MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to all of our outlets. Welcome to the press conference with the elimination of the U.S. conference led by the Administrator USAID Samantha Power.
The press conference will start with remarks by Administrator Power and followed by the previously selected journalists with a simultaneous interpretation in both languages, English and Spanish. Right now, we would like to invite Administrator Power to address her remarks to the members of the press. Thank you.
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good afternoon, everyone.
Earlier today, we had the privilege to meet with President Gustavo Petro, where we expressed to him the desire of President Biden and the United States to build on our long standing partnership and to advance the values and priorities that our countries share. What the people of Colombia clearly demonstrated at the ballot, in free and fair elections, that brought President Petro and his administration into office, is that they wanted change. And what we know is that after decades of conflict, and significant economic inequality, we know that the people of Colombia deserve lasting peace and shared prosperity.
For decades, the United States and Colombia have been working toward these goals. We have supported successive governments here, as they defended the state against armed insurgents who sought to topple it.
And as they engaged in negotiations with paramilitary groups and the FARC, we supported the 2016 Peace Accords at every step from its formulation to its enactment, and now, to its absolutely critical implementation. President Petro has pledged to fully implement the peace accord as a central tenet of his administration. And we intend to maintain our support for extending the benefits and services of the state to communities that have been historically marginalized, and communities that have been significantly impacted by the displacement and the violence of the armed conflict. This is not some new effort. For years we have partnered with the Colombian government to bring democratic rule of law to communities previously held by insurgent forces to help citizens exercise their constitutional rights; secure legal title to their land, which so many still lack; gain access to public services and engage in the illicit economy. As I said to President Petro, our efforts with Colombia are complementary in many respects to his agenda as he has defined it. We at USAID, for example, again for years have been focused on combating economic inequality, fostering not only economic growth but inclusive economic growth and expanding public safety for marginalized populations. Indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians are disproportionately affected by armed conflict. Nearly 40% of Afro-Colombians and 30% of indigenous peoples report themselves as victims of such violence. We remain particularly focused as the United States on supporting them to achieve their full potential. One of the features of Colombia's vibrant democracy is its strong civil society organizations that defend human rights, support cultural heritage, and combat racism and discrimination. The United States and USAID in particular have been stalwart supporters of these groups and the causes of justice, equality and inclusion that they have been championing for years. In fact, it is these efforts that actually led us at USAID to our work directly with Francia Marquez, now the vice president of this country.
In our meeting today, I congratulated Vice President Marquez on her historic victory, her advocacy for environmental protections, which propelled her inspiring rise from the nation's long neglected Pacific region to becoming the nation's first Afro-Colombian Vice President highlights yet another area of shared partnership between the United States and Colombia – fighting climate change and protecting this country's rich biodiversity. Colombia is a regional leader in the fight against climate change, committing to reach net zero deforestation by 2030 and net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Although progress has been elusive, climate progress around the world so often is elusive. We know President Petro and Vice President Marquez want to prioritize their efforts to fight climate environmental degradation while pursuing a green energy future and we intend to support them.
As President Petro and I acknowledged, like any two countries, Colombia and the United States will occasionally have differences. But we remain united by an incomparable shared history, by our democratic values, and by our deep economic ties and integration. The United States remains Colombia's largest trading partner, and the largest provider of economic and humanitarian assistance, assistance the country has put to indispensable use in so generously welcoming Venezuelan refugees. And as the second country to establish diplomatic relations with Colombia after its independence, we have partnered for 200 years, cementing deep cultural and political ties, ties that have strengthened both of our nations. I want to congratulate the Colombian people on their new government and wish President Petro and Vice President Marquez every success as they begin their administration. As I said to President Petro today, the United States looks forward to deepening and strengthening our ties as we pursue a shared agenda on behalf of the Colombian and the American people. With that I and we are eager to take your questions. Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: Administrator Power, thank you very much. Right now we open the floor to questions and answers on the part of journalists. As agreed and organized, please state your name and the outlet you belong to.
QUESTION BLU RADIO: Good afternoon. My name is Yohanna Galvis with Blu Radio. My question is to the three members of the delegation, Representative Juan Gonzalez, and Ambassador Administrator Power on the topic of drugs. Touched by President Petro about changing the Counter Narcotics policy saying that this struggle, this fight has failed. What does the U.S. say about this?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Well, I can start.
