the necessary steps that the United States and Europe and others will be with them.
That’s what we did in Plan Colombia. We were ableto be convincing because we had bipartisan support, because there was a strong commitment to whatwe could do this; it wasn’t one congressional session or one presidential administration. Those are hard to do, as Mack will tell you. But when it’s done, it’s America at its finest. And I think that’s something that we all need to focus on is how do we build these strong commitments that have the support of both parties – the people as well as government, and in both countries – to sustain these kinds of long-term challenges. And the fact that we’ve done it together in Colombia, I think shows it can be done and that can give people some confidence and encouragement to look for ways to replicate that.
Okay, one more.
QUESTION: Thanks. And I wish you the very best. My question goes to the congressional play going on with the FTA. You thought and said you were confident that by the end of the year we would see something. In my conversations with, for example, with folks – I won’t say who – in connection with Korea, were thinking that they are going to see an FTA approved in Congress by the August 2nd recess. I guess my question is both to you and to Mack whether Colombia is prepared for the possibility that this thing will go beyond August 2nd? And how does – how do we explain this under the circumstances and do we really need to have to explain it? Do you think that deal that, Mack, you thought was so close to getting can be gotten by August 2nd?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, I’d say just my reference to the end of the year, I’ve learned a couple of things in my government service, is first it never hurts to quote your boss. (Laughter.) And second, it’s never smart to say something different from your boss. (Laughter.)
But I think what the Secretary meant to imply with that is – I mean, she is realistic. She served in the Congress. I don’t think she wanted to set some commitments to make it feel like somehow if we don’t get it by June, July, whatever, that that’s a failure. I think it was a strong commitment that we ought to find a way to do it this year. Obviously, we’d all like to see the logjam broken and move forward on these things sooner. So I don’t mean to imply that it’s not possible to get it done sooner. I just want to err a bit on the side of caution because often, even as Mack says, even if we resolve the issues around the TAA, there are always floor scheduling things. I worked in the Senate myself. And so the unpredictability of congressional action is something we just all have to live with.
I don’t know if you want to add anything to that.
MR. MCLARTY: (Off-mike.)
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: All right. Good. Well, thank you all. Really appreciate it. (Applause.)
Secretary Clinton’s Remarks With Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin After Their Meeting
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining me and the foreign minister. We’ve just had an excellent meeting that capped a day of intensive dialogue between our governments. The foreign minister and I addressed our delegations earlier, and I certainly underscored how impressed and inspired we are by Colombia’s progress and eager to expand our work together on the full range of issues that we have common concerns about.
Colombia has emerged as a regional and global partner. It sits on the UN Security Council, trains police to help 16 other nations to meet their security challenges, and through the leadership of both the president and the foreign minister, has played the leading role in bringing Honduras back into the inter-American system. At home, President Santos and his government are taking bold steps to heal Colombia’s wounds, redress grievances, consolidate democratic freedoms, and promote human rights. And of course, we are absolutely committed to passing the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement to open new markets and create jobs and opportunities for both of our peoples.
Since the first High Level Partnership Dialogue last October, Colombia has made significant progress on human, labor, and civil rights. And we are committed to working with Colombia as they continue their progress. We also discussed social and economic development, climate change, environmental protection, energy, education, and culture.
We had a very productive and wide-ranging dialogue, and Colombia’s progress is a testament to the courage and vision of the Colombian people and their leaders. And it’s also a reminder to the United States about why we sustain investments in our friends and our partners even through tight budgets and tough times.
So, Foreign Minister, thank you so much for the opportunity to work with you on these very important issues.
FOREIGN MINISTER HOLGUIN: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Secretary Clinton. To me, to us, it’s a great pleasure to be here today working at the State Department. We truly value the effort and support that the United States has shown Colombia over the course of many decades.
I believe that the success that Colombia has had in the fight against terrorism, against drug trafficking, is due to U.S. support. We have a well-trained police. We have one of the strongest military forces in the region. And today we are happy to take a second step to take drug trafficking or reduce the importance of drug trafficking and think about other issues that are important for us as well – energy, education, science and technology, environment – and to focus on these issues that are important to both of us in our relationship.
We believe that the work that both delegations have undertaken today lead us to developing a specific agenda on a number of issues that will help us further consolidate the relationship that has been strong in the past.
