Good afternoon everyone. It is an honor for me to join President Duque today to celebrate yet another milestone in the close partnership between our two countries. It’s worth celebrating because we’re much more than mere partners, we’re close neighbors and true friends.
There is an unshakable bond between our two nations forged through a common set of values, born of the historic struggle for freedom and self-determination that launched each of our great nations. This special relationship has grown throughout the years as we’ve helped honor each other in moments of crisis or challenge. For example, in 2017, when floods tragically struck near the town of Mocoa, the U.S. helped victims with shelter and supplies. Just a few months later, when Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, it was Colombia’s turn, sending tons of humanitarian assistance right away. We did so because we are neighbors and friends.
President Duque, thank you for your thoughtful words, collaborative spirit, and thank you for your inspirational leadership. The United States is deeply appreciative of your efforts to bring peace and prosperity to all Colombians, as well as your unyielding commitment to supporting Venezuelans in their time of need.
I also want to acknowledge, the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Patti Londoño-Jaramillo, Director General of Colombian Agency for Cooperation, Angela Ospina de Nicholls, and National Planning Deputy Director Gloria Amparo Alonso Másmela. The close cooperation with you and your staff has been critical to achieving our shared objectives in the areas of democracy and governance, peace and reconciliation, inclusive economic growth, environmental resource management, and of course, responding to the crisis in Venezuela.
At USAID, we believe the purpose of our assistance must be ending its need to exist. We also believe in the innate desire of every person, every community, every country, to want to shape their own bright future. That means when we find leaders who are willing to take on the tough choices in reforms necessary to pursue first self-reliance and then prosperity, like Colombia has, then we must walk with them along the way.
Colombia, of course, is very different than many of the countries with whom we partner with. A rising middle income country with a thriving private sector and a long, proud history of democracy. You are well along the way of your national journey, but still as you’ve acknowledged, important challenges still remain. There is a difficult legacy of armed conflict.
There are areas – often remote and rural – that have been marginalized and left out of much of Colombia’s remarkable progress. Narcotics production and trafficking still threatens the future of too many families and communities, and of course many thousands of Venezuelans have crossed into Colombia desperately seeking relief from the tyranny of the Maduro regime. The world is very grateful for Colombia’s generosity in this regard. But we also recognize it is not without cost. The readiness of the government and people of Colombia to take these challenges on, while continuing to drive to fulfill Colombia’s destiny, is a major voice on the world stage, that makes us very proud to stay with you and to work with you. And, it’s why today I want to take the opportunity to announce $160 million U.S. dollars in development assistance to Colombia from USAID.
These resources will go towards important work, advancing peace implementation, promoting reconciliation, supporting livelihoods in rural communities, expanding services in rural regions, improving citizens’security, and strengthening the protection of human rights.
I’d like to briefly highlight one success that I think exemplifies the value of our work together. In the coming months, the Government of Colombia plans to issue over 3,000 land titles across Ovejas, establishing formal rights to land ownership and across an entire municipality for the first time in Colombia’s history. Formalizing land rights will mitigate a key driver of conflict of the countryside. It will create new economic opportunity and it will improve the quality of life for rural populations. It is a historic achievement and I am proud of USAID’s role in helping to pilot the program; one that can be scaled up throughout Colombia. It’s an example of what we’ve been able to accomplish together, and what we can do in the exciting months ahead. Thank you, President Duque, thank you to the Colombian people for our continued collaboration and enduring friendship.