US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Bogotá during a multi-country Latin America visit today, where he had a working lunch with Colombian President Gustavo Petro in Casa Nariño, Colombia’s presidential palace.
The two discussed various topics of binational interest, including antinarcotics policy, Venezuelan and Cuban relations, the Colombian Peace Process, immigration, and human rights.
Finance Colombia provides a transcript of their after-lunch statements and answers to the media. The transcript (and above photo) is courtesy of the US State Department.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the (inaudible) at the House of Nariño, where we will have a media statement by President of Colombia Gustavo Petro and Secretary of State Antony Blinken after their meeting that took place up until a few minutes ago. To start, we will hear first from the president of the Republic of Colombia, Mr. Gustavo Petro.
PRESIDENT PETRO: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. We had a working lunch today and we met with a large U.S. Government delegation headed by the U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Antony Blinken – and I think you will eventually be a U.S. president – and with a good number of ministers of Colombia. The topics discussed today during a mutual exchange of ideas that we have been discussing prior to my inauguration as president of the republic in meetings held both in Bogotá as well as Washington, D.C., at the White House.
And today we had a working lunch that actually lasted a couple of hours, and we discussed topics such as narcotics trafficking, undoubtedly a subject of interest to both countries for several decades now and is a common topic on our binational agenda. But we looked at it from a different perspective, a perspective that I would deem is more flexible, that has a more comprehensive view of drug consumption and production in our hemisphere.
And this was looked at from the perspective of an effort that has received the support of the U.S. Government during the Obama administration, and I am talking about the peace process and how Colombia’s peace as well as the Peace Accord that has already been signed include the first topic, which is an agrarian reform that involves some 3 million hectares of fertile land to be distributed among farmers and speaks of titling some 7 million additional hectares of land to the current land holders. And if these lands were to be productively developed in the hands of the new landowners, this would be a barrier that would contain drug production in Colombia, because Colombia is drug trafficking because it does not produce. Then how can we stop producing drugs? Well, by focusing and investing in agriculture and farming.
And the fourth chapter in the Peace Accord is to stop viewing coca shrub producers and growers as criminals. These are two aspects of the Peace Accord that have been discussed in the past with the U.S. Government and the Santos administration and that today we want to render truly effective. Therefore peace today affects – in my opinion, it has a positive impact on – if we view the war on drug differently.
We also talked about migration. We also discussed problems that have to do with the security agenda of the Americas, and that was, let’s say, the essence of our meeting. And I’m sure that new, concrete topics will be discussed with the cooperation of the SAE and the Prosecutor General’s Office to determine the true inventory of assets under forfeiture that used to be drug assets and that have evaporated in Colombia’s recent history.
We also talked about the interdiction operational capabilities, particularly as regards the navy, because 90 percent of the drugs are shipped by sea. We also discussed concrete aspects related with repressing and attacking in those places where the true capital of drug trafficking is produced, because narcotics trafficking can be divided into two in Colombia.
We have the proletariat of drug trafficking where people, low-income people in far-removed, excluded areas are forced to grow illegal crops and are put at the service of drug trafficking, and this is where we see the bulk of violence. That is where we produce the highest number of victims of violence in Colombia and the forcefully displaced. And the capitals, the monies of drug trafficking, the true owners of drug trafficking, whose role is to produce money, and they are not dressed in camouflage, the uniforms, nor do they carry a rifle, and it’s very likely that they have been in rooms such as this and have been part of the political power in Colombia and I would say that in – amongst political powers outside of Colombia.
So to persecute the true owners of narcotics trafficking implies having an intelligence apparatus that is capable of, and this is something we discussed as well, which is to strengthen Colombian intelligence in our war against drugs. And with this, I think I have summarized the meeting, so, sir, I will now turn the microphone over to you, the U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Mr. President, thank you very, very much. Thank you for your hospitality. Thank you for a very constructive discussion today.
For decades, the partnership between the United States and Colombia has benefited people in both our countries and people across the hemisphere. Its strength has not wavered across administrations in both our countries. In the U.S. Congress, cooperation with Colombia is a priority that enjoys sustained and bipartisan support.
That’s in no small part because the partnership between our nations is rooted in fundamentally shared values: in democracy, in respect for human rights, preserving our planet for future generations, and the belief that all – all of our people – should be able to reach their full potential.
