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US – Colombia ninth high-level dialogue: ‘How we can make democracies deliver for our people’

By Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

…. So this is, in fact, the ninth high-level dialogue. I am not new to high-level dialogue. I actually participated in at least two of them, maybe even three of them, back in 2015, 2016. And I think what the continuity tells you is that this relationship transcends any administration or any political party in either of our countries, and that’s important. It also extends far beyond our governments, civil society, the private sector, families, communities. So while this high-level dialogue is taking place, there are countless other dialogues happening every single day at every level between Colombians and Americans, and that really is the fabric that joins us.

I think if anyone needed to be convinced of the breadth and depth of the relationship between our countries, the areas that we’re working on together, that are having an impact on the lives of our citizens, all they had to do was listen to the vice president, because with tremendous eloquence, you covered so much that we’re working on together. And I think that’s evidence of everything that brings us together.

The core focus of this trip for me, my first trip to South America as Secretary of State, is how we can make democracies deliver for our people. That is our common challenge; it’s our common responsibility. And that’s true in our countries, and it’s true across the hemisphere. And we know that one way we can deliver is by working closely with our partners and allies on the biggest challenges we face. And that’s exactly what the United States and Colombia are doing.

Today’s dialogue, as you heard, will touch on many of them. But let me just focus on a few, because I think they stand out at this particular moment: COVID-19, the climate crisis, the migration challenge. The way we’re tackling these challenges reveals some defining characteristics of the partnership between our countries. And I think it will inform many of the discussions that we’re all going to have today.

First, we have to confront these vexing challenges together, because they’re simply too big and too complex for either of us to address alone.  That is a defining principle of what brings us here today. The climate crisis, for example, no country – no group of countries, even, can do enough alone to limit the Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which science tells us is our ceiling if we want to avoid catastrophe. In the pandemic, the spread of the virus everywhere – anywhere, excuse me, threatens people everywhere. We know that.

Second, in addressing these challenges, we both have to deal with the immediate consequences, but also, at the same time, we have to work to long-term, sustainable solutions. COVID-19 – we’ve provided from the United States six million doses of safe, effective vaccines to Colombia. We donated over $80 million in funding to support efforts to beat back the virus. When the virus surged here and the country’s ICUs were overwhelmed, we sent more than 200 ventilators to Colombia.

Meanwhile, we’re deepening cooperation between the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Colombia’s National Public Health Institute to strengthen Colombia’s public health system and security, from better integrating the use of data, to bolstering emergency preparedness and response. And that’s not only going to help with this pandemic; it will help prevent, or if necessary, deal with the next one.

Third, we’re using our alliance to model the kinds of collaborative responses that we want to see in the world and marshaling greater regional collaboration. Migration that we spent yesterday focused on. Colombia and the United States are working hand-in-hand to attend to the urgent humanitarian needs of 1.8 million displaced Venezuelans in Colombia, thanks in large part to the remarkable generosity of president Duque and the Colombian people. At the same time, we’re encouraging partners in our region to join the effort to address this and other migration challenges in the hemisphere, which was the aim of the ministerial-level meeting that we held yesterday that our two nations convened together.

Fourth, we’re focusing on addressing the root causes of these challenges, not just the symptoms. Inequity, discrimination, corruption, and the lack of access to opportunity underlie many of these challenges, and they have to be addressed if we’re serious about overcoming them. Together, we’re finding innovative ways to do exactly that. Multiple discussions today will touch on this urban-rural gap that you talked about, Marta Lucia, and the digital divide that often comes with it. Expanding rural broadband, which is critical to employment, to education, even access to basic services in the 21st century. It’s a problem that both of our nations need to make great strides on and learn from each other as we go along, if we’re going to actually deliver for all of our communities.

And tackling root causes is critically important to another key issue that cuts across today’s dialogue, and that’s security. We are as committed as ever to working with Colombia on implementation of the peace accords. But as we carry this work forward, the United States is bringing a new, more comprehensive approach to promoting security. The approach maintains a firm pillar of cooperation on strengthening law enforcement and our efforts to reduce violence, particularly in underserved rural communities, where the state, as we’ve heard, has limited albeit growing presence.

The approach keeps human rights at its core. We’re continuing to focus on building the capacity and resources of prosecutors, judges, and other key actors to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuse, and we’re working together to improve the protection of journalists, human rights defenders, and other brave advocates in the face of ongoing threats and attacks. But our new approach also seeks to broaden the tools that we have at our disposal and that we use by doing things like developing more inclusive economic opportunity for young people, who otherwise might feel that they have no other option besides illicit activity. And investing in substance abuse prevention, treatment, recovery, which will not only help those struggling with addiction, but also reduce the demand of the United States, which is fueling so much criminal activity.

Fifth, every one of these challenges is also an opportunity – an opportunity to Build Back Better, to fix parts of our system that may be broken. That’s ultimately what democracy is all about. Both of our countries have made ambitious commitments to cut emissions and adapt to the inevitable changes to our climate that we’re already seeing. As president Biden has made clear, the investments required to meet these commitments represent once-in-generations opportunity to invest in good-paying jobs that will also preserve our majestic planet, and to create these opportunities in communities that have consistently been marginalized like the Afro-Colombian community, the indigenous communities in this country, black and brown communities in the United States.

Build Back Better World, which the vice president talked about, is one way we help – we hope and help to create these opportunities together, not just in climate, but in infrastructure, by deepening social and economic support for working families. There’s a lot that we can and will do with Build Back Better World. We were very pleased to have some of our experts here, as you noted, in recent weeks talking to our partners in Colombia about that, and I think there’ll be lots more to say about that in the coming months.

Critically, we will do this in a way that is consistent with our two countries’ values: transparency, environmental sustainability, empowering local communities. All of these things are vital in the approach that we’re taking.

We’ve heard as well – and I just want to say a note about this – on the importance and, I think, vitality of exchanges between our countries in all different areas from arts to culture, to academia, science and technology, STEM. I’m a profound believer in these, in these exchanges. I think that they do extraordinary things in developing understanding and ties between our countries that last for years and generations. And also, they bring talented young people together, and when you bring talented young people together, the results are extraordinary.

Now, as I like to say, even if I was not a firm believer in these programs, I’d have no choice because my wife used to be the assistant secretary of state for education and cultural affairs, responsible for these programs. But I strongly believe in them. I hope that our groups will continue to find ways to energize them. Of course, COVID has made things difficult, but I believe we have to build back better there as well.

One final point: This relationship persists, indeed it gets stronger, because it continues to evolve. It continues to evolve to reflect the needs, the hopes, the aspirations of our people, just like our democracies. That’s what it’s all about. Marta Lucía, you said at dinner last night something I took note of. This work, these groups are very, very important. And the conversations that we’re going to have today, the work we’re doing today, all of you are doing today is very important.

But we have to move from the conversations, we have to move from the discussions, we have to move from the dialogue to, as you said, action and results. So we are looking to all of you, our colleagues, to help us do that, to achieve that, and to carry the United States and Colombia forward.



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