I want to thank Secretary Clinton for supporting Colombia’s aspirations to accede to the OECD. It’s a great opportunity for us to improve practices in our country, and we thank the United States for their support in this endeavor.
As Secretary Clinton said, we talked about the region, we talked about Honduras, and Colombia is very happy to have given its part to reestablishing Honduras within the organization and to do its part to strengthen democracy throughout the region.
And we talked about the issue of security, and Colombia here has cooperated greatly with Central America and the Caribbean on issues related to the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking. And as we talked before, we can continue to be great allies in helping the region, and we believe we can truly contribute to improving the situation throughout.
We thank Secretary Clinton for her support on the FTA, for support on the preferences. We are abiding by the commitments that we achieved during the April agreement, and we are happy to see that our dream that we’ve held for so many months is about to come into fruition.
We also talked about the Summit of the Americas. Colombia will be a host of the summit in April of 2012, and we’ve been talking with many countries about the organization of the summit and we have U.S. support to this end. We want to have discussions on a number of issues that join us, and we hope to have support in the region and throughout the continent, and we’ll see you in Cartagena next year.
I thank you for the work today. I think this is an important step towards strengthening our relationship, a relationship that is no doubt strong already, but there is always room for improvement. Thank you very much.
MR. TONER: We have time for just a few questions. The first goes to Elise Labott from CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. On Pakistan, the Pakistanis have said they’re going to take a new offensive into North Waziristan. Do you see this as a positive sign in response to some of the things that you discussed on your trip in terms of the Pakistanis needing to take action?
And then there are some very troubling signs in the Middle East today. There’s been reports in Syria of the torturing of a young boy, and in Yemen as well the violence is – the government is cracking down on the opposition even further. And it seems as in this second wave of the Arab Spring, if you will, the dictators are really digging in. And in fact, even as you call for them to make a transition, they’re cracking down even further and furthering their oppression. I was wondering if you had some thoughts on that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Elise, first with regard to Pakistan, as I said on our recent visit, Pakistan is a key ally in our joint fight against terrorists that threaten both of us as well as the region and beyond. And when I was there, we discussed our cooperative efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and to also drive the associated terrorists who are targeting both Pakistanis and, across the border in Afghanistan, Americans, coalition troops, and Afghans. So we are discussing a number of approaches that we think could assist us in this very important fight.
I would also add that there is no doubt that the progress we have made against al-Qaida and terrorists could have not have happened without Pakistani cooperation between our governments, our militaries, our intelligence agencies. And there’s still a lot of work to be done, so we are in the process of discussing what more the Pakistanis could do. We will continue to do our part working together.
With respect to Syria, I too was very concerned by the reports about the young boy. In fact, I think what that symbolizes for many Syrians is the total collapse of any effort by the Syrian Government to work with and listen to their own people. And I think that as the President said in his speech last week, President Asad has a choice, and every day that goes by the choice is made by default. He has not called an end to the violence against his own people and he has not engaged seriously in any kind of reform efforts. And I have here the name of the young boy whose body was so brutally affected by the behavior and the conduct of those who had him in detention: Hamza Ali al-Khateeb. And I can only hope that this child did not die in vain but that the Syrian Government will end the brutality and begin a transition to real democracy.
QUESTION: Have they completely lost legitimacy?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s up to the Syrian people themselves. We’ve obviously, along with others, imposed sanctions, spoken out. We’ve closely coordinated with allies and partners. We’ve imposed an arms embargo. We’ve led the call for a special session in the United Nations. But I think that every day that goes by, the position of the government becomes less tenable and the demands of the Syrian people for change only grow stronger. And therefore, we continue to urge an end to the violence and the commencement of a real process that could lead to the kinds of changes that are called for.
MR. TONER: Our next question goes to Sergio Gomez Maseri of El Tiempo.
QUESTION: Thanks, Madam Secretary and Minister Holguin. You just mentioned that the U.S. is absolutely committed to the passage of the FTA. However, the FTAs – and I mean Colombia, Panama, and Korea – are all hostage of an internal dispute between Republicans and Democrats that has caused deep frustration in Colombia and also questions that come in that you were talking about. So can you tell us if you’re still confident, as you say a couple months ago here, that the FTAs are – are these FTAs going to be passed this year?
And a question for both: Can you comment on what’s expected tomorrow on the general assembly of the OAS regarding Honduras?
