Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at a joint press availability

February 6, 2018,
Bogota, Colombia.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, first allow me to thank you, President Santos, for the kind welcome I’ve received in Colombia and for the opportunity for us to have such a meaningful meeting and exchange on views on a number of import issues. And it’s truly a pleasure to be in Colombia to visit you today.

The United States knows in Colombia we have first and foremost a partner who shares our democratic values and also a partner that is very capable as well. And I am grateful for this opportunity to say a few words about our priorities and things that we talked about today that are important in the bilateral relationship.

We did discuss our concerns about the surge in coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia, but the president also gave me a very good report of the steps that are being taken, the progress that’s being made, and he just spoke to much of that. And we are quite encouraged by what we hear, and we will continue to work with Colombia to support these efforts where we can be of assistance as well. This is a shared challenge for both of our nations as well to work together to undermine the transcriminal organizations that create the networks that are devastating for citizens in Colombia, and they’re devastating to the American people as well. And so we look forward to continuing that cooperation.

As you highlighted, we have had many, many years of joint law enforcement efforts and have very strong laws in Colombia that help us deal with those who are apprehended as well. And we thank you for that. The U.S. Government does continue to support Colombian police and military forces, having trained over 13,000 law enforcement here in the hemisphere as well. And we appreciate what Colombia has done for Central America as well, as you’ve mentioned too.

Colombia has been a key player in the hemisphere’s efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela, and the president spoke extensively about that, and we had a very extensive exchange on how we can work together, along with others in the region, through the Lima Group, ultimately through the OAS, to restore democracy in Venezuela. And this is our only objective, is to see Venezuela return to its constitution, return its duly-elected assembly, and to hold free and fair elections and give the Venezuelan people the right for their voices to be heard in elections.

We are all heartbroken by what we see happening in Venezuela, such a great a country, and we are also heartbroken to see the impact it’s having on Colombia. And we appreciate Colombia’s efforts to deal with the situation of so many Venezuelans seeking refuge here in Colombia as the situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate. We will continue to work as partners in seeking a solution to that tragedy that we’re all watching unfold in Venezuela.

I also want to note our appreciation for Colombia’s full support on our concerns about the nuclear weapons programs of North Korea and the DPRK. And we appreciate that Colombia sent a representative to the Vancouver meeting in Canada this past month, and it was important participation on the part of Colombia to support that international effort and that joint statement, which was very clear as to the desire of the entire international community that North Korea denuclearize and give up their nuclear weapons.

And finally, I do want to state again, we support Colombia’s accession to the OECD and have underlined our commitment in helping Colombia complete and implement the technical requirements to qualify for membership in the OECD, and we have closed just about all of the technical issues. We’ve committed that we will continue to work with Colombia to close all remaining issues, and we know the urgency. The president has spoken very clear on this, and it is our intention to continue to be engaged, and we’ll close out the remaining issues as well.

With that, Mr. President, I want to thank you again for receiving me so warmly in Colombia, and for the time you gave us. It was a very, very useful exchange and very important for me. Thank you very much.

QUESTION:

And also, for Secretary Tillerson, given, as you mentioned, that coca production has tripled in the last five years, would the U.S. consider, as the President has done now with Pakistan and others, would the United States consider cutting foreign assistance to Colombia as a way of provoking action? And did you commit to not cutting aid to Colombia in your conversation? Thank you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, Nick, I think one of the things that’s important about this relationship is because we are so close in terms of the bilateral partnership, is that we can speak very openly and very frankly about the things that are of concern to both of us. And I know President Santos had a very open and frank exchange with President Trump in his visit to Washington, and we are able to speak very frankly with one another about our concerns and how can we help one another.

The rapid increase in coca cultivation in many respects was an unintended consequence of the peace that was negotiated with the FARC, and I think, as the president has described now, it’s the long process of reversing those trends, both through eradication but also, importantly, as the president just mentioned, programs to offer alternative crop – cash crops to the farmers and the local people who have been living off of the coca cultivation. And the president described a very comprehensive program to me this evening in our exchange. It appears to be having good results. We talked about ways that the U.S. might support that effort, as well as other ways to more efficiently support their efforts to eradicate coca production as well.

We do know that there are obviously significant criminal organizations involved, and we will continue our joint work to attack these transnational criminal organizations, and Colombia continues to be very aggressive in going after the leaders of these organizations, and working very cooperatively with our law enforcement people as well to interdict.

We also, importantly, in the last year have come to agreements cooperatively between the U.S., Mexico, and Colombia on maritime interdiction, and this is an area that’s been a real – we’ve had real obstacles in the past. And through joint efforts with Mexico, the U.S., Colombia, we now have agreements that are allowing us to be much more aggressive at interdicting routes of transportation along the Pacific, in particular maritime routes.