In the opportunity I had to speak with President Petro on the phone on June 20th, through the many engagements across our government since then, we’ve made clear that the United States has a steadfast commitment to our partnership with Colombia. And as I discussed with the president and the foreign minister and other members of the cabinet today, we are committed to advancing that partnership.
That includes the United States continuing support for the implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord, as we’ve done since the peace process began. We commend President Petro’s commitment to its full implementation.
Later today, I will join Vice President Marquez at a ceremony where the United States will sign on as the first International Accompanier of the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Accord. The chapter recognizes the government’s unique responsibility to ensure the rights and equity of the country’s Afro-Colombian and Indigenous groups who suffered and continue to suffer disproportionate harm from the conflict. This reflects our shared conviction that an enduring peace has to be an inclusive peace.
This is only the most recent step the United States is taking in partnership with Colombia’s government and with civil society to try to help improve the lives of people in underserved communities – from broadening access to health and education to increasing connectivity, whether by road or by broadband, or making it easier for families and communities to get land titles.
As President Petro and Vice President Marquez point out, the promise of equity is unfulfilled for too many Colombians, so the United States will continue to work with Colombia to realize this promise. In December, USAID announced its largest-ever program to promote ethnic inclusion and equity here in Colombia.
Over five years, we will invest $60 million to help Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities tackle immediate problems like rising food and energy costs, which have been worsened alas by Russia’s brutal war of aggression on Ukraine, as well as build long-term resilience through innovation in fields like agriculture and renewable energy.
We also remain committed to working with Colombia to improve civilian security, particularly in rural areas. We have understood for some time – in Colombia and beyond – that we cannot effectively combat violence by focusing only on strengthening law enforcement tools and security cooperation.
We also must address the root causes of insecurity: corruption, impunity, inequity. And we’re doing that through efforts like bolstering the investigation and prosecutions of gender-based violence, human rights abuses, the killing of human rights defenders, journalists, environmental and social leaders. And we’re investing in substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery for those struggling with addiction in our countries and beyond – both to reduce the ravages wrought by illicit drugs and to reduce the demand, particularly from the United States, that fuels so much criminal activity.
That’s the comprehensive approach that defines our partnership across every shared priority, including addressing the climate crisis – an area where the president has demonstrated global leadership.
We recognize that as the world’s the second-biggest current emitter after China and the biggest emitter historically, the United States has a special responsibility to step up, and that’s what we’re doing under President Biden’s leadership. The United States Congress recently passed legislation making the biggest investment in our history to combat climate change: approximately $370 billion.
We’re also ramping up our work with Colombia and countries around the world to lead the clean energy transition, to help communities adapt to the effects of climate change and preserve our planet’s natural resources. President Biden has pledged to work with our Congress to provide $11.4 billion in climate finance to developing countries every year, quadrupling previous levels of support. And we’re pursuing these goals in a way that creates jobs for the communities that are hardest hit by climate change.
Consider just for a moment clean energy production. Today, some 70 percent of Colombia’s renewable energy comes from hydropower. But as climate change makes droughts more frequent and more severe, we’re helping Colombia diversify its supply. In the Guajira region, which has some of the most powerful winds in the world, we’ve supported the Colombian Government’s efforts to work with the private sector and local Indigenous communities to harness those winds for power. The projects that we helped finance, and continue to aid with technical expertise and training, will generate at least 2,000 megawatts of electricity. That is enough to meet the needs of more than 5 million rural Colombians, while also creating good-paying jobs for people from the Wayuu community.
Colombia has also led globally by consistently defending the principles at the heart of the United Nations Charter and international law, affirming the right of all nations to have their sovereignty and territorial integrity respected, and condemning President Putin’s unjust war on Ukraine in the UN General Assembly as well as at the Organization for American States.
Migration is another area that we discussed and where Colombia is playing a leading role. In our meeting, I thanked President Petro for Colombia’s remarkable generosity to more than 2.4 million Venezuelans displaced by their country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis.
The historic initiative that Colombia launched last year, which grants 10-year temporary protected status for Venezuelans in this country, has become a model for the region – indeed, a model for the world.
