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Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Colombian Minister of National Defense Silva from Bogota, Colombia

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Colombian Minister of National Defense Gabriel Silva
April 15, 2010

       SECRETARY GATES:  Let me first thank President Uribe, Minister Silva and the people of Colombia for their hospitality during my visit.

        It is a pleasure to be back in Bogota.  I was last here two years or so ago, and it is very heartening to see the continued progress this great nation is making under President Uribe's leadership.

       I consider his efforts against the narco-traffickers and terrorists who have menaced this country to be heroic.  In just a few years, Colombia has achieved a remarkable -- indeed, historic -- transformation in the security arena that few would have thought possible, from a nation under siege from drug-trafficking organizations and paramilitary groups to a country quickly becoming a linchpin of security and prosperity in South America.

       This is in large part due to the determined leadership of President Uribe's administration, as well as the skill and bravery of Colombia's military and security forces.  Colombia's men and women in uniform have made great sacrifices to dramatically degrade the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia] and other terrorist groups, making Colombia a unique source of experience and expertise in combating these threats.  I want to commend Colombia for its willingness to share their knowledge and skills in counterinsurgency, law enforcement, and anti-kidnapping training.  We believe these efforts are enhancing stability in the Americas.

       Colombia has also shown its willingness to help its neighbors cope with natural disasters, sending vital personnel and materiel to Haiti and Chile in the wake of their devastating earthquakes.  These humanitarian missions are indicative of increased Colombian regional leadership and demonstrate that the challenges we face in the Americas are collective in nature and require multinational responses.

       Colombia is becoming an exporter of security on the global stage as well, with a planned troop contribution to Afghanistan.  The United States is committed to provide the support necessary to help expedite this deployment.

       As Colombians honor their past in this bicentennial year, it is also appropriate that we look to the future, a future of the U.S. and Colombia working together to create better lives for our citizens and stronger ties between our two nations.

       In our meetings today, I conveyed to President Uribe and to Mr. Silva not only our appreciation for our partnership with them but also our commitment to work just as closely with whomever succeeds them after the upcoming elections.  Our continued bilateral defense cooperation is vital to both our nations.

       And let me again thank Minister Silva for his friendship and his hospitality during this visit.  I look forward to continuing our dialogue in the future.

       Until then, on behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, congratulations and best wishes on your bicentennial celebration.

       (Inaudible.)

       Maria Antonia Castiblanco, CM& News: Sobre el acuerdo de cooperación que Estados Unidos acaba de firmar con Brasil, ¿a qué atribuye usted que no se haya generado tanta  resistencia en Latinoamérica, específicamente en Unasur, como el que se generó cuando lo firmó Colombia?   ¿Qué diferencias hay entre estos dos convenios de cooperación?

       SEC. GATES:  Well, my hope is that people understand that these defense cooperation agreements (DCA) are about expanding our bilateral military-to-military relationships.

       They are about opportunities to enhance cooperation in science and technology, in military education, in areas such as cyberspace, and in dealing with the common security threats that face many of the nations here in South America, namely terrorists and narcotics -- the narcotics trade. 

       And so I think these are opportunities for cooperation.  The terms of these agreements are very explicit, that include adherence to the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.  These agreements are about our bilateral relationships, first with Colombia and now with Brazil.

       And so I think this is -- the agreement with Brazil is an important step forward.  And frankly, I'm very pleased that there has been broad acceptance of the agreement with Brazil, in no small part because I think it also reflects an -- their understanding now of what the DCA between the United States and Colombia is about than perhaps was the case last year.

      STAFF:  Bryan Bender, the Boston Globe. 

      Q    Thank you.  Secretary Gates, you talked about the successes that Colombia has had here fighting drugs – armed groups -- bringing civil society to larger parts of the country.  What specifically, if you can say, would you like to see Colombia do more regionally, whether it's Mexico, whether it's Peru?

       And then, Mr. Minister, do you also agree that there are lessons here that could be applied elsewhere in the region?  And to what extent can Colombia do that?  What extent do you have the capacity?  Or is there perhaps still too much work to be done here before you can really do that in a significant way?

      SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, I think that there already is a significant amount of cooperation going on between Colombia and some of its neighbors -- particularly Peru, but also Mexico and others.  And Peruvian Marines are here training with Colombian Marines.  Colombia is training helicopter pilots from several countries, including Peru and Mexico.

       I think what Colombia has been so successful at addresses some of the challenges that they're -- that other countries here in the region are facing.  And Colombia's success against terrorist groups and against the narco-traffickers I think does offer a lot of opportunities for them to share that expertise.  In counterinsurgency, they've learned a great deal about a civil-military campaign and having both the civilian and the military components work together.

