The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Remarks to the Press by Vice President Biden and Colombian President Santos, Bogota, Colombia
Casa de Nariño
12:30 P.M. (Local)
PRESIDENT SANTOS: (As interpreted.) Good afternoon, everyone. First of all, I would like to warmly welcome Vice President Joe Biden on behalf of the 47 million Colombians. I would like to welcome his wife and his two granddaughters as well. And to tell him how pleased all Colombians are with his visit to our country today.
Vice President Biden is an old friend of Colombia. He knows us well and he’s helped us a lot. I was the finance minister when he was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he came here with President Clinton, to launch Plan Colombia. That was 13 years ago; it will be 13 years in August. And since then, everybody is aware of the great progress that Colombia has achieved.
And it’s great to see Vice President Biden here as Vice President. He arrived yesterday with the news of the first agreement that was reached with the FARC in Havana. And if we are able to wrap up on the five points of our agreement, that would be a very happy ending to the process that began 13 years ago. That is why I want to deeply thank you, Vice President Biden, for your ongoing support throughout all these phases that Colombia has undergone; a process that has yielded very positive results already.
Vice President Biden delivered a speech at the Council of the Americas a few weeks ago, and he repeated a phrase that I want to highlight now. He said that the United States is looking at Latin America, not in the spirit of what the United States can do for Latin America, but what the United States can do with Latin America. And I want to home in on that phrase, because that attitude is the right attitude. And that is the focus that the United States and Colombia have worked on to further our relations during my administration, as partners on equal footing, looking at each other eye to eye and working shoulder to shoulder.
And to me, as a President, and Colombia, it’s a great pleasure to me to say right now that the relations between Colombia and the United States have never been better -- not just because of the passing of the free trade agreement that turned one just a few days ago, but because our agenda is a broad, robust agenda, and it is an agenda that will undoubtedly bring great benefits to both countries.
We had a very fruitful meeting. We spoke for over two hours, almost two and a half hours, about issues related to energy, education, the environment, trade, of course, security, which is one of the recurring issues on our agenda, although fortunately it’s not the only issue on our agenda. We also talked about the Pacific Alliance and the meeting that we had with the presidents of Mexico, Chile and Peru last week and the heads of state of an observing country. And president -- Vice President Biden expressed the willingness of the United States and the desire to be an observer at the Pacific Alliance, and I told him that Colombia would of course support that request and we would submit that to the consideration of the other countries in -- at the council of ministers that will meet in the near future.
We also talked briefly about the issue that has been an ongoing issue -- drug trafficking -- not just about the progress that we’ve made jointly, but also about the report that was delivered to me by Dr. Insulza, the OAS Secretary General. This is a report that we have distributed among the different leaders that attended the Pacific Alliance summit. We will continue to distribute to academic centers in different European countries. It will also be presented at the OAS General Assembly at the beginning of the upcoming month. And it’s a report that will be the foundation of a necessary discussion to look at how we will continue to face this scourge that has affected us all so much and for which we need to undertake our utmost efforts to continue to make progress.
And I want to thank you very especially, Mr. Vice President, and your government for the firm and compelling support that you have offered for our accession to the OECD. I hope that in upcoming days we will have some positive news on that front. Without your support, this would not have been positive. We cannot run a victory lap yet, but we can thank you right now because we have seen that firm, unflinching support from the United States for Colombia’s accession to the OECD.
Mr. Vice President, you are now traveling to Trinidad and Tobago. You will meet with the CARICOM countries. You will then travel to Brazil. And we would like to thank you as well for the gesture of making your first trip to Latin America as Vice President during this second administration, that you had selected Bogota, Colombia for this. You have a friend with us. We see our country as a strategic partner of the United States. I think that’s the proper interpretation of our relations. And as we talked this morning, these relations are going through their best time.
But as any other relationship that we have, they can continue to improve, and that is the aim that both countries have with a view to the future.
Welcome, and thank you once again.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. It’s a great honor to be back with you. As you know, I’ve been to Colombia from the ‘70s on. And it’s -- we did have a terrific discussion today, almost two and a half hours. We had a lot to talk about. We have an awful lot to talk about. We have so many common interests.
And it’s great in particular to see you again, my friend. You pointed out -- as the President pointed out, last time I was -- I think we were in Cartagena if I’m not mistaken. When Plan Colombia was announced, you were finance minister and I was a United States senator. Now you’re President and I’m Vice President. It’s obvious who did well. (Laughter.)
And it’s a genuine pleasure to be back in Colombia. The last time I came was in 2000, and although we’ve met in the meantime, and I’ve met with your predecessors in the meantime, when I made -- at that time in 2002 -- visits as a passionate supporter, and one who helped draft Plan Colombia in the United States Senate, I saw then with my own eyes the challenges, but I also saw how incredibly resilient and optimistic the spirit of the Colombian people were.