So is the efficiency with which it’s been implemented. More than a million and a half Venezuelans have been approved for TPS. Over 1.4 million Venezuelans have received TPS cards, allowing kids to go to school and people of all ages to access public health services, to work legally, to travel freely. We’re proud to have worked with the Colombian Government, with the private sector, with NGOs to create programs that expand opportunities for displaced Venezuelans and their host communities.
This is just one area we’re working together on regional migration issues. Last October we co-hosted a ministerial meeting here in Bogotá with countries from around the region. That helped lay the foundation for the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration that we and 21 other countries adopted at the Summit of the Americas a couple of months ago.
That declaration recognizes a shared responsibility and interest in meeting this challenge – and doing it in a way that enhances stability, increases opportunities for safe and orderly migration, and holds accountable the criminals and human traffickers who prey on desperate people.
Later this week we’ll meet with the other signatories on the margins of the OAS to continue the work on turning the declaration’s commitments into reality.
And so, across the issues that matter most to our people, and that are fundamental to demonstrating that our democracies can deliver real results, Colombia and the United States have a deep history of working together. We know that for all the progress that’s been made, our work is unfinished, and the challenges before us are real. They’re significant. But that is all the more reason that we’re committed to continuing to move forward as partners. Thank you very much, and thank you, Mr. President.
MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)
MR PRICE: La primera pregunta viene de Tracy Wilkinson of the L.A. Times.
QUESTION: Muy buenas. Muchísimas gracias. Mr. President, you and a few (inaudible) energy. But none of that has happened yet. And can that happen with a government, a president that you may not be able to agree with very much on? Thank you.
PRESIDENT PETRO: (Via interpreter in progress) (Inaudible) of fertile lands that today are unproductive, and to distribute them among farmers and particularly give those lands to Colombian women. Colombia has 20 million hectares of fertile lands. And today, this is inside the Colombian agricultural frontier, and it could be expanded by 20 million more hectares if we were to make significant investments in the lowlands and highlands. And these are monies that we do not have today.
And in the 20 million hectares of fertile land, I would say that some 15 million hectares actually have the potential to produce food above all, but we only use 5 million hectares for that purpose. So it’s a matter of expanding that frontier of food in Colombia by 3 million hectares more, and that entails that Colombia could be an exporter of food, and means that the price of food in Colombia would drop, and would also imply at least that between 2 to 3 million people would be benefitted from this in the rural world and could increase their finances and income. And it would also imply discouraging the production of coca leaf in Colombia, and that is a concrete step because this entails money.
Then these would be public monies – I’ve said this publicly since yesterday – because we have had an internal discussion inside government and on the cost of buying 3 million hectares of fertile lands and hand those lands over to farmers in Colombia at a much lower price. How much does that cost? And the estimate in U.S. dollars at the current exchange rate – which is not highly beneficial to Colombia – is approximately between 7 and 14 billion U.S. dollars, which is much less than the cost of the plan whereby we have combated narcotics trafficking in Colombia and have done so unsuccessfully. And with this, we could implement an agricultural reform and we could initiate a process of industrialization, and these are concrete steps.
If we look at point number four in the peace accord that has to do specifically with coca growers located in jungle lands today, in lands that are not fertile lands in general terms for food production, then we could try certain measures of bio-economics. Actually, this morning we spoke about the agrarian and agricultural reform that has brought together many agricultural institutions and organizations in Colombia. And here we are going to start because we have now funded, in part, the crop substitution program as designed by President Santos. The thing is, we are going to add – and this is a topic of conversation with many governments, including the U.S. – that since these are located in jungle lands that we find in the jungle, one of the main factors to stop producing coca leaf, and that is to save the jungle as regards its role, its prioritary (ph) role, regarding the world’s climate stability.
If we manage to build – and this is a concrete proposal that we’ve presented a multilateral fund; we already have a – the beginning of this fund with Norway in an effort to rescue and revitalize the jungle in Colombia. And this obviously would have to be expanded to Brazil, depending on the political results of the elections, to Peru, Venezuela, and other countries. We would contribute not just to the conservation of one of the climate pillars that sustains life on planet Earth, but the second, to turn farmers, the entire peasantry, and even organizations that are violent organizations in the countryside, and this force, this coca proletariat that is at the service of drug trafficking, could be turned into a positive force for revitalizing the Amazon jungle. And this is part of the social program that we believe is key if we want Colombia to come out of the narcotrafficking cycles in the Americas.