Ever since the transitional period began officials with the U.S. government have been sitting down with members of President Elect Petro's team then and with President Elect Petro himself in order to discuss the incoming and now current administration's approach to a whole range of issues. As I indicated in my remarks, and as many of, there is huge overlap with our agenda. And there are understandable differences and ones that we are continuing to talk about and to work through. And that work really will launch in earnest today, his first day in office and the first day of his team. Every administration, irrespective of what country we were talking about, it comes in with its own ideas about changes it might like to make, policies it might like to continue. But the one thing I think is clear is that we need to spend a good bit of time also detailing the kinds of programs that we have been running together for some time.
So, for example, USAID is very active in creating alternative economic livelihoods for those who might be involved in drug production. And we are very eager to increase that kind of programming to give people a source of income and livelihood.
We also think that we agree that the drug trade has had devastating impacts on communities, communities here in Colombia, and also communities in the United States with a particularly devastating impact on communities of color. And so, there is a foundation there to talk in greater detail about what the approach will be. We have clearly heard the President's message; he does not think that the approach is going well. But we also think that we have shared interests that we can build upon in order to forge a constructive path ahead. And that is, that is certainly the determination that we will bring to this dialogue, which will grow more intense now that he is in office.
CONGRESSMAN MEEKS: I'll just say real quickly that I was tremendously impressed with the meeting. When the subject of drugs came out, with the President agreeing to talk and further because of the necessity of stopping violence.
Now you could just see from his inauguration and the pain of the people who have suffered from violence, particularly in the indigenous and Afro-Colombian community. When you talk to them all he wants them to do is to have peace. And I think what the President wants to do is to have peace, same as us in the United States. And so I saw the room to have open and honest conversation and dialogue.
And that's what's important out of this very first meeting on the very first day, he's become President of Colombia. We've worked with all the other presidents, and he was, and we will make sure that our 200 year relationship, because we didn't agree with everything with everybody said with the other presidents either, but we always agreed to talk and work to try to have the betterment of the people so that we can be better. And that was a tremendous asset of having the meeting and gives great potential to come to agreement.
MR. GONZALEZ: I mean, I'll just say very quickly, thank you. So, with any sort of politics or policy of government or even collaboration between two countries should be measured objectively on the outcomes and results. The most important thing is the Administrator mentioned is Petro was elected on an agenda of change and as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has mentioned, we come here with a reservoir of goodwill to work through these issues constructively, but again, the issues of difference we're going to resolve objectively based on factual information, figure out what works best. Certainly want to make sure that we're advancing the best possible policies, whether it's on Counter Narcotics, security or peace.
QUESTION CARACOL NEWS: And joining us with our center with Caracol TV, and the question goes to Mr. Gregory Meeks. Is, as the bipartisan, the traditional bipartisan support given to Colombia by the U.S. in risk now? Taking into account the fact that at the Congress there are initiatives that seek to condition funds to be received by Colombia in terms of security and development or the counter narcotics fight, are they condition to the policies to be adopted by President Gustavo Petro?
CONGRESSMAN MEEKS: You know, in Congress, we always have two sides. I've been the co-chair of the Colombian caucus, Democrats and Republicans, that will continue. We will have those conversations, we will look at bills that I will put forward too, as chair of the committee, I'm going to put some bills forward for consideration, from my Republican colleagues, they will put bills forward for consideration for us and we'll have dialogue and conversation among ourselves. But one of the things that we will make sure, and I will be sure to be able to continue, is with all of our partisan issues. We tried to come together for Colombia, because that's something that has been unified. We didn't – have not always agreed on certain policies within the Congress, but we talk it out. And we try to come up with something that is a compromise that benefits the United States and Colombia. That's what partnerships are all about. So, the Colombian caucus will continue. I hope when the ambassador comes to the United States, we will have a reception for him with both parties there so that we can work together. That's what this is. That's why Colombia is so important. They are our most important partner in South America. Democrats know that and Republicans know that. And that's got to be our focus.
MODERATOR: That's the next question. To be asked by our RCN news.
QUESTION RCN NEWS: Mr. Meeks, did you find a good willingness to work on the relationship between Nicolas Maduro and the opposition? And if that is the case, did you find this good willingness on the part of the government and if that is the case, what is the position of the U.S. in this regard?
CONGRESSMAN MEEKS: I can't speak for the executive branch. So, I'm not going to try to do that. I can speak for Gregory Meeks, as chair of the caucus. Everyone knows that I have had a relationship with Nicolas Maduro. I don't agree with everything that Nicolas Maduro, he is not following the example that has been followed here in Colombia of democracy.
