Thank you, Mr. President. I want to thank Special Representative Arnault for his briefing and to welcome the participation of Vice President Naranjo.
To our Colombian friends, I want to take a moment to reflect on the hard-won opportunity for a lasting peace that you have achieved – a peace that seemed like an “impossible dream” at times, as President Santos has said. Through your tireless efforts to address justice and reparations issues in your peace agreement with the FARC, Colombia is truly an example to the world. You should be proud of what you have done and we look forward to what you will continue to achieve.
The Colombian government is beginning to extend its presence and provide services in areas that have known conflict for decades. The United States applauds the Colombian government’s efforts to build roads, hospitals, police stations, and schools in underserved rural and former conflict areas. Providing security, infrastructure, and public services is critical to sustained peace in Colombia. This has never been more important than it is now, especially during this time of transition and in light of the recent killings of human rights defenders and community leaders.
We commend the decision by President Santos, President-elect Duque, as well as key state institutions and political parties, to sign a national pact against this violence. Protecting the fundamental freedoms of all Colombian citizens, including social leaders, depends on strengthening the rule of law. Particularly important are successful prosecutions of those who seek to silence the voices of human rights advocates and community leaders.
Mr. President, the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia has been vital to this process and we encourage Colombia to continue its important partnership with the Mission. This supports security as well as reincorporation efforts for ex-combatants.
We trust that the government will continue the momentum established by the historic peace agreement and consolidate security gains that will bring about a just and lasting peace for all Colombians.
Ensuring meaningful justice and accountability for perpetrators of serious crimes committed during so many years of armed conflict is vital to reconciliation. We believe that the transitional justice processes outlined in your agreement provide the opportunity to deliver justice for victims.
At the same time, the successful implementation of the peace accord is inextricably linked to our joint efforts to dismantle criminal organizations and to curtail narco-trafficking.
In our own country, President Trump has made substance abuse prevention a priority, and we are devoting resources to reducing the demand for cocaine. In Colombia, the United States continues to work with authorities to cut coca cultivation and cocaine production by half by the end of 2023.
Together, we need to accelerate our counter-narcotics efforts and deliver sustainable results to the people of both countries through increased resources, effective use of all available tools, and an integrated, whole-of-government approach.
Colombians are not alone in this fight. The United States will continue to support you, including through a unique comprehensive strategy to reduce coca cultivation – Plan Antioquia Libre de Coca. Through coordinated efforts of the Colombian police and army, local and national government, and the private sector, the plan is already delivering infrastructure and providing licit economic opportunities for local communities, while pushing coca growers to transition to licit crops.
Importantly, due in part to these efforts, the U.S. government’s 2017 coca cultivation estimates showed a 20 percent decrease in the region being addressed for the first time in five years, bucking a national trend.
Colombia continues to establish the conditions for extended peace, and while challenges remain, the government has shown its strength as a regional leader, especially by providing shelter and services to nearly a million Venezuelans fleeing crisis in their own country.
Mr. President, we are proud to have worked to support Colombia’s response to the crisis, and we remain committed to continuing our engagement with Colombia to provide additional humanitarian support as needed.
To the people of Colombia, you know better than most that peace is precious but fragile. We stand with you in working to preserve this peace and to build a strong and prosperous future for generations to come.