And the other topic is repression that we want to change significantly as well because to date and until not long ago, the repressive policy against drug trafficking was to use glyphosate to do air-spraying. That has been banned by the constitutional court of Colombia; plus, it is useless and also criminalizes farmers, and the jails are full of farmers. And the concrete change is that the repressive counternarcotics policy should not target farmers but, rather, the owners of drug trafficking, and for that we need two tools, two main tools, and I repeat this, and this is a topic of discussion with the U.S.: first, are to increase the interdiction capability, mainly maritime interdiction and also the air interdiction capability of the country, to stop the drugs before they are shipped out of the country; and second, to increase intelligence capabilities to capture the owners of narcotics trafficking that live in Bogotá, Medellin, Cali, Miami, and very possibly in New York and in Madrid as well and that are not located in the jungle nor do they live with farmers nor do they receive a drop of glyphosate in their head. So those are concrete steps.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Inaudible) I would only add that we here today and throughout the many exchanges that we’ve already had with President Petro’s administration in recent months, in recent weeks, we’ve been listening to each other and we’ve been learning from one another. And I think as a result of that, you can see that there’s extensive common ground on virtually all of the major issues that we have to tackle – both of our countries – in order to better the lives of our people and to do it in an inclusive way.
So just on counternarcotics, to take one example, we strongly support the holistic approach that President Petro’s administration is taking to counter narcotics through comprehensive rural security, justice, development, environmental protection, supply reduction, as well as demand reduction, including in the United States. You just heard the president talk about a couple of concrete ideas on the enforcement side that he put on the table today – looking at doing more in terms of interdicting drugs that are moving on the seas by boat, as well as enhancing even more our intelligence sharing to go after those who are responsible for drug trafficking.
So on both the enforcement side but also on the comprehensive approach to the problem which is so necessary, I think that we’re largely in sync. And I could go down the list of other issues that we discussed today where both of us, I think, are looking really at a comprehensive approach. There’s not a one-size-fits-all for any of these issues. And I think through the process of spending time together in recent weeks, we have been not only refining the approach that we’re taking but we’re finding very concrete ways to move that forward. That’s going to continue in the weeks ahead.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter in progress) by Cuba and Venezuela in the peace policy of Colombia, and I’m asking you because we wonder whether it is possible for the U.S. to remove Cuba and Venezuela from the list of countries promoting terrorism.
And President Petro, what is Colombia’s position regarding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine? Because Secretary Blinken said you mentioned this at the meeting and whether you spoke of a specific STP in the U.S. for migrants because you have recognized the Colombian system for refugees.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. (Inaudible) first emphasize again how remarkable it is the commitment that Colombia has made over several years now to welcome so many Venezuelans who have had to flee the humanitarian catastrophe that is Venezuela. And I think as I said, that’s become a model not only for the region but for the world.
Our strong hope for Venezuela is that the Maduro regime and the Unitary Platform are able to pursue a dialogue that ultimately leads to the necessary conditions to have free and fair elections, to restore Venezuela’s democracy, to restore support from the international community, and to create a much better environment and – for all Venezuelans. That is fundamentally what is necessary for Venezuelans to not feel the obligation to leave the country that is theirs, as well as for Venezuelans who have left to return. And we discussed the ways together how we can best continue to advocate for democratic and a prosperous Venezuela as well as the same thing in our hemisphere more broadly, as well as to hold accountable governments that have discarded democratic norms, which unfortunately remains the case in Venezuela. But our strong hope is that we will see a resumption of the dialogue, negotiations, and ultimately Venezuela returning to the path of democracy through free and fair elections.
When it comes to Cuba and when it comes to the state sponsor of terrorism designation, we have clear laws, clear criteria, clear requirements, and we will continue as necessary to revisit those to see if Cuba continues to merit that designation.
PRESIDENT PETRO: (Via interpreter in progress) add to the meeting we just had, said that what has happened with Cuba is an injustice because a Colombian Government – not our government, not this administration – has asked Cuba to be the seat for the negotiations with the ELN and FARC. In the negotiation with FARC we had the participation of, let’s call it, an oversight by the U.S. Government, and this is the Obama administration. The new – a Colombian Government has asked another U.S. Government, the Trump administration, that the fact that FARC and ELN were in Cuba – that Cuba be declared a country promoting terrorism, and that is called an injustice. And therefore, in my opinion, it is not us who must correct it, but it does need to be corrected. We have recovered the role of guarantor countries, the processes that will start shortly, and we’ve asked the Kingdom of Norway, Cuba, Venezuela, and that same status has been requested by Spain as well as other countries. And when we decide venue, the place where the negotiations are to take place, then we will revisit this topic.
