USA — Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Colombian Minister of National Defense Silva from Bogota, Colombia

Press Con­fer­ence with Sec­re­tary Gates and Colom­bian Min­is­ter of Nation­al Defense Sil­va from Bogo­ta, Colom­bia

SECRETARY GATES: Let me first thank Pres­i­dent Uribe, Min­is­ter Sil­va and the peo­ple of Colom­bia for their hos­pi­tal­i­ty dur­ing my vis­it.
It is a plea­sure to be back in Bogo­ta. I was last here two years or so ago, and it is very heart­en­ing to see the con­tin­ued progress this great nation is mak­ing under Pres­i­dent Uribe’s lead­er­ship.

I con­sid­er his efforts against the nar­co-traf­fick­ers and ter­ror­ists who have men­aced this coun­try to be hero­ic. In just a few years, Colom­bia has achieved a remark­able — indeed, his­toric — trans­for­ma­tion in the secu­ri­ty are­na that few would have thought pos­si­ble, from a nation under siege from drug-traf­fick­ing orga­ni­za­tions and para­mil­i­tary groups to a coun­try quick­ly becom­ing a linch­pin of secu­ri­ty and pros­per­i­ty in South Amer­i­ca.

This is in large part due to the deter­mined lead­er­ship of Pres­i­dent Uribe’s admin­is­tra­tion, as well as the skill and brav­ery of Colombia’s mil­i­tary and secu­ri­ty forces. Colombia’s men and women in uni­form have made great sac­ri­fices to dra­mat­i­cal­ly degrade the FARC [Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colum­bia] and oth­er ter­ror­ist groups, mak­ing Colom­bia a unique source of expe­ri­ence and exper­tise in com­bat­ing these threats. I want to com­mend Colom­bia for its will­ing­ness to share their knowl­edge and skills in coun­terin­sur­gency, law enforce­ment, and anti-kid­nap­ping train­ing. We believe these efforts are enhanc­ing sta­bil­i­ty in the Amer­i­c­as.

Colom­bia has also shown its will­ing­ness to help its neigh­bors cope with nat­ur­al dis­as­ters, send­ing vital per­son­nel and materiel to Haiti and Chile in the wake of their dev­as­tat­ing earth­quakes. These human­i­tar­i­an mis­sions are indica­tive of increased Colom­bian region­al lead­er­ship and demon­strate that the chal­lenges we face in the Amer­i­c­as are col­lec­tive in nature and require multi­na­tion­al respons­es.

Colom­bia is becom­ing an exporter of secu­ri­ty on the glob­al stage as well, with a planned troop con­tri­bu­tion to Afghanistan. The Unit­ed States is com­mit­ted to pro­vide the sup­port nec­es­sary to help expe­dite this deploy­ment.

As Colom­bians hon­or their past in this bicen­ten­ni­al year, it is also appro­pri­ate that we look to the future, a future of the U.S. and Colom­bia work­ing togeth­er to cre­ate bet­ter lives for our cit­i­zens and stronger ties between our two nations.

In our meet­ings today, I con­veyed to Pres­i­dent Uribe and to Mr. Sil­va not only our appre­ci­a­tion for our part­ner­ship with them but also our com­mit­ment to work just as close­ly with whomev­er suc­ceeds them after the upcom­ing elec­tions. Our con­tin­ued bilat­er­al defense coop­er­a­tion is vital to both our nations. And let me again thank Min­is­ter Sil­va for his friend­ship and his hos­pi­tal­i­ty dur­ing this vis­it. I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing our dia­logue in the future. Until then, on behalf of Pres­i­dent Oba­ma and the peo­ple of the Unit­ed States, con­grat­u­la­tions and best wish­es on your bicen­ten­ni­al cel­e­bra­tion. (Inaudi­ble.)

Maria Anto­nia Castiblan­co, CM& News: Sobre el acuer­do de coop­eración que Esta­dos Unidos aca­ba de fir­mar con Brasil, ¿a qué atribuye ust­ed que no se haya gen­er­a­do tan­ta resisten­cia en Lati­noaméri­ca, especí­fi­ca­mente en Una­sur, como el que se gen­eró cuan­do lo fir­mó Colom­bia? ¿Qué difer­en­cias hay entre estos dos con­ve­nios de coop­eración?

