Press Conference in Medellin, ColombiaJohn D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State
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: 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.
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.
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