The Temporary Protection Status, which is a protection of migrants, is a democratic figure used by over a million people in Colombia. It was also used in Venezuela back in the ‘70s when Colombian migrants went to live in Venezuela. And to this we must add the effective assurance of rights. The TPS allows migrants to not leave, but it does not necessarily mean that they can exercise their rights as human beings in Colombia. And I think that we must look deeper into this topic.
The normalization of relations with Venezuela will at least allow us, at least with the opening up consular relations, that the education degrees be quickly homologated, and that would allow us to improve the status of Venezuelan migrants, particularly female Venezuelan migrants in Colombia. If normalization of the relationship brings about a migration change, it has to be measured through our migration office, because the most recent data I have is that the direction is not from Venezuela but – to Colombia, but from Colombia to Venezuela. And that is something that we have to look at in greater depth and with more time and to do an in-depth assessment. If that is a result of the normalization of relations, then the free decision of the Venezuelan families in Colombia is what is to be respected.
Now, I do believe that a TPS for Colombians in the U.S. is also necessary. And I am not saying this by way of negotiation, because we have granted TPS to Venezuelans in Colombia – then we should have a TPS for Colombians in the U.S. But I say this because this is, let’s say, the human law. In the conversation, we heard that a series of international events will take place, and the idea is to put order to the exodus that is produced by the climate crisis all over the world and is creating the creation of some very strange rights in the countries of the north. And obviously, this is a topic that has to be discussed. And we are a party to the International Conference on Migration to take place in Geneva, and I hope to attend that meeting.
And there’s no doubt that this is a topic that isn’t just Colombian or just Venezuelan. This is a world topic, a global topic that is becoming increasingly acute because of the climate crisis. And we’re talking about a human exodus, and Pope Francis has rightly said that exodus create new forms of slavery, and we are saying this – we are seeing this in the Venezuelan migration in Colombia, as well as the enslavement of children, the trafficking of women, the use of men who are being forced into drug trafficking and to include in violent armed armies. These private armed – armies of migrants is very revealing of the reality of Pope Francis words because exodus brings new forms of slavery, and it is only through a global system that we can avoid, first, the new forms of slavery, and second, if we target the causes correctly, then the stability of people in their homelands, which is where a person would obviously prefer to live, in his or her homeland.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Next question, Jaime Moreno.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon. President Petro, my question for you is the following. You mentioned specific plans in your new strategy in the fight against drugs. What about forced manual eradication while those programs are implemented, since those programs could take some time? What will happen with this forced eradication in some areas?
PRESIDENT PETRO: (Via interpreter) Forced eradication in the crops that we call industrial crops. I mean, industrial crops are large expanses of land with coca shrub that do not belong to farmers, to small farmers. And this is seen in areas such as Tumaco, in the area of Tibú, in northern Santander. And why Tibú? That’s a very good question. Why has the bulk of cocaine production moved from Tumaco to Tibú, which is right near the Colombian-Venezuelan border? However, those industrial crops must be eradicated forcefully. There’s nothing to negotiate, the substitution of those crops – there’s no one to negotiate the substitution of those crops.
The thing is that they are not going to be air-sprayed, which renders the problem even more dangerous for the people who do this forced eradication. And this is a cost that we will have to take on. But first eradication will continue of all the industrial crops that do not belong to small farmers. And it would be wonderful if there is a technological method that could allow for the regrowth of the jungle once this type of crops are eradicated, and that is my answer.
And let me tell you that in those areas, in those regions in general, we see violent forces. These are armed forces with various degrees of militarization that have been divided here into gangs and the organized armed groups, the GAOs, the GAOs, but who have territorial control. They have weapons and control the population. These multi-crime bands and gangs that don’t engage just in narcotics trafficking and have international and multinational ties is a new actor and different from what we used to call classical paramilitarism, or the guerrilla. And this is the result of complexity of – because narcotics trafficking mutates. It has undergone a metamorphosis. And all these organizations have sent letters to the government requesting the negotiation of their dismantling, and that would have to be done under a law of surrender that this government will submit to congress for its consideration, and that would lead to a negotiation with the judiciary and not with the government, and has to do with a reparative justice.