FOREIGN MINISTER HOLGUIN: (Via interpreter) On the issue of Honduras, I can say that we are convinced that Honduras will be brought back into the OAS tomorrow, and there has been negotiations on the resolution that took place last week and today. And I can say that most countries, if not all, wish to see Honduras return to the OAS and wish to see the strengthening of democracy in that country, and I can say that the only surprise that we can expect tomorrow is Honduras coming back to the organization.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And yes, I am confident that we are going to pass the Free Trade Agreement. I hope that the people of Colombia do not lose heart in watching the activities of our Congress, because there always is a lot of rhetoric and skirmishing between the parties before they finally hit the deadline to get the work done. And so I am absolutely sure we’re going to get it passed.
QUESTION: Can you (inaudible) Honduras?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I agree with the foreign minister. And I commend Colombia for the leadership role that it has played in enabling us to reintegrate Honduras tomorrow at the OAS.
Thank you all very much.
President Obama is committed to pursuing an ambitious trade agenda that will help grow our economy and support good jobs for U.S. workers by opening new markets. To achieve that objective, we seek to provide a level playing field that creates economic opportunities for U.S. workers, companies, farmers, and ranchers, and that ensures our trading partners have acceptable working conditions and respect fundamental labor rights. As part of this broader trade agenda, the Obama Administration has worked closely with the government of Colombia to address serious and immediate labor concerns. The result is an agreed “Action Plan Related to Labor Rights” that will lead to greatly enhanced labor rights in Colombia and clear the way for the U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement to move forward to Congress. The U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement will expand U.S. goods exports alone by more than $1.1 billion and give key U.S. goods and services duty free access in sectors from manufacturing to agriculture. It will increase U.S. GDP by $2.5 billion and support thousands of additional U.S. jobs.
President Obama and President Juan Manuel Santos speak to the press after meeting in the Oval Office.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning. I am very pleased to be here with Vice President Garzon of Colombia on his first visit to Washington as vice president. Before discussing the important matters that were part of our meeting, I would like to say something about the unfolding events in Egypt.
We continue to monitor the situation very closely. We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protestors, and we call on the Egyptian Government to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces. At the same time, protestors should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully.
As we have repeatedly said, we support the universal human rights of the Egyptian people, including the right to freedom of expression, of association and of assembly. We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications. These protests underscore that there are deep grievances within Egyptian society, and the Egyptian Government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away.
As President Obama said yesterday, reform is absolutely critical to the well being of Egypt. Egypt has long been an important partner of the United States on a range of regional issues. As a partner, we strongly believe that the Egyptian Government needs to engage immediately with the Egyptian people in implementing needed economic, political, and social reforms. We continue to raise with the Egyptian Government, as we do with other governments in the region, the imperative for reform and greater openness and participation to provide a better future for all. We want to partner with the Egyptian people and their government to realize their aspirations to live in a democratic society that respects basic human rights.
When I was recently in the region, I met with a wide range of civil society groups and I heard from them about ideas they have that would improve their countries. The people of the Middle East, like people everywhere, are seeking a chance to contribute and to have a role in the decisions that will shape their lives. As I said in Doha, leaders need to respond to these aspirations and to help build that better future for all. They need to view civil society as their partner, not as a threat.
Now there is a great deal of concern also in our government, Mr. Vice President, about the mining disaster that killed 21 miners in Colombia. And we will have our translator translate these remarks about Colombia as we go along.
I know that President Santos cut short his stay at the World Economic Forum to join the families of these victims. And I would like the people of Colombia to know they are in the thoughts and prayers of all Americans not just for the mining tragedy, but for the terrible flooding that in the past two months has claimed more than 300 lives, affected more than 2 million people and incurred billions of dollars in reconstruction and clean-up costs.
The Vice President and I had a very productive, wide-ranging discussion on many important issues, and we reaffirmed the resilient, enduring partnership and friendship between our peoples. We share common values and a respect for democratic governance, the rule of law, and self-determination. And the United States has stood with Colombia for more than a decade as they take on security challenges. We’ve made considerable progress together, but we have more work to do on security and other issues. That is why we are hosting the second round of the U.S.-Colombia High Level Partnership Dialogue in March, where we will cover so many of these issues. We are committed to a very broad discussion of issues, from sustainable energy to human rights. And as President Obama said in his State of the Union address, we are committed to a successful conclusion and ratification of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement. And I look forward to working with the vice president and members of the Colombian Government to bring that result about.