       And so I think in all of these areas, there is tremendous opportunity.  And we certainly would like to see that increase and see other countries take advantage of Colombia's strengths in these areas.

      Minister Silva: Para responder esta pregunta lo más ilustrativo es decir que hace ocho años, al inicio del gobierno del presidente Uribe, Estados Unidos y Colombia estábamos prácticamente solos en la lucha contra las amenazas multinacionales regionales como el terrorismo y el narcotráfico.  Estábamos solos pero la consistencia de la política de seguridad del Presidente y la eficacia de la cooperación entre los dos países permitió demostrarle a la región y al mundo que, independientemente de cuál sea la ideología o la inclinación política de un gobierno, la cooperación internacional es una obligación para con la comunidad internacional,  pero también una obligación con los pueblos de América.  Son los resultados de esa cooperación los que han hecho que hoy pasamos de estar solos hace ocho años a ser un modelo que toda la región quiere imitar y que toda la región quiere conocer a fondo.  Nuestra interpretación del acuerdo entre Estados Unidos y Brasil es muy positiva. Demuestra que lo que venimos haciendo Estados Unidos y Colombia representa un esquema, una aproximación atractiva y valiosa para todos los países de la región.  Igualmente, a medida en que Colombia ha fortalecido su experiencia y sus capacidades ha generosamente contribuido con otros países para compartir esa experiencia. Lo hacemos por hermandad y lo hacemos por la convicción de que estas amenazas sólo se pueden combatir  de manera eficaz con un enfoque regional.  Como dice el secretario Gates, hoy en día tenemos programas de cooperación con prácticamente todos los países de la región en diferentes modalidades.  Tenemos también cooperación y presencia directa en
varios países de la región y del mundo.  Eso demuestra la vocación que tiene Colombia de contribuir como un buen ciudadano del mundo a la paz y la seguridad en el hemisferio y a nivel internacional.

      Q  Luisa Pulido, RCN Radio: ¿Cómo ve el gobierno de Estados Unidos que Colombia, para enfrentar la persecución de Venezuela a sus ciudadanos, haya tenido que emitir una alerta para decir que lo mejor es que lo piensen antes de ir a Venezuela?  También, el gobierno americano retiró su apoyo a la Central de Inteligencia del Estado, llamada DAS, por el escándalo de las chuzadas o las escuchas.  ¿Han pensado ustedes también recortar otros recursos por otros escándalos como las ejecuciones extrajudiciales?

      SEC. GATES:  I'm not familiar with the -- with the latter issue, but President Uribe in our meeting here this morning talked at some length about the reasons for the issuance of the warning and the arrests of Colombian citizens.  This really was the first time that I had had this problem explained to me.  And so I don't pretend to have any expertise on it, but it clearly is a manifestation of concern on the part of the Colombian government for its citizens. 

      STAFF:  Diego Urdaneta, AFP.

      Q     Yes, for both of you.  Do you think the Obama administration has done enough to push the free trade agreement to get approved? 

       And for Secretary Gates, do you think that's -- that this agreement that's been up and running now could handle in any way the security efforts from Colombia -- also, in light of Venezuela freezing their trade -- important trade with Colombia?

      SEC. GATES:  We did talk about this, this morning.  And you may -- you probably don't remember, but in 2008 Minister Silva's predecessor, Minister Santos, and I co-authored an article that appeared in a major U.S. newspaper on the reasons why the free trade agreement should be ratified. 

      We continue to believe this.  I discussed this earlier this week with National Security Advisor Jim Jones.  And I would hope that we would be in a position to make a renewed effort to get ratification for the free trade agreement.  I think it is -- as we wrote in 2008, it's a good deal for Colombia.  It's also a very good deal for the United States.

      Minister Silva: En cuanto a la apreciación del gobierno de Colombia debo decir que consideramos muy favorable el giro que ha tenido la administración Obama al poner en primera fila de sus prioridades la ratificación de los acuerdos de libre comercio con Colombia y otros países.  No olvidemos que el presidente Obama mencionó en un discurso de la mayor trascendencia, como es el Estado de la Unión ante el Congreso, precisamente este punto.  Eso nos alienta a estar convencidos de que la voluntad política existe en el Gobierno, está respaldada por razones comerciales en primer lugar, pero también por razones estratégicas dado que este acuerdo representa una necesidad para consolidar la seguridad en Colombia.  Una vez que se conquista  la seguridad como se viene haciendo por la vía de la acción de fuerza pública se requiere consolidarla también con el mejoramiento de las condiciones sociales y de empleo.

      Gracias.

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