These forces, once dismantled, can receive legal benefits only if there is truth, the assurance of nonrecurrence or nonrepetition, and there is reparation. In many cases these would be environmental reparations within – at our meeting we even discussed the topic of illegal mining and its effect on the main rivers of Colombia, and that the Colombian media know very well its effects.
And there is another topic that we did not discuss in great length, which is extradition. What happens if a person, one of these gang members who has been requested in extradition or whose extradition is requested, is part of a peace process in Colombia? And this is a topic that already took place regarding FARC some years ago, and in a very dark manner, let it be said in passing.
What I am proposing and what I’ve proposed is that any member of the drug trafficking chain who decides to subject themselves to justice, giving the assurance of nonrecurrence, would not be extradited. And that is dependent on my signature, but actually should be dependent on a law because it should not depend on the political will of a government that will come to an end, but should have some kind of legal certainty. Any drug trafficker or anyone participating in the drug chain and will not subject themselves to justice will be extradited, and I’ve signed already some 80 extraditions. Any drug trafficker who is part of the drug chain and will subject himself to the justice system but will not comply with the nonrecurrence and – will be extradited to the U.S. And what I have said to the U.S. is that they impose the highest possible sanction in the U.S. because they failed to comply with the legal process in Colombia.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, President Petro. This process continues. It’s a process that depends on decisions by two sovereign nations, and we fully respect the sovereign decisions by the Colombian Government. In our judgment, the extradition relationship has benefited both the United States and Colombia. It’s benefited justice in both countries. It’s benefited the victims of transnational crime in both. It’s one important tool to help dismantle the transnational criminal organizations that do so much damage to both of our societies. And we’ll continue to work closely together on this. It’s also very case-specific, and so our systems will work together. We’ll continue to investigate. We’ll continue to seek to prosecute those who violate both of our laws. And we’ll continue to work on extraditions.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) A couple of weeks ago, Leidy Paola Martinez died in a cell in the States. She committed suicide when her husband was unable to cross the border. She is one of the many faces of illegal migration, and President Petro has just publicly requested that the U.S. provide a temporary protection status to Colombian illegal aliens and illegal migrants. And what is your opinion of that proposal?
And for you, President Petro, a few days ago at the closing of the UN General Assembly, you said that a few days later you would announce a formal proposal to have a multilateral ceasefire, and that would depend on whether groups will take the first step, and many of these groups have imposed a unilateral ceasefire. So what will continue from now from the Colombian Government given the ceasefire? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Let me – first of all, I’m not aware of the specific case that you referenced. But let me step back for a minute and go back to something that President Petro said because it’s very, very important.
When it comes to migration, we are facing a challenge of historic proportions. There are more people displaced from their homes across our planet than at any time in recorded history – more than 100 million – and of course we see that in our own hemisphere as well as beyond. In our own hemisphere, migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, from Haiti, from Cuba, from Venezuela, from Nicaragua, and so on. And the entire hemisphere is affected by this. The countries of origin are affected; the countries of transit are affected; the countries of destination, including the United States, are affected.
And what I think has been a fundamental change in the approach to this challenge is a recognition that we have to have shared responsibility across our hemisphere for dealing with it, and that’s something that we began last year, including here in Bogotá, where we brought together ministers from around the hemisphere, and it culminated in many ways with the Los Angeles Declaration at the Summit of the Americas, where more than 20 countries in our hemisphere agreed to share principles for how to deal with the migration challenge that all of us are facing – to make sure that it is safe, to make sure that it is humane, to make sure that it is orderly and respects the rule of law.
Our own country is taking very significant steps in this regard, even as we have large numbers of people seeking to come to the United States. We’re working to expand legal pathways to come to the United States. We’re working on issuing more temporary work visas to meet a very clear demand in the United States. We’re making sure that we’re – when it comes to those who have a credible claim of asylum that we are meeting our responsibilities under international law, including by putting vast new resources at our border so that their claims can be adjudicated much more quickly than in the past.
