December 4, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Margarita Rojas and Andreina Solorzano of Caracol TV

21 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Bogotá, Colombia

Embassy Bogotá

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary of State, thank you for your time here in Noticias Caracol and welcome to Colombia.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thanks for having me.

QUESTION:  All right.  Let’s start talking about migration, which brings you here in part, no?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Migratory crisis has become one of the biggest challenges for Biden administration.  How can this issue – that now is extended throughout the continent – can be faced?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, that’s exactly where we have to start, the fact that it is extending throughout the continent, and it’s in many ways unprecedented.  We have people on the move across the continent from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela – and of course, the Colombian people, the Colombian Government have been incredibly generous in their hospitality in supporting Venezuelans who have been forced out of their country – but also Haitian communities, from Haiti itself but also those who are – have been living in Chile and Brazil for many years – all on the move.

And it’s unprecedented, and it means that we have to have a common response, we have to have shared responsibility.  We have to be able to deal with the challenge, both the immediate challenge but also the long-term solutions together.  And I’m very grateful to the Government of Colombia for bringing together all of the foreign ministers, almost all of them from the hemisphere, so that we can find practical solutions to deal with the migration challenge.

QUESTION:  In the case of the Haitian migrants that are in Necoclí and Antioquia, does the U.S. Government consider apply the same remain in Mexico politic that applies for Central American asylum seekers?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So we’re working on all of this, and here’s what’s important.  There are a number of things that I think we have to do.  First, in the in the near term, every country has to make sure that its laws and borders are respected.  We have to make sure that we are treating people humanely, and particularly people who are in need of protection that they get protection, but borders have to be upheld.

And at the same time, as we’re doing that, if people have to return, they should return to the place where they were residing, not necessarily to the place they’re originally from.  Again, in the case of some of the Haitian population that is on the move, it’s coming principally from Chile and from Brazil where it’s established for a long time, not from Haiti itself.  But as important, in the United States we are looking to increase legal pathways to migration so that people can come work, live in the United States by legal means.

And two other things that are so vital.  We have to address the root causes.  What is causing people to make this incredibly difficult decision, in many cases to leave everything they know behind – their friends, their families, their communities, their culture, their language – and make an incredibly dangerous journey to try to go somewhere else?  And usually, that’s because there’s not economic opportunity; sometimes it’s because of bad governance, corruption, violence, repression.  And what we’re doing together now is trying to address those root causes with significant investments to create greater opportunity for people.

Finally, countries that are bearing a big part of the burden by hosting, by receiving people from their neighbors, we need to do more to support them in upholding that burden.  I think President Duque spoke about this just yesterday when we were together.  If you look at other migration crises, refugee crises around the world, the international community has come together and provided support to the countries that were hosting migrants, hosting refugees.  That’s not really been the case in our own hemisphere.  The United States has provided significant assistance, but many other countries have not, including countries beyond the hemisphere.

So it’s a long way of saying we have to do this comprehensively.  We have to look at the immediate problem and challenges and try to slow the movement of people, and then give us a chance to address the underlying causes.  That’s how we really make a difference.

QUESTION:  And speaking about refugees, what happened with the Afghan civilians?  Colombia offers to host 4,000 of them, but I don’t know if it – will it not be longer necessary?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, we’re incredibly grateful to Colombia for being willing to do that.  And we had what was one of the most extraordinary evacuations in history – about 125,000 people coming out of Afghanistan in the space of about two weeks – and we reached out to partners around the world to see if they would be willing, on a temporary basis, to take in some of the evacuees from Afghanistan while we finished going through the work necessary to possibly bring them to the United States.  Colombia immediately volunteered and said they were willing to do that.  As it happened, we didn’t need that in the moment, but we’re grateful that the government stood up and said yes.

QUESTION:  It will happen?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, I think at present I don’t think it’s something we need right now.  But we’ll see in the future as people continue, if they want, to leave Afghanistan, it may be that we will take advantage of the incredible generosity of our partners to help out just for a very short period of time.

QUESTION:  Let’s talk about peace.  It has been five years since the signing of the peace agreement with the FARC guerillas.  How do you see the U.S. implementation of those agreements?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, two things.  First, the United States has a strong stake in the in the peace accord, first because through several administrations, including one that I was in before with President Obama, we worked hard to support Colombians as they sought to reach the agreement.  And we also have a real stake in its implementation.

And here’s what I know:  I think that it’s very hard to make peace, but sometimes it’s even harder to implement the peace, and it can become frustrating.  And as that’s happening, people forget, understandably, what it was like before the peace, and you take for granted what’s actually been achieved and you forget how things were.  I hope that there can be real energy into moving – continuing to move forward with implementation of the accord.