And since then you’ve reclaimed your nation from civil war. You’ve taken this country further and faster than many dared hope was even possible back then. Of course, Colombia -- no Colombian needs to be told this story. You’ve lived it. But I wanted to take this moment to pay a personal tribute to you and to the people of Colombia for the remarkable, remarkable progress you’ve made just since last I was here.
And now as conflicts begin to recede, Colombia is embracing a new mission, and that is locking in your economic and security gains that gave you so much to win and building a just and durable peace.
And our relationship has evolved to reflect just that. I meant what I said when I said it’s long past the time when America looks out and says, what can we do for you? It is not just with the Colombian people, but the entire hemisphere: What can we do with other countries in the hemisphere to benefit all of us?
In 2010, our President launched a high-level, partnership dialogue focused on social inclusion, human rights, energy, science as well as security. And just over a year ago as you pointed out, our Colombian free trade agreement went into effect. It’s a remarkable milestone that today when we meet the main topic is not security, it is economic prosperity. In the dozen or so times when I was here pre-2000, it always began with security and most times ended with security.
Already, the United States exports to Colombia are up 20 percent and Colombia has greater and permanent access to the largest market in the world to export to, and I’m confident that will increase as well.
This afternoon I will be visiting a flower farm, and that's -- and remember that used to be a gigantic issue back in the ‘90s. Well, the truth of the matter is that flower farm now exports half its products to the United States. Sixty percent of the employees are women, and of these, nearly half are heads of household, families whose lives have changed for the better and -- by this agreement.
And personally I want to make clear to the press, I’m going to the flower farm, and I’m mainly going to get my wife some flowers. I just wanted to make it clear because in my household if I go anywhere near a flower shop, let alone flower farm and don't come home fully armed with flowers, I will have a very unhappy trip to Colombia.
But today President Santos and I talked about how we can continue our work together, advance environmental and labor standards, support small and women-owned businesses, ensure that the dynamism of the Colombian economy touches every region of the country and every family in the country.
And the free-trade agreement is just the beginning. We’ve doubled visa validity from five to 10 years. As was pointed out, we championed the Colombian accession to the OECD. We are prepared to talk with Colombia about the TTP. We are anxious to continue to engage with and integrate the economies of the region. And it makes sense for everyone.
As I said in our meeting, the United States does not look at the progress of any nation or any group of nations as a zero-sum game. The more that the Alliance of the Pacific prospers, the better for everyone in the region. The more that we engage with one another, the better for all of us.
And we watch with admiration the advances that you have made in the Alliance of the Pacific in opening markets, integrating regional economies so that people can compete globally. And I give you -- I’d like to extend to you my admiration for in one year the progress you and your fellow presidents have made.
But from observation, it appears as though you have grabbed the bull by the horns -- you, the presidents have decided to make this work. And it’s a lesson for us in a lot of other arenas as well.
We’re also working to realize the promise of our energy future together. We’re sharing our expertise on reasonable extraction of unconventional oil and gas. We’re working hand in hand with Connect America 2022 to create a regional energy market and ensure that the people across the hemisphere have access to reliable, affordable, ever cleaner, successful -- cleaner sources of electricity. Simply interconnecting Colombia and Panama will be a major economic benefit to both your countries and the consumers in both countries. And Colombia has shown leadership in meeting these emerging energy challenges head on.
And finally, we focused on security. I made it clear to President Santos that the United States strongly supports his efforts to achieve historic peace with the FARC. Just as we supported Colombia’s leaders on the battlefield, we fully support you at the negotiating table, Mr. President.
We understand that some real progress appears to have been made yesterday on the agrarian front. We applaud every advance -- every advance -- that gets Colombians closer to the peace they so richly deserve. And we look forward to the day when Colombia can fully enjoy a genuine peace dividend.
And even as we pursue peace and security at home -- as you pursue peace and security at home, Colombians are already training thousands of law enforcement officers and security officers from over 40 countries since 2009. What a change. I spent all my time down here in the ‘80s with us working in the reverse. You have done a remarkable job, and I commend President Santos for his efforts to continue Colombia’s progress on human rights, strengthening the rule of law and taking the necessary steps to ensure that human rights violations are held -- violators are held accountable in the civilian judicial system.
In the darkest days, the United States was proud to support the Colombian people. And, Mr. President, now in these brighter and brighter days, we’re proud to be associated with you.
And, folks, the one thing the President and I agree on is that the promise not only for our relationships but for the hemisphere are close to limitless. They're close to limitless, and we genuinely believe that if we work together, we can provide what we hope will be the case that -- when the Berlin Wall went down in Europe, we started to talk about a Europe whole and free, which has never occurred. And now it’s on the verge of being fully realized. The President and I believe that our children will look to a hemisphere that is middle class, democratic and secure for the first time in the hemisphere’s history. And with the leadership of men like President Santos I am confident that our children’s future is in very, very good hands.
So again, thank you, Mr. President. And we were commiserating how we used to each have a relatively good golf game before we got the respective positions we’re in. So since we’re both playing very badly, let’s play together.
Thank you all very much, appreciate it.
12:46 P.M. (Local)