At the same time, we want to make sure that people throughout the hemisphere are treated with dignity, are treated with humanity, and we’re doing a lot of work with partner countries to make sure that that’s happening. Some additional steps will be forthcoming in the days and weeks ahead. But if we’re not able to address this challenge together, we won’t succeed.
There’s one other critical element; the President alluded to it. It’s not that most people in our hemisphere or beyond get up one day and say, “Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to leave behind everything I know – to leave behind my family, my culture, my language, my job – and make a very hazardous journey, put my lives – my life in the hands of traffickers? Wouldn’t that be a great thing to do today?” There are profound reasons why so many people are embarking on this hazardous journey, and in our own hemisphere it’s typically because in the countries they’re leaving they have no economic opportunity, no means to simply put food on the table to feed their families, or they’re faced with a repressive government, violation of human rights, corruption that eats away at everything.
So unless and until we’re able to effectively address these root causes of migration, we’re also not going to fully meet the challenge. And so we have to do all of the above, and we have to do it together. And that’s a commitment that the countries in the hemisphere made in Los Angeles. We’ll be carrying that through in a couple of days when we’re in Peru; we’re going to be having a follow-on meeting with all of the ministers from the relevant countries to look at the concrete steps that we’re taking.
When it comes to TPS, I would say simply that this is a – in our law, a very – a tool designed specifically to allow people to remain in the United States who are not able to go back to their countries of origin because of a crisis that is taking place in those countries. And that’s why, in the case of Venezuelans, we have temporary protected status for them, just as Colombia does, because they’re not able – given the crisis situation, the humanitarian catastrophe that is Venezuela, the horrific economic mismanagement as well as the political repression that exists – they simply can’t return. That’s what TPS is designed for. But more broadly, as I said, we’re looking at ways to increase legal pathways to the United States on either a long-term or temporary basis, and that would certainly include Colombians.
PRESIDENT PETRO: (Via interpreter) September’s statistics – and this is very similar to the migration numbers I just shared with you – is a very short period of time for us to be able to draw conclusions at this point. However, the September statistics reveal that the month had the lowest number of former combatants assassinated, and former combatants that had signed the peace agreement, and the minor – and the lowest number of massacres and killing of social leaders in this year. However, this year – this year’s numbers are higher than last year’s numbers. Such is the intensity of the violence that has increased along the routes of drug trafficking that are blood routes this year.
So what we have today is that after significant growth, we see that the numbers drop in September. Will that trend prevail? Is this the result of an atmosphere that has been created in Colombia regarding the expectation of a negotiation? I think so.
Regarding the possibility of peaceful dismantling of narcotics trafficking, I think yes, because we have seen a reduction in violence in the month of September. And the government’s goal is to preserve that. I know it will not be an easy task. And this is not a multilateral ceasefire; we should not confuse it. It is more an atmosphere of deterrence that can break down at any point. I would say that the multilateral ceasefire must occur later on in time. An intelligent question could very well be: The ceasing of hostilities with a typically drug-trafficking organization, what does that mean? It means that we will stop persecuting it because they are drug traffickers? No. It means that it decided to subject itself to justice, and it will initiate a process of, first, legal negotiation of legal benefits versus the assurance of non-repetition, reparation, and dismantling, and that goes hand in hand with putting an end to all the killings, to all the assassinations, and to the disappearing and massacres.
Yesterday we met with the Catholic church upon the Catholic church’s initiative called “You Will Not Kill, You Will Not Disappear,” is the name of that campaign, and it’s a countrywide campaign. They killed one person. A member of my political party was killed in Salgar, a small municipality in the department of Antioquia. And who killed our party follower in a small municipality in Antioquia? That’s what we need to know. And it’s important for purposes of assuring that the lowering of tensions will be extended in time and that we will achieve a significant reduction in violence, and for it not to transform into an attempt to sabotage these total peace processes in a systematic elimination of the followers of my party, as has been the case in the past.
And that’s why I’ve asked the minister of defense to provide one of the highest rewards to know who, in a small municipality like Salgar, ordered the assassination of our political coordinator in that municipality, for this to be a discouragement if what they want to do is to sabotage this process more so than a political intent that has existed in Colombia in other times, in past times, so in response.
If these negotiations will be initiated, then what would be a magical consequence is putting an end to the hostilities, which means not killing, not disappearing, not massacring.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And I think that with this we come to the end of this press conference. Thank you, President. Thank you, Secretary Blinken.