Thank you, Mr. President. I think we all sit here with a heavy heart today, because we have lost our brother and our friend. Bernard was kind, he was caring, he always had a smile on his face, and his laughter was contagious. I don’t know how we reconcile the fact that we lost him so soon. But I have no doubt that he is telling jokes in heaven. I want to give all of our condolences to the people of Côte d’Ivoire to let you know that we feel your sorrow, we feel your pain – he represented you well. He represented you well. And with that I will tell you that we have lost the sweetest among all of us, and I think that he would always want us to remember why we’re here, what our goal is. And I think that’s the biggest honor to his memory that we can do, so thank you.
Thank you, Special Representative Arnault for your briefing. And I also want to welcome the participation of Mr. Vice President as well as Madam Foreign Minister. Welcome to the Council.
After a week in which the Council had six separate meetings in an effort to stop the bloodshed in Syria, preserving and cultivating an existing peace agreement takes on special meaning.
The agreement that ended five decades of war in Colombia has created the conditions for the just and lasting peace that Colombians deserve. It was a historic achievement. But peace in Colombia remains an unfinished project. All of us have a role in ensuring that it succeeds.
First, we should give credit where credit is due. We have seen significant and visible progress in the early phases of the peace implementation.
In just over six months, the FARC handed over thousands of weapons and explosives. It has also transformed into a political party and participated in elections. For its part, the government has begun reincorporating thousands of ex-combatants into civilian life. It has established transitional justice institutions. The challenge remains for the government to expand its presence throughout the country.
We cannot allow formerly FARC-controlled areas to fall into the hands of criminals and illegal armed groups. That would undo much of the progress of the peace accord. We encourage the government to continue efforts to eliminate Colombia’s ungoverned spaces. The United States also urges the government to continue the full implementation of the comprehensive peace plan. This includes efforts to reintegrate former combatants into civilian life.
The peace accord provides an important opportunity to address historical land issues that have driven conflict and violence in Colombia. We welcome President Santos’ landmark decree meant to formalize land ownership for more than 2.5 million farmers. Improving access to land is essential in transforming rural livelihoods. Criminal groups and narco-traffickers have dominated rural areas of Colombia for decades. With secure land titles, the Colombian people can provide for their families without feeling beholden to these groups.
It will also help achieve sustainable solutions to reducing coca cultivation, prevent violence against human rights defenders, and build a strong foundation for lasting peace in Colombia. But peace is a two-way process, and the FARC has significant responsibilities too. For peace to succeed, the FARC must honor its commitments under the agreement. It must provide compensation to victims of the conflict. And restoring trust in Colombia’s institutions after so many years of conflict will be extremely difficult. In fact, it will be impossible if the FARC doesn’t cooperate.
The FARC must participate fully and honestly in the transitional justice process. During my trip to the region in February, I saw the tremendous role that Colombia is playing to combat drug trafficking in Central America. This is another good sign for the peace process. The success of the peace agreement is inseparable from our shared efforts against drug trafficking.
The United States and Colombia have set a goal of reducing cocaine production and coca cultivation in Colombia by 50 percent in 2023. We encourage the government to recognize drug trafficking for the damage it does to the social, economic, and security wellbeing of the country. The government must accelerate its counter-narcotics effort.
The FARC should also live up to its obligations to end involvement in drug trafficking and share any information it has on drug trafficking routes. Drugs fueled the conflict in Colombia and eroded its government and civic institutions. The United States stands ready to continue to assist in the recovery.
Finally, we want to thank the Government of Colombia – and you, Mr. Vice President – for all that you have done to help the Venezuelans flooding into your country to escape the oppressive Maduro regime.
At a time when you’ve had your hands full consolidating the peace in your own country, you have stepped up to the challenge of helping others. We are grateful, not just for your kindness, but for the leadership Colombia is showing. The United States is fully committed to supporting Colombia and the implementation of the peace accord.
The challenges are real, but the outlook is bright. We look forward to our continued friendship and partnership with a stronger, safer Colombia in the years to come.