He has not had an election, a fair and impartial election, where the people have had a voice. And that way, I think that Colombia should be an example for Nicolas Maduro. And I would hope that we can get into that kind of conversation with him so that we can get Venezuela on a path of free and fair elections. And if I can be helpful, and having that happen, it helps the whole hemisphere come together. I was impressed with the President's inaugural address that he wants to unite the entire Latin America. So, with President Petro could be a leader and bringing that together for democracy. As the Administrator said, the people spoke loudly in Colombia. Free and fair elections is what this is all about – democracy.
And to the degree that we can get that done and I can be helpful, working with others. I will do that.
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Let me just add a couple of points about the issue of Venezuela. So first, we as the United States, as the Biden Administration, we recognize Juan Guaido and we support negotiations that need to produce results that will pull the people of Venezuela out of the horrific situation that they have lived in for too long. Because of dictatorship and repression because of severe economic mismanagement, and there is no more heartbreaking symptom of that mismanagement and misrule than the fact that more than 2 million Venezuelans felt that they had to come and live in another country in order to feel safe and pursue economic opportunity. And here, I just commend the Colombian people for their hospitality, their generosity, toward their Venezuelan brothers and sisters who have really suffered these last years.
We think what Colombia has done, and by all accounts, plans to continue to do and even deepen, which is to grant temporary protected status for 10 years, to Venezuelans who have come through. We think that is so important that it is a model for the region. We've already seen the Government of Ecuador adopting a similar approach. We think that it can be even more economically beneficial for the country of Colombia than it has been thus far if we can increase our economic integration programs for the host communities that have welcomed so many Venezuelans and that's something USAID really looks forward to talking to the new administration about because it aligns with some of the things that President Petro has, has said. So, in the end, I think what all of us have an interest in is dealing with the root causes of a crisis that would cause so many people to make that impossible choice to leave their homes and their communities and where they live their whole lives. To live in another country, but that is only going to come through the path of negotiation out of this economic, political and security crisis for Venezuela.
MODERATOR: [in Spanish]
QUESTION NEW YORK TIMES: Hi, thank you for attending to all of us. We really appreciate it. My name is Julie. I'm the New York Times correspondent here in Colombia. I also cover other countries in the region. One of the biggest objectives of the Petro government has been the idea of paz total, so striking agreements, or creating some kind of peace with all of the different groups in the country. I don't have to tell everybody here that's a very difficult goal. And so, I'm curious where, what the U.S. sees as its role in that process, and also if there are certain conditions, or certain policies that would go too far for the U.S. like, when, when all of you are thinking about this, are there certain things like issues of offering nonextradition or some such that would go too far? So, we'd love to know your thinking on that.
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, and then maybe my colleagues will wish to weigh in as well.
Let me just start by a fairly obvious point of historical context, which is that we, the United States across administrations of both parties have stood with the Colombian people on the battlefield, when war was raging at fever pitch in so many communities here. And we have stood with the Colombian people in the peace recognizing, again, that implementation that there is still an awful lot of work to be done. USAID alone, I think, has spent more than a billion dollars in helping shore up the peace in a whole range of ways, including by seeking to support programs that would reintegrate combatants who've put their arms down and have left the battlefield.
We have heard some of the ideas that you were alluding to, including yesterday, of course, in the President's inaugural address. We've had the beginnings of discussions with the transition team about what some of those ideas are. But I think that those ideas, even on the part of the administration, have not yet turned into sort of concrete plans and proposals with timetables and so forth. And I think just as we did with the Santos Administration, as I mentioned, even in advance of any launch of discrete conversations or talks, we were present in those discussions and offering the information, the contexts, what, what we had learned through years of security cooperation, I think to really help inform the diplomatic pathway that was being pursued. And so again, it would really depend on what form this approach takes.
But we have laws in the United States and we're going to follow those laws and some of the groups that continue to commit violent acts here, one of them in particular, of course, is a foreign terrorist organization, that's, of course going to inform the United States’ approach. But we also believe that an approach that believes in accountability, given the number of individuals and families whose lives have been devastated by the violence and other criminality carried out by these armed groups, that that also will on the basis of recent history, will need to be a part of this approach. So, we will offer our good offices in and share I think the experience that we have not only here, but in other parts of the world. But for right now, I think this is day one for the new administration. And as we delve into the details of their thinking, I think they will also learn much more about the role that a variety of U.S. actors played in helping support the road to the 2016 Peace Accord.
MR. GONZALEZ: Underscoring what the Administrator here said is that there have been initial discussions on the campaign and as part of the speech, but I think it's premature for us to stake out any sort of positions particularly publicly on this issue. Second point is the questions of the balance of justice, truth, and reconciliation are fundamentally a Colombian question to really be debated here. And we need you to respect that space. Certainly, we have, again as the Administrator said, we have interests and the commitment that was shared in the meeting today between the Administrator and the President was to have these conversations, candidly, constructively toward moving forward in a way that addresses both our concerns and our objectives.
