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Press Conference in Medellin, Colombia

John D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State
Medellin, Colombia
June 2, 2008

QUESTION: There is a strong political drive for a second reelection of President Uribe. Because the President is the U.S.’s strongest ally in South America, the U.S. administration would endorse this re-election? How would you judge this drive in Colombia?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Let me separate my answer into two parts: First of all, let me reiterate that the United States has the greatest admiration for what the government and the people of Colombia have accomplished in the last fifteen years with respect to ridding the country of narco-terrorism and of restoring security and confidence in this country. I think Medellin is a perfect example of that, where if you look at 1993, this was the world’s most violent city. Today, it is one of the safest large cities in the world. Medellin, again a city where we could not have had this meeting of the OAS fifteen years ago, today is one of the three most important investment destinations in Colombia. It’s even now an important tourist destination. So this speaks volumes about what has been accomplished over the years, including recently, under the leadership of President Uribe. So, we have great admiration for what he has accomplished and what the country has accomplished with the benefit of his leadership. The second part of my answer has to do with the electoral procedures in this country. As far as the United States is concerned, this is entirely something that is up to the people and the institutions of the Colombia to decide, and whatever might be decided in that regard, we would certainly respect. But this is simply not a subject in which it would be appropriate for the United States to offer a view, and again, as I said, it is entirely a matter for the government and people of Colombia themselves to decide in whatever way is appropriate according to your own political mechanisms.

QUESTION: Are you willing to take measures against either Venezuela or President Chavez for their alleged support to the FARC if proven true the contents of the computers that were seized?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: First of all, just as we were saying, the Government of Colombia itself has had many very significant accomplishments in the past fifteen years and more recently, even more dramatic accomplishments in terms of dealing with the terrorist situation in this country. So I don’t think that the situation is such that it would call for direct intervention by the United States, even if we were inclined to do so. I mean, we have an improving situation, where the Government of Colombia has demonstrated that it is capable of dealing with these situations. Now, of course we provide significant amounts of assistance under Plan Colombia, and that is basically how we would define our role in helping the Government of Colombia defeat terrorism. It is through the various assistance programs of Plan Colombia. Now what I would say with regards to the question of any support that might come for the FARC, or any sanctuary that might be provided to the FARC from outside of Colombia, I think it is important to remind countries--all of our countries--that we have an obligation to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our neighbors, and that we should avoid situations where a recognized international terrorist movement, such as the FARC, is given sanctuary in neighboring countries. Ways must be found and understandings should be reached in order to prevent that situation from continuing.

QUESTION: Following the death of Tirifijo, do you have any reports that the situation of the FARC is materially worse?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: I personally don’t know, I don’t have any information that could shed light on that situation, but there is no question that the FARC leadership has suffered some important setbacks in recent days and months, and I certainly think that the picture from the point of view of the Government of Colombia and the people of Colombia, who ask nothing more than to be allowed to live in peace, that the situation is considerably better today than it has been heretofore, and that is a very positive, and I would think, hopeful development for the people and the citizens of this country.

QUESTION: Terrorism has plagued several countries in the hemisphere over the past sixty years, from Guatemala to Argentina, from Salvador to Peru and Colombia. It is noteworthy that the OAS has been helpful to the Colombian Government, especially in disarming the paramilitaries, but so far, not so active in the struggle with the FARC and the ELN. How can the OAS be more proactive in the fight against perhaps the strongest terror groups the region has ever known?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, of course, in the case of demobilizing the paramilitaries, the AUC, there was already an agreement between the government and the paramilitaries to demobilize those organizations. So yes, there is no question that the OAS played a significant role, they have been a great support in facilitating the execution or the implementation of that agreement. This has been a very important role and one of the activities of the OAS as an institution that is much appreciated. With regard to the FARC, or the ELN, this is a more difficult situation and a rather different one in a way, which is that there is as yet no such agreement. The FARC and the ELM continue to fight. They have not agreed to demobilize. But if the situation develops in such a way that the FARC and/or the ELM at some point reach an agreement with the Government of Colombia, and that is something to be hoped, then also, we might envisage the possibility that the OAS would play a similar facilitating role with respect to the demobilization of those people who still remain in the FARC and/or the ELN. Let me just add that yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with some people who had entered into demobilization programs, programs supported by AID. I met with someone who had been with the FARC, had entered the FARC when he was twelve years old. He had left the FARC about five years ago, and he had a very, very interesting story to tell about his reintegration into the mainstream of Colombian society. I similarly met somebody who had been a paramilitary who had an equally fascinating story to tell. These two individuals were sitting side-by-side and they shook hands with each other during the course of our meeting. It was a very, very inspiring and encouraging meeting. Their story was also extremely inspiring.

QUESTION: Despite the Interpol report, the Government of Ecuador has asked the OAS to do a second investigation concerning the contents of the Raul Reyes computers. I would like to know, what does the U.S. think? For the U.S., are the contents true? Do you believe in the Interpol report--all the information about the Raul Reyes computers--or would you agree with doing a new investigation, this time by the OAS?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: I think the answer to that question really depends on the Government of Colombia. These are tapes that are under the jurisdiction and under the control of the Government of Colombia. If they were to decide that they wanted to make them available to the OAS for some kind of further examination, we would certainly have no objection to that. But I think the decisive factor will be whether or not the Government of Colombia, since they are the ones who captured the tapes and they have them in their possession, the Government of Colombia is the authority that must decide whether or not to make them available to the Organization of American States.

QUESTION:  I am sorry; I just wanted to know if the American Government believes in the investigation that the Interpol did just, like, a month ago.

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Certainly, the Interpol is a very credible organization. We certainly take seriously the conclusions that they have reached. What I would say to you is that unless someone can demonstrate to the contrary, I would have thought that the judgment of the Interpol is probably correct.

QUESTION: You said here that we must prevent the terrorists from finding safe haven in neighboring countries. Is there any additional assistance to Colombia for finding such safe havens in neighboring countries thus defeating terrorism? Could the information in the computers help you for both proving that terrorists have sought safe haven and for initiating required investigations against either Venezuela or Ecuador?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: We have a very extensive relationship of cooperation with the Government of Colombia--in the areas of military cooperation, military assistance, military advisors, and so forth. We also have intelligence cooperation. So that is something that continues on a constant basis. It is a very high priority for the Government of the United States to assist the Government of Colombia with respect to this question, so it’s not so much a matter of additional assistance or new assistance. This is something that we provide on a continuous basis.

QUESTION: Do you think the FARC and terrorists have sought safe haven in Venezuela, and would you request the information in the computers perhaps for verifying this fact and initiating the required investigations?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: I think first of all that as far as the tapes are concerned, this is something that the Government of Colombia is in the process of analyzing. They’ve also been looked at by Interpol, so we’re satisfied with that process and we think that that is ongoing. As far as the government of Venezuela is concerned, I don’t think there is any doubt that there are FARC who have sought sanctuary on Venezuelan soil, across from the territory of Colombia, and I would ask, and I would suggest, that those who are in a position to do something about that need to think about the long-term bilateral relationships between the two countries and whether it really is within their interest to allow that type of situation to continue. So I think that we have to understand that there are two issues at stake here. First of all, it’s the sovereignty and inviolability of borders between countries which needs to be respected, and also, the right of self-defense against these kinds of activities.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to have this conference with you.

Released on June 2, 2008

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