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Interview With Caracol TV

John D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State
Bogotá, Colombia
May 9, 2007

QUESTION: Mr. Negroponte. Your visit to Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Panama has to do with the Free Trade Agreement. Do you have a message about that, now that things are getting kind of difficult in Congress?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, there are two reasons for this visit. First of all, I’ve just become Deputy Secretary of State about two months ago. So, I wanted to send a signal, and Secretary Rice wanted me to send a signal, on the importance of our relationships with this hemisphere.

Secondly, as you mentioned, we have free trade agreements pending with Panama, with Colombia and Peru. So, (inaudible) the issue of free trade agreements will be coming up in Congressional debates and now would be a good time to visit.

QUESTION: Why? Because you want to bring a message that the Bush Administration... (interrupted by D Negroponte) ...is working on that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, there are two messages here. One is a message of support to countries with whom we’re negotiating the agreements, and as far as Colombia is concerned, a message of support for the great venture that we have, for the respect and admiration that we have for what has been accomplished on the Democratic front, in the war on drugs, and also in the economics arena. So that’s one message.

The other is a message going back, I would be in a better position as a result of this visit, to tell people, based on a first-hand observation, what I’ve seen and what I’ve learned on this trip, back in Washington, and that could perhaps be helpful in the debate on these FTAs.

QUESTION: The last trip of President Uribe was kind of disappointing because he didn’t get a lot of... I mean... good signals or ‘vibes’, let’s say, from the Democrat Party about the Free Trade Agreement.

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, I’m not certain that the press stories fully or accurately reflect some of the conversations that he had in Washington. I think, maybe, some of the press stories chose to accent the negative, if you will. From my perspective, and I would say at the breakfast that President Uribe had with President Bush last week, it was a very positive meeting. Certainly President Uribe enjoys strong support, and Colombia enjoys strong support, from our President and our Secretary of State. I believe there’s also strong bipartisan support from Congress in our relationship....

QUESTION: So, you’d say that the Free Trade (Agreement) is going to be a reality?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, I think it’s going to be debated vigorously. I think there may be some controversy, but I think there are excellent arguments if we’re going forward with this agreement which we believe to be a strategic one, and so I for one hope very strongly that the agreement will be passed.

I have experience in this area, when I was Ambassador to Mexico, when we negotiated the trade agreement with Mexico; and we also had a bit of debate in our political circles with that free trade agreement. But we were successful ultimately in getting it approved.

QUESTION: I’m sure you’re familiar with everything that’s being going on in our country with the para-political situation. Do you share the concern that a lot of people share about the link between political people and the paramilitaries?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE:  Yes, well, I understand that there’s been some press stories lately and some controversy. But what I think I would say about that question is: first of all, I think your government has accomplished some very important things with respect to the paramilitaries: almost 30,000 have been demobilized, 60 top leaders of the paramilitaries are in detention that are awaiting trial, so this is the kind of progress that was not imaginable four or five years ago. So, I basically see the situation with respect to the paramilitaries in a positive way.

QUESTION:  I was reading a little bit of your biography and you do have a little bit of experience between, like what happened in Honduras, it was almost like paramilitaries and guerilla. It was a situation a lot like what’s going on in Colombia. What would be your advice? How can you accomplish peace in a country that has those two groups and that balanced situation?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE:  Well, I think your government has a very good plan, a very good Peace and Justice Program of the government. The combination of what (inaudible) questions and compensation, on the one hand, and reconciliation on the other. I don’t know all the answers as far as Colombia is concerned, but I think this is an issue that each country has to sort of solve and sort out in its own way.

Actually, rather than Honduras, I think the experience I had in Iraq is somewhat similar in the sense that you have some of these armed militias that are similar to... at least some of them are similar to paramilitary groups; and those, too, have to be brought under control. So, in Iraq, I think they’ve been dealing with some similar problems to what you’ve been dealing with in Colombia. But I think in Colombia, so far at least, your government has experienced a certain amount of success.

QUESTION:  You don’t think the extradition is necessary for the paramilitary, as long as they’re involved in drug-dealing to the States?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE:  Well, there certainly have been a record number of extraditions with respect to narco-trafficking under the government of President Uribe. I think it’s been something like 500; more than 500 extraditions. Before President Uribe came to office, I think the total number of extraditions to the United States, throughout the history of our relations, was something like 70 people. So, there’s been a dramatic increase there.

I think there’s some issue with respect to the paramilitaries, as to what would be the appropriate time to extradite some of these people, and whether it is appropriate if they are under the Peace and Justice Program, and working their way through that program. So, I think we’ll have to wait and see what happens in that regard.

QUESTION:  What do you think about what happened with former Vice President Al Gore and President Uribe in Miami in that forum? He decided no to go because he thought that President Uribe has to clear his name before..... What do you think about that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE:  Well, you know. Here’s what I’ve got: what was done was done, so that can’t be changed. If former Vice President Gore were here, here’s what I would tell him: ‘In my opinion, this government has made more progress in dealing with the question of paramilitaries, than any previous government. I think that that fact ought to be recognized, and I also believe that President Uribe has been a strong leader in dealing with that problem. I think it is because of his leadership that progress is being made on the paramilitary question. So, that would be certainly what, if I were briefing former Vice President Al Gore, that’s what I would do.

QUESTION:  Are you worried or concerned about the situation, like Latin or South America, now with Venezuela and now, Ecuador. I mean, the way their leaders are thinking, their spirit or their stand. I mean, the way they feel about the United States. Does that concern you?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE:  Well, I think that clearly the United States favours a democratic and a free market approach to political development. Every country chooses its own way and we must respect that. I think the most important factor for us is that they call it a democratic political process.

Obviously some of the countries you mentioned are not that interested in bringing in a free trade agreement, a free trade arrangement with the United States. Well, of course we prefer to have free trade arrangements and we believe it’s in the interest of the economies of these countries. So, we think that Panama, Colombia, Peru, Chile, we have an agreement with Chile, all the Central American countries, Mexico, we think they have taken a positive course that will be beneficial, to their economies and to their societies.

QUESTION:  Ok. The last question, the one that you’ll regret. What do you think about Ecuador not signing the protection investment agreement?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE:  I don’t have all the facts with respect to that situation, but as we discussed earlier, I am going to Ecuador tomorrow, so obviously I will have a chance to discuss this matter, among others, with our friends in Ecuador. But at the moment, I‘d be reluctant to comment because I don’t quite fully understand the implications of this. Thank you very much.

Released on May 9, 2007

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