TOGETHER FOR THE LONG GAME

Colombia 2016 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

Barack Obama, President of the United States, on the history of shared values and how they have come to shape a very special relationship.

Barack Obama
BIOGRAPHY
President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961. After working his way through college with the help of scholarships and student loans, President Obama moved to Chicago and worked with a group of churches to help rebuild communities devastated by the closure of local steel plants. He went on to attend law school, and became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. He returned to Chicago and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. In the Illinois State Senate, he passed the first major ethics reform in 25 years and cut taxes for working families. He was elected the 44th President of the United States in 2008.

In the US, we are big fans of Colombia. We love its culture and we love its contributions. We love Shakira, Carlos Vives, and Sofia Vergara. We are joined by many friends from Colombia, and we have a lot of proud Colombian-Americans.

The bonds between our two countries are not just at the level of government. They are people. They are cultures, friendships, and family. This is one of the strongest partnerships in the hemisphere and, increasingly, we are global partners. It is a partnership grounded in mutual interests and mutual respect, and Juan Manuel and I discussed ways that we can continue to strengthen our ties with more trade, more investment in clean energy, and ever-deeper cooperation in the region. Of course, much of our work focused on how to seize this incredible moment of promise in Colombia. We all remember a time, not long ago, when Colombia was torn apart by terrible violence and plagued by insurgency and civil war. And that is why the US and Colombia forged what became Plan Colombia, starting with President Pastrana and transcending administrations in both of our countries. We were proud to support Colombia and its people as it strengthened its security forces, reformed land laws, and bolstered democratic institutions. Plan Colombia has been a tribute to the people of Colombia and its efforts to overcome so many challenges, and after 15 years, a tipping point has been reached; the tide has turned.

From Cartagena to the campo, there is no denying Colombia's remarkable transformation. Today's Colombia is a country of artists, entrepreneurs, and dynamic cities. In the “barrios" of Medellín, new businesses along with giant outdoor escalators up the hillsides are quite literally lifting people out of poverty. Children who once hid in fear now have the chance to pursue their dreams. In short, a country that was on the brink of collapse is now on the brink of peace. I had the privilege of seeing some of this extraordinary change myself when I visited Cartagena. I still believe what I said then: in Colombia today, there is hope.

Fully realizing that hope requires a just and lasting peace, I admire the great courage and resolve that President Santos has shown in pursuing negotiations to end the war. Santos is committed to an agreement that upholds Colombia's national and international legal obligations, and the President put victims at the center of this process. I want to thank all of the parties for their efforts, including the government of Cuba for hosting the talks. We all know that it is easier to start wars than end them, but after half a century of wrenching conflict, the time has come for peace. It is time to make real the words of the young Colombian who said, “The only thing I want to see die over here in the west side of town is the sun at the end of the day."

Peace will be just the first step. Any agreement will have to be implemented, and just as the US has been Colombia's partner in a time of war, I indicated to President Santos that we will be its partner in waging peace. Today, I am proud to announce a new framework for the next chapter of our partnership. We are going to call it Peace Colombia—Paz Colombia.

As Colombia transitions to peace, the US will work hand-in-hand with the country. I am proposing that more than $450 million be devoted to helping reinforce security gains, reintegrate former combatants into society, and extend opportunity and the rule of law into areas denied them for decades. We will continue to stand for human rights and justice for victims, and we will keep working to protect our people, as well as the Colombian people, from the ravages of the war on illegal drugs and the violence of drug traffickers.