CONGRESSMAN MEEKS: The only thing I’ll add to that is look, I fell in love with this country 22 years ago. I fell in love with the people here 22 years ago. And the reason why I did that when I first came here, they told me I couldn't go certain places, scared that I'd be kidnapped. Violence was all in the street. And they were having an election. And I spoke to people on the streets, and they said they were voting because they wanted to end violence. They wanted to live peaceful lives. And the negotiating process for Plan Colombia wasn't just something that it was worked on. Both sides had conversations and dialogue, to try to figure out how best to take back and have peace in Medellín or Cartagena. The first inauguration I came to, we were still worried about somebody bombing the inauguration. I heard gunshots in the distance. This country has come a very long way. The only place where we still have violence at that level, now is in the indigenous and on the Pacific coasts.
So, we've got to have the same dialogue and conversations back and forth, working with our friends, how we now complete the job. And the job there is different than doing something in a municipal city. So, there's got to be conversations and back and forth, just as we did that, and come up with a mutual plan that's good for all of us. I said to President Petro, I really thought that he had, when I just thought about it, the elections and going back and forth and the programs that we're looking to do in the United States, a bill we just passed that talks about climate, and talking about justice, affordable drugs, and health care, etc. The same thing he's trying to do here. So, some of what President Biden's work is, is the same thing here. But there's different things that you do, so we've got to work this thing out.
So, I don't want to – differences and things of that nature – that happens in negotiations in business. But you work it out. And I think that's what's going to happen here because this country, and the United States, is important. And I believe that President Petro and President Biden want the best things for both of our countries. You talk about climate. Oh my God. So much for us to do together. That's what's going to happen.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We are running short of time. We shall open the floor to Reuters.
QUESTION REUTERS: I’ll make this quick. You mentioned the, Colombia's net deforestation target by 2030. I just wanted to ask, what sort of financial or other help will the U.S. offer to make sure that Colombia can reach that goal? In his speech yesterday, President Petro mentioned swapping external debt for costs associated with saving forests and jungles. Is that something that the U.S. Administration would support?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Well, our climate and environmental programming is really at the core of so much of the work that USAID has been doing in Colombia for years. So even though, thankfully, climate change is finally beginning to get the high-level attention globally that it deserves, all you had to do if you're working at USAID 10 years ago, was travel out into rural areas to see already the beginnings of the devastating effects of climate change on communities. And we met with some of those communities this last – or some individuals from those communities these last few days that we've been in Colombia just to hear how difficult, for example agricultural advancement has been in light of water shortages, how livelihood altering the deforestation has been. We all know the limits of the progress that has been made in fighting deforestation, notwithstanding the commitments that have been made.
So we have a real foundation there already of a number of lines of effort. I think what we have now is a President who clearly, and a Vice President, who view themselves as environmentalists, almost first, I think that's something that the President has said in the past that he is an environmentalist, and we view that as a huge opportunity. Special Envoy Kerry, somebody we've all spoken with about this, is very excited about engaging the new administration about how to accelerate progress toward the goals that have been established. We recognize that resources are needed, particularly when it comes to adaptation. In the world of mitigation and the shift to renewables, the private sector is very, very interested in what is happening in Colombia.
We can use, again, everything from the Department of Commerce, so I'm the vice chair of the Development Finance Corporation. There are a lot of ways to spur investment in the transition to renewables and we talked to the President about his ambitions for solar and for wind. And I think you will start to see again, that picking up pace. Adaptation is where public sector money has been incredibly important, and I think that's where USAID will make an invaluable difference.
The last thing I would say just on the climate and environmental agenda is that we also just need to work together. The United States really wants to support the new administration's effort to protect environmental defenders. I mean, this is a really dangerous place to work, as so many have done, and so many have given their lives to doing, to protect the land and the majesty of Colombia's natural resources. There are a lot of violent and criminal elements who want to interfere with those protection efforts. And so we also need to work together and we are again, very, very eager to support efforts to protect those who would protect the land.
CHARGÉ D’AFFAIRES PALMIERI: I just want to add to that. I think, from a U.S. perspective, there's no question that President Petro is going to be not just a leader here in Colombia. He's gonna be a leader in this hemisphere, and globally, in addressing these issues. And as the Administrator just pointed out, there are lots of different areas where we're already working with Colombia, and we look forward to the opportunities to dive in even deeper into those discussions to identify new and additional areas. But we'll get our experts down here, and it's clearly something where we're most closely aligned with the new government.