So I think what you see is President Trump has made this a high priority of his, both in terms of addressing the supply, but as you know, he’s made it a high priority to acknowledge that the U.S. is the market – we are the demand, we are the consumer – and the President has put in place a very comprehensive program at drug demand reduction as well. And so I think what’s important is the way we’re now approaching this is to recognize we need to work on the demand side of this, we need to work on interdicting more cash that flows back to supplying these illicit activities, and we need to do more to interdict weapons that go into the hands of the criminal organizations, while working closely with the neighboring countries who are suffering from the criminal activity that’s associated with the production of these illicit drugs and the transportation of those. I think our expectation is that Colombia is going to make significant progress this year in reversing these trends. And we want to support that reversal, we want to make that sustainable, and we want to ultimately win this war that has been underway for so long.

So that’s what we’re focused on, is how can we turn the trend around, how can we be supportive. And we’re going to continue to work closely through our joint law enforcement, our intel sharing, and other programs to support gaining on this problem here in Colombia.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Mr. Tillerson, does the U.S. Government recognize that it is the number-one consumer of drugs in the world? But what is happening? I mean, how is the U.S. Government failing? How – why hasn’t it been able to reduce drug consumption? And you spoke of reciprocity. When you say that, what do you mean? More economic aid? I mean, in short, what does that mean?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, the U.S. certainly does recognize that we’re the largest consumer of drugs because we had 65,000 deaths in the United States last year that were related to drug consumption – 65,000. So we need no reminders of the fact that drug consumption is a serious problem in the United States, and as I said, that’s why the President has tackled this with new initiatives at drug reduction. Some of this has to get at how do people – how do they find their entryway into addiction, and interdicting that as well. So we certainly are committed to undertaking the effort to reduce that drug demand in the U.S. Our journey, too, will likely be a long one to win this battle as well.

In terms of assistance, it’s the same assistance we’ve been providing for some time in law enforcement, in terms of providing some capabilities with information sharing, and finding how can we best support the effort here to eradicate and also dismantle the networks themselves.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Secretary Tillerson. I’m David Clark from AFP. Secretary Tillerson, until yesterday, you’d said the time was not right for U.S. officials to sit down with North Korea. Since then, both yourself and Vice President Pence have said, well, let’s see. They’re talking about the – you’re talking about the week ahead in PyeongChang. What has changed until yesterday? And what is it that you’re hoping to see? Thank you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, nothing’s really changed other than the President has asked the Vice President to lead the U.S. delegation – official delegation to the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, to be there to support a very successful Olympics being hosted by our ally, South Korea, and also support a great U.S. Olympic Team that’s going to be marching into that stadium. Hundreds of young athletes are realizing their dream to compete at the Olympic level, and we anticipate the Vice President being there will result in more gold medals, obviously. (Laughter.)

But also, I mean, as you well know and it’s well known, through the dialogue between South Korea and North Korea, North Korea is participating in the Olympics as well. So we don’t know what might present itself and that’s why, again, I think we just say we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good evening, Secretary Tillerson. I have two questions for you, the first on Venezuela. The two of you are in agreement that the way in which President Maduro is managing the crisis is not right. I would like to ask you, how will the U.S. commit to truly provide resources and aid to Colombia that is the country most affected by the crisis in Venezuela, who are coming now to Colombia looking for refuge, and now Colombia needs assistance? And like the minister of foreign affairs has said, that we need resources from international agencies. So what does the U.S. commit to in this respect?

Second, are you happy with the eradication results in the illegal substitution program presented by President Santos? And this warning done by President Donald Trump of decertifying Colombia because of its work against drugs will become a reality or not?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, with respect to the impact that the Venezuelan situation is having on Colombia, I spoke to that earlier in my comments, as did President Santos. We are looking at resources that we had earmarked to address humanitarian situations inside of Venezuela. Our ability to provide that aid to Venezuela has not been easy because of the situation, so we’re going to look at what we have available, and some of that may be redirected to serve Venezuelans who are – who have had to leave and are here in Colombia, and we discussed that tonight and we’ll be in consultation with the president and his team as to whether what we are able to do would be useful. And we recognize that it is putting a burden on Colombia as well.

And in terms of the eradication and the crop substitution program, again, I was very encouraged to hear what was discussed in our meeting, in our bilat meeting. And obviously, results are what matter. In the end, we need to see the results, we need to see the trends reversing, we need to see the number of crops – number of acres or hectares under cultivation going down. We need to see the seizures going up and we need to see all of the metrics. And we talked about important ways to measure whether we’re gaining on this. We need to see those metrics going in the correct way.

And that’s all President Trump wants as well, and I think what he was communicating is how serious he sees this problem and how seriously he takes the steps to reverse these trends. And he clearly is very interested and we’ll be following the results, and that’s what matters, is the results.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much, and this is the end of this joint statement. We would like to thank the U.S. Secretary of State and the president of the republic. Thank you, everyone, for joining us tonight.