I think we can’t lose sight of the fact that there has been some remarkable things that happened.  So many people have been demobilized and put down their weapons.  There’s much greater political participation for those communities.  We have genuine efforts to have accountability for atrocities that were committed, including by agents of the state.  We have a truth commission that will soon be issuing a report and efforts to find missing persons.  But the hard – the very hard part, of course, is the presence of the state in rural areas, and not only security presence but comprehensive presence to help people move forward, and equally, to have economic opportunity in these areas.

The United States is working hand-in-hand with the Government of Colombia.  Our USAID, the Agency for International Development, is working very hard on projects in rural areas that can give people a chance to have a greater opportunity – to have a job, to have a livelihood, to be able to put food on the table, to build a better future.  That ultimately is the way that peace is sustained.

But again, I come back to this proposition that the further you get away from what was before, the easier it is to forget that.  And then when you forget that, maybe you have less energy going into implementing the accord.  I had a very good conversation with President Duque about this, and I’m convinced that the government wants to move forward with implementation of the accord.

QUESTION:  Let’s talk about the war against drugs.  We have heard you yesterday talking about reducing the amount and investing in addict prevention and recovery.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Right.

QUESTION:  That’s a change in the speech.  But many voices in Colombia are demanding deep change, radical change.  Former President Juan Manuel Santos, for example, considers it a lost battle that needs to be rethought.  According to him, prohibition is the original sin.  Is it time to talk about legalization?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So we have to have, in my judgment and the judgment of President Biden, a comprehensive approach to this.  And law enforcement is very important.  Eradication is important.  But so, too, is making sure that we’re dealing with the demand problem, including the demand problem in the United States, because that demand is fueling narcotrafficking, is fueling violence, and we’re doing more to focus on that, as well as demand in other countries in our hemisphere.

And again, we also have to give people a choice, an option, an opportunity, because if their – if they feel that their only possibility is to engage in illegal activity, or they have so much to spare in their lives that they themselves look to drugs, then yes, it is lost.  But if we create that opportunity, if we provide a real choice, I think people will choose to – not to engage in these kinds of activities.  So if you bring all of that together, I think we can still make a big difference.  We have to.  We have no choice in doing that.

QUESTION:  When will be a meeting between the U.S. President, President Biden, and President Duque?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, President Biden asked me to come to Colombia on my first trip to South America as the Secretary of State precisely because he wanted to underscore the tremendous value we attach to President Duque as a true friend of the United States, and to the partnership between our governments.  We have no stronger or better ally in our hemisphere in working to deal with the challenges that we face and that our citizens face together.

Whether it’s dealing with COVID, whether it’s dealing with climate, whether it’s dealing with new ways of doing economic development, whether it’s dealing with narcotrafficking, migration, we have the closest of partnerships with Colombia.  That’s exactly why President Biden asked me to come, to reaffirm strongly that partnership and the value that we attach to President Duque and his leadership.

We talked about so many things.  Colombia’s leadership on the existential issue of our time, climate, is remarkable.  We’re going to COP-26 in just a few weeks, and Colombia will be a leading voice.  And not just the national government, although that’s essential, and the division that the president has said is very important, but I was also with the mayor of Bogotá today and what cities are doing, urban areas are doing, to deal with the challenge of climate change is also hugely important.

So in so many ways we are working closely together.  And one last thing I want to say.  We have an opportunity, coming out of COVID, where we – again, I think we’re joined closely together.  We were very proud to have been able to provide six million vaccines here in Colombia.  By the way, today, we reached the mark of having now donated, around the world to 100 countries, 200 million vaccines.  By this time next year, we will have donated well over a billion vaccines with no strings attached, unlike some other countries that are in the business of providing vaccines.

But critically, what we know, we’ve had terrible economic consequences from COVID-19 as well.  People have suffered tremendously in Colombia and our own country.  But we have an opportunity to build back better, to use the moment to make the right kind of investments that not only create jobs but do it in a way that are beneficial to the environment, that are sustainable, that address the most critical needs that our people have, including basic infrastructure, including our healthcare systems, including information technology so that everyone is connected, including in rural areas.  And that’s a lot of what we talked about with the government, with President Duque, with the Vice President, and others.

And I think the United States and Colombia, working together, will be able to show that we can make a difference because the bottom line is this.  For democratic countries like Colombia and the United States, the test for our leaders is to demonstrate that democracy can actually make a difference in people’s lives, that it can produce real benefits, real results.  And if we do that, I think people will be very supportive; if we don’t, we’re going to have a problem.

So we have a challenge.  We’re working to meet it.  We’re working to make sure that as we do that, every voice is heard and protected; that we come together as governments, as citizens, as civil society, different communities.  That’s the way democracy works.  And it’s hard, and it’s challenging, and it’s never a straight line.  But especially when democracies work together like Colombia and the United States, I’m convinced we can make progress and make a real difference in the lives of our citizens.  That is our responsibility, and that’s our challenge.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much for your time.  Thank you so much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thanks for having me.

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