MODERATOR: We're running out of time. So, we have the last question. One more question.
QUESTION BLOOMBERG: I was going to ask about migration. One thing is an increasing number of Colombians migrating to the U.S. and why that is. And then in second term, you were referring to the TPS program here in Colombia, and obviously, the U.S. has had a big role. How are you seeing the increasing number of Venezuelan refugees going to the U.S. why is that, and how big of a concern is it given the TPS program? Thank you.
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, let me start just by stressing that the progress that we, I think, are very, very eager to make to support economic development, to extend the reach of the state and social services to communities that have been marginalized, to implement the Peace Agreement to, again, to support the Colombians as they implement the Peace Agreement. Including chapters of the Peace Agreement, like the ethnic chapter, where the progress has been very modest so far, but where there's a lot of enthusiasm from the incoming administration to make more progress. We are very, very eager to support that effort and in so doing, in supporting these objectives within Colombia, fundamentally, in making those investments in the dignity and the welfare of communities here, that is the best way of addressing the root causes of migration. So when you ask, why have more Colombians made their way to the southern U.S. border – nobody wants to leave their home, right? Nobody wakes up in the mornings, I mean, it's very, very rare, right that I’d want to leave my home. Circumstances have usually become such, whether it's violence, or extortion, or economic despair, and deprivation, and inability to provide for your loved ones. Those are the motives that cause people and so that is why the socioeconomic agenda is the best investment that I think the Petro Administration can make. And then we can support, as the United States, in trying to address some of these needs that because of climate change, or because of the pandemic, which walloped this nation as it did so many when economic growth was trending in one direction, to see those numbers contract. But all of the potential that existed before the pandemic is still here. And what we need to do is catalyze progress in the economic domain. See, again, more accelerated implementation of the peace so that communities can live free from fear, and free from want. Because if progress can be made in those domains, you're going to see the numbers of migrants go down. And this is a particularly tough time with supply chain disruption, inflation, and again, the tail end of the pandemic. But we believe that the ingredients, the foundation is there to catalyze economic growth, but again, to emphasize inclusive economic growth in a manner that is going to have as broad a reach as possible.
And I don't know if you want to speak to the other aspect of the question.
MR. GONZALEZ: Well, look, I'll say just two things. First, is an important statistic is right now, approximately 40% of the Venezuelans that are arriving at our border are leaving the country so it's important to recognize that it is a function of the continued political and economic crisis in the country, why it's so important for us to work with Colombia, in support of a dialogue that leads to free and fair elections in the country. Really, that's our commitment.
On the Colombian peace, just to underscore what the Administrator said is that but putting into the context of the Summit of the Americas is, is the reference to address the concepts of issues, the challenge of migration with Colombia is part of a regional effort that sees migration less about the U.S.-Mexico border really about a once in a century economic crisis that Latin America and the Caribbean is going through, that is impacting Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Haiti, the entire region, and one where countries that are source, transit and destination countries really need to work together and that's why the President with 21 other leaders, 20 other leaders, launched the Los Angeles Declaration on migration so that we're not just looking at enforcing laws, expanding asylum systems, but really working on investing on the economic drivers of migration.
CONGRESSMAN MEEKS: And let me just add this I'm thankful to President Biden for sending this delegation down. And we could never forget that President Biden, when he was Vice President was focused on this area. And he understands that nobody wants to leave here. And I think that what President Biden did by deciding to let Administrator Power lead this delegation, it wasn't done by accident.
It was done because he knows that this embassy and those from USAID have been going into the places where folks would run from to try to figure out what do we need to do to make their lives better? The investment that the United States has been making, a heck of a lot of it, almost overwhelmingly goes to USAID to get into these communities. I've met today, we've met collectively, members of this embassy with a whole host of civil servants and ministers and people from the community who just came to me to have conversations, and they almost all acknowledged the work that the USAID has been doing, because they know them. They know them. And then on top of that part of this delegation, a person that just came in. Secretary Blinken very first time eight weeks ago, understanding that we need equity and justice for folks.
So, we have with us Desirée Cormier Smith, who is the Special Representative of the State Department for Racial Equity, and Justice to look and to talk to folks so that we can make a difference. So, people could feel safe at their place. They don't have to. They don't want to leave. Sometimes it’s like why do you want to leave, they don't want to, they love it here. They are forced to leave but the USAID, under this lady, is making a difference. It’s going to take some time. It wasn't accidental that this delegation was put together. It was put together with thought and I thank President Biden for that. Because he cares.
MODERATOR: We thank the U.S. government delegation and the journalists here today.