I also commended the vice president and the Santos administration for the progress that is being made on resolving long-term disputes having to do with displaced people in the country and reaching out to civil society to add their voices to a national conversation about human rights and labor rights. And I want to thank Colombia for their assistance to other countries in the fight against drug traffickers and criminal organizations, their assistance to the people of Haiti and of Afghanistan and in so many ways the leadership that Colombia is showing in helping to solve difficult issues.
We look forward to continuing and close cooperation, Mr. Vice President.
VICE PRESIDENT GARZON: (Via interpreter) Thank you so much Mrs. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State of the United States. I want to say on behalf of the Government of Colombia and very especially on behalf of President Santos, I would like to express our thanks to you, Mrs. Clinton, and to President Obama for the solidarity of your government and your people to the people of Colombia on the occasion of the recent floods and in particular the recent mining tragedy, which has cost 21 lives, has left several injured in the area of Santander in our country.
And in our broad-ranging discussions today, we have agreed, among other things, to work together to defend fundamental rights of humankind, the human rights that affect all of us, in particular, labor groups, indigenous groups, women’s groups, and others. And we have also agreed to continue to work and cooperate with all countries to combat organized crime, in particular, transnational crime, which includes drug trafficking, which is – which attacks our democracies.
In our dialogue, we have expressed our gratefulness for the political will of the United States Government and, in particular, President Obama and Secretary Clinton to find all paths necessary to achieve ratification of the free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. It is an agreement that helps the people and the Government of Colombia, and it also helps the people and Government of the United States. And we also greatly appreciate the willingness of the U.S. Government and the U.S. Congress to extend the Andean Trade Preferences Act, not just to the region, but to Colombia in particular, this is a sign of great solidarity at a time when we are busy with the reconstruction of our country after the devastating floods.
And we also agreed to redouble our joint efforts along with Secretary Clinton and President Santos Calderon regarding Haiti, to support the people of Haiti in their quest to elect, freely and fairly, their own leaders. And we will consolidate our high-level dialogue, a dialogue that we began last year between the United States and Colombia. This has been headed by Secretary Clinton.
We will be strengthening our programs, our – to discuss issues ranging from all kinds of progress in democracy, human rights, new technologies, energy, and also one that we have added after our dialogue today – the environment. And on behalf of the Government of Colombia, President Santos, and the people of Colombia, I want to thank you very much for recognizing the progress that Colombia has made as a developing country to consolidate itself as a modern state in combating corruption, violence and impunity, and upholding human rights.
MR. CROWLEY: First question, the Associated Press.
QUESTION: Yes, Madam Secretary. Excuse me, I have two rather direct questions to ask you about Egypt.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The first: Is President Mubarak finished? The second: Are you at this point condemning the violent crackdown against protestors?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we have been answering those concerns for quite some time. And as President Obama said yesterday very clearly, and as I said in Doha, it is absolutely vital for Egypt to embrace reform, to ensure not just its long-term stability, but also the progress and prosperity that its people richly deserve.
Now, Egypt has been a strong partner of the United States on a range of regional and strategic interests. And as a partner, we believe strongly, and have expressed this consistently, that the Egyptian Government needs to engage with the Egyptian people in implementing needed political, economic, and social reforms. We have consistently raised this with the Egyptian Government over many years. We also have raised it with other governments in the region. And there is a constant concern about the need for greater openness, greater participation on the part of the people, particularly young people, which is something I was very clear about in Doha. And we want to continue to partner with the Egyptian Government and the Egyptian people.
Now, what will eventually happen in Egypt is up to Egyptians. But it is important for us to make very clear that as a partner of Egypt, we are urging that there be a restraint on the part of the security forces, there not be a rush to impose very strict measures that would be violent, and that there be a dialogue between the government and the people of Egypt. At the same time, we also would urge the protestors to engage in peaceful protests, which they have every right to do, and the deep grievances that they are raising deserve to be addressed.
But the real question we’re focused on is: How can we support a better future for the people of Egypt that responds to their aspirations? And as I’ve said before and as the President has also said, the Egyptian Government has a real opportunity in the face of this very clear demonstration of opposition to begin a process that will truly respond to the aspirations of the people of Egypt. We think that moment needs to be seized, and we are hoping that it is.
MR. CROWLEY: (Off-mike.)