SEC. GATES: Well, my hope is that peo­ple under­stand that these defense coop­er­a­tion agree­ments (DCA) are about expand­ing our bilat­er­al mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ships. They are about oppor­tu­ni­ties to enhance coop­er­a­tion in sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, in mil­i­tary edu­ca­tion, in areas such as cyber­space, and in deal­ing with the com­mon secu­ri­ty threats that face many of the nations here in South Amer­i­ca, name­ly ter­ror­ists and nar­cotics — the nar­cotics trade. And so I think these are oppor­tu­ni­ties for coop­er­a­tion. The terms of these agree­ments are very explic­it, that include adher­ence to the prin­ci­ples of non-inter­fer­ence in the inter­nal affairs of oth­er coun­tries. These agree­ments are about our bilat­er­al rela­tion­ships, first with Colom­bia and now with Brazil. And so I think this is — the agree­ment with Brazil is an impor­tant step for­ward. And frankly, I’m very pleased that there has been broad accep­tance of the agree­ment with Brazil, in no small part because I think it also reflects an — their under­stand­ing now of what the DCA between the Unit­ed States and Colom­bia is about than per­haps was the case last year.

STAFF: Bryan Ben­der, the Boston Globe.

Q Thank you. Sec­re­tary Gates, you talked about the suc­cess­es that Colom­bia has had here fight­ing drugs – armed groups — bring­ing civ­il soci­ety to larg­er parts of the coun­try. What specif­i­cal­ly, if you can say, would you like to see Colom­bia do more region­al­ly, whether it’s Mex­i­co, whether it’s Peru?

And then, Mr. Min­is­ter, do you also agree that there are lessons here that could be applied else­where in the region? And to what extent can Colom­bia do that? What extent do you have the capac­i­ty? Or is there per­haps still too much work to be done here before you can real­ly do that in a sig­nif­i­cant way?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I think that there already is a sig­nif­i­cant amount of coop­er­a­tion going on between Colom­bia and some of its neigh­bors — par­tic­u­lar­ly Peru, but also Mex­i­co and oth­ers. And Peru­vian Marines are here train­ing with Colom­bian Marines. Colom­bia is train­ing heli­copter pilots from sev­er­al coun­tries, includ­ing Peru and Mex­i­co.

I think what Colom­bia has been so suc­cess­ful at address­es some of the chal­lenges that they’re — that oth­er coun­tries here in the region are fac­ing. And Colombia’s suc­cess against ter­ror­ist groups and against the nar­co-traf­fick­ers I think does offer a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to share that exper­tise. In coun­terin­sur­gency, they’ve learned a great deal about a civ­il-mil­i­tary cam­paign and hav­ing both the civil­ian and the mil­i­tary com­po­nents work togeth­er.
And so I think in all of these areas, there is tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty. And we cer­tain­ly would like to see that increase and see oth­er coun­tries take advan­tage of Colombia’s strengths in these areas.

Min­is­ter Sil­va: Para respon­der esta pre­gun­ta lo más ilus­tra­ti­vo es decir que hace ocho años, al ini­cio del gob­ier­no del pres­i­dente Uribe, Esta­dos Unidos y Colom­bia estábamos prác­ti­ca­mente solos en la lucha con­tra las ame­nazas multi­na­cionales regionales como el ter­ror­is­mo y el nar­cotrá­fi­co. Estábamos solos pero la con­sis­ten­cia de la políti­ca de seguri­dad del Pres­i­dente y la efi­ca­cia de la coop­eración entre los dos país­es per­mi­tió demostrar­le a la región y al mun­do que, inde­pen­di­en­te­mente de cuál sea la ide­ología o la incli­nación políti­ca de un gob­ier­no, la coop­eración inter­na­cional es una obligación para con la comu­nidad inter­na­cional, pero tam­bién una obligación con los pueb­los de Améri­ca. Son los resul­ta­dos de esa coop­eración los que han hecho que hoy pasamos de estar solos hace ocho años a ser un mod­e­lo que toda la región quiere imi­tar y que toda la región quiere cono­cer a fon­do. Nues­tra inter­pretación del acuer­do entre Esta­dos Unidos y Brasil es muy pos­i­ti­va. Demues­tra que lo que ven­i­mos hacien­do Esta­dos Unidos y Colom­bia rep­re­sen­ta un esque­ma, una aprox­i­mación atrac­ti­va y valiosa para todos los país­es de la región. Igual­mente, a medi­da en que Colom­bia ha for­t­ale­ci­do su expe­ri­en­cia y sus capaci­dades ha gen­erosa­mente con­tribui­do con otros país­es para com­par­tir esa expe­ri­en­cia. Lo hace­mos por her­man­dad y lo hace­mos por la con­vic­ción de que estas ame­nazas sólo se pueden com­bat­ir de man­era efi­caz con un enfoque region­al. Como dice el sec­re­tario Gates, hoy en día ten­emos pro­gra­mas de coop­eración con prác­ti­ca­mente todos los país­es de la región en difer­entes modal­i­dades. Ten­emos tam­bién coop­eración y pres­en­cia direc­ta en var­ios país­es de la región y del mun­do. Eso demues­tra la vocación que tiene Colom­bia de con­tribuir como un buen ciu­dadano del mun­do a la paz y la seguri­dad en el hem­is­fe­rio y a niv­el inter­na­cional.