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, two points. The first one is: (inaudible) Vice President Garzon asked two days ago the Obama Administration to send this year to Congress the Free Trade Agreement. With all due respect, is the – you – Obama Administration going to do that, yes or no?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: This year?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
SECRETARY CLINTON: When we have an agreement. There are still negotiations[i] that are taking place. And as the vice president and I discussed, when we have an agreed-upon text, we will, as quickly as possible, send it to the Congress.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) time (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: It is not yet in the form of agreement that we have been discussing with our Colombian counterparts. They know what we need to do in order to get a successful outcome. We don’t want to send an agreement just for the sake of sending an agreement. We want to send an agreement and get it passed.
QUESTION: What –
QUESTION: So you want to change the agreement? I mean, to –
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are discussing about some clarifications and some concerns that we know will have to be addressed in the Congress. I mean, I’m just being very clear with you. We want to pass the agreement. In order to pass the agreement, we have to be able to make the case to the Congress, and that is what I am intent upon doing.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Excuse me, this gentleman has the microphone.
QUESTION: No, I have a second question. In Colombia, a sector of the public opinion –
(Pause during interpretation.)
VICE PRESIDENT GARZON: (Via interpreter) I want to stress what’s really important and basic here. I want to point out the great political will of President Obama, the Secretary of State, and of the U.S. Government and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to move as soon as possible to achieve ratification of this agreement. I think that’s the most important thing.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And we agree, and that’s why we want to proceed as quickly and effectively to guarantee success as possible.
MR. CROWLEY: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
Determination and Certification of Colombian Government and Armed Forces with Respect to Human Rights Related Conditions
On September 8, 2009, the Department of State determined and certified to Congress that the Colombian Government and Armed Forces are meeting statutory criteria related to human rights and paramilitary groups. This determination and certification, which is pursuant to Section 7046(b) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2009, permits the full balance of FY 2009 funds designated for assistance to the Colombian Armed Forces to be obligated.
There is no question that improvement must be made in certain areas; however, the Colombian government has made significant efforts to increase the security of its people and to promote respect for human rights by its Armed Forces and has thereby met the certification criteria. Years of reforms and training are leading to an increased respect for and understanding of human rights by most members of the Armed Forces. In addition, the Prosecutor General’s Office has made significant advances in investigating and prosecuting human rights cases over the past few years. For example, over the last year the Prosecutor General’s Office arrested several generals on human rights charges; charged five members of the Army’s “La Popa” Battalion with collusion with paramilitary forces and the homicide of 20 civilians; sentenced seven soldiers in connection with the murder of a member of the San José Peace Community; and charged ten others in connection with the February 2005 massacre of eight members from that same community.
While these advances are positive, Colombia continues to face several disquieting challenges. Revelations of extrajudicial killings are evidence that the Armed Forces’ far reaching reforms have not fully taken hold. Both the Armed Forces and Prosecutor General’s Office were swift to take action following revelations of the 2008 Soacha murders by dismissing 51 members of the Armed Forces and opening investigations of 75 soldiers. However, the Soacha case is not an isolated incident and additional actions will require firm leadership by the Armed Forces to resolve and eliminate abuses, and enhance cooperation with the Prosecutor General’s Office to hold perpetrators accountable.
Allegations of illegal domestic wiretapping and surveillance by Colombia’s Department of Administrative Security (DAS) are troubling and unacceptable. The importance that the Prosecutor General’s Office has placed on prosecuting these crimes is a positive step for Colombia, but media and NGO reports allege that illegal activity continues, so it is even more vital that the Colombian government take steps to ensure that this is not the case, and that the Prosecutor General’s Office conduct a rigorous, thorough and independent investigation in order to determine the extent of these abuses and to hold all perpetrators accountable.
The United States remains concerned by both extrajudicial killings and the allegations against the DAS, and will continue to push for improvements in Colombia’s human rights situation, and to underscore the importance we place on this issue. We are committed to taking a number of steps that will encourage continued improvements in the Armed Forces’ respect for human rights; enhance the investigation and prosecution capabilities of the Prosecutor General’s Office; foster constructive dialogue between the Colombian government and civil society groups; and show support for independent and swift investigations into the DAS scandal. Throughout this process, we will continue – both in Washington and through the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá – to engage with and benefit from the individual expertise of Colombian and international human rights groups, as well as civil society, with regard to Colombia’s human rights performance. We appreciate the commitment of these groups to the continued improvement of the human rights situation in Colombia and applaud their often dangerous work.