Q Luisa Puli­do, RCN Radio: ¿Cómo ve el gob­ier­no de Esta­dos Unidos que Colom­bia, para enfrentar la per­se­cu­ción de Venezuela a sus ciu­dadanos, haya tenido que emi­tir una aler­ta para decir que lo mejor es que lo piensen antes de ir a Venezuela? Tam­bién, el gob­ier­no amer­i­cano retiró su apoyo a la Cen­tral de Inteligen­cia del Esta­do, lla­ma­da DAS, por el escán­da­lo de las chuzadas o las escuchas. ¿Han pen­sa­do ust­edes tam­bién recor­tar otros recur­sos por otros escán­da­los como las eje­cu­ciones extra­ju­di­ciales?

SEC. GATES: I’m not famil­iar with the — with the lat­ter issue, but Pres­i­dent Uribe in our meet­ing here this morn­ing talked at some length about the rea­sons for the issuance of the warn­ing and the arrests of Colom­bian cit­i­zens. This real­ly was the first time that I had had this prob­lem explained to me. And so I don’t pre­tend to have any exper­tise on it, but it clear­ly is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of con­cern on the part of the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment for its cit­i­zens. STAFF: Diego Urdane­ta, AFP.

Q Yes, for both of you. Do you think the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion has done enough to push the free trade agree­ment to get approved? And for Sec­re­tary Gates, do you think that’s — that this agree­ment that’s been up and run­ning now could han­dle in any way the secu­ri­ty efforts from Colom­bia — also, in light of Venezuela freez­ing their trade — impor­tant trade with Colom­bia?

SEC. GATES: We did talk about this, this morn­ing. And you may — you prob­a­bly don’t remem­ber, but in 2008 Min­is­ter Silva’s pre­de­ces­sor, Min­is­ter San­tos, and I co-authored an arti­cle that appeared in a major U.S. news­pa­per on the rea­sons why the free trade agree­ment should be rat­i­fied.
We con­tin­ue to believe this. I dis­cussed this ear­li­er this week with Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor Jim Jones. And I would hope that we would be in a posi­tion to make a renewed effort to get rat­i­fi­ca­tion for the free trade agree­ment. I think it is — as we wrote in 2008, it’s a good deal for Colom­bia. It’s also a very good deal for the Unit­ed States.

Min­is­ter Sil­va: En cuan­to a la apre­ciación del gob­ier­no de Colom­bia debo decir que con­sid­er­amos muy favor­able el giro que ha tenido la admin­is­tración Oba­ma al pon­er en primera fila de sus pri­or­i­dades la rat­i­fi­cación de los acuer­dos de libre com­er­cio con Colom­bia y otros país­es. No olvidemos que el pres­i­dente Oba­ma men­cionó en un dis­cur­so de la may­or trascen­den­cia, como es el Esta­do de la Unión ante el Con­gre­so, pre­cisa­mente este pun­to. Eso nos alien­ta a estar con­ven­ci­dos de que la vol­un­tad políti­ca existe en el Gob­ier­no, está respal­da­da por razones com­er­ciales en primer lugar, pero tam­bién por razones estratég­i­cas dado que este acuer­do rep­re­sen­ta una necesi­dad para con­sol­i­dar la seguri­dad en Colom­bia. Una vez que se con­quista la seguri­dad como se viene hacien­do por la vía de la acción de fuerza públi­ca se requiere con­sol­i­dar­la tam­bién con el mejo­ramien­to de las condi­ciones sociales y de empleo.


U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)