Press Availability with Under Secretary Douglas J. Feith, and Colombian Minister of Defense Jorge A. Uribe
MINISTER URIBE OPENING STATEMENT: Good afternoon to all. We have today the visit, the very important and honorable visit of Mr. Douglas Feith, the Under Secretary of Defense of United States of America. He comes here for the two-day U.S.-Colombia bilateral meeting starting this evening with an important number of officers from both nations in which we will analyze the progress that we have been having in our joint effort of fighting against narco-terrorism, violence and drugs. On behalf of all the Colombian people we would like to extend him a welcome and to the Colombians that they share my satisfaction of having his visit here among us. Welcome.
UNDER SECRETARY FEITH OPENING STATEMENT: Thank you Mr. Minister. It is my pleasure to be here to meet with the Defense Minister, and we also had a very good meeting with President Uribe and the Foreign Minister just a few moments ago, and we discussed the impressive progress that Colombia has made in its fight to extend the control of the government through out the country and to defeat the terrorist and drug problem here in Colombia. This is an effort that the United States is proud to be associated with, and we were interested to hear about the substantial progress that has been made. As the Minister said, we are going to be starting this evening the process of our bilateral defense talks and we will be discussing the current state and the future of our defense cooperation. Thank you.
QUESTION (Jairo Lozano, daily El Tiempo): Under Secretary, good evening. I would like to ask you in respect to your visit to Colombia, today is the one-year anniversary of the ambitious program Plan Patriota; more than 18,000 Colombian troops fighting in the south of the country as part of the policy of President Uribe to retake all that area that drug traffickers and guerilla had had under their control. How do you view the Patriot Plan, how is cooperation going to continue and what more can you offer the Colombian Military Forces and the Colombian Government in this fight?
UNDER SECRETARY FEITH: The effort is going well. We spent quite a bit of time discussing what are the proper measures of success or measures of merit for judging the progress of the Plan, of the military operations. One of the things that is most impressive about this Colombian effort is how much attention Colombian leaders have paid to developing what we call metrics, the quantifiable measures of success. This is something that the Colombian Government is focused on, and we are interested to see that the Colombian Government is measuring not only the amount of effort it puts into this operation, but also what the results are. It measures not just input but output. The output is measured in such matters as how many people from the drug organizations and paramilitary organizations leave and abandon the narco-terrorist cause. It is measured in the effect on homicides, the effect on kidnappings, things that are of real practical significance, and according to those measures things are going well. The United States is playing a part. We support this effort. As you know, the President a few months ago here in Colombia reiterated that our commitment to supporting Colombia’s efforts remains strong and will continue to remain strong, and Secretary of State Rice was here just a few days ago making the same point, and this is an effort the United States supports because we believe it is serving the common interest of Colombia and the United States, and I would say more generally of the whole region.
QUESTION (Sergio Castillo, RCN Radio): Good evening, sir. As per what we have been able to establish you are going to continue with the Patriot Plan as far as military aspects concerns, what comes from the U.S. Government in terms of fighting narcotics, and keeping in mind that the majority of the drugs, heroin and cocaine, is taken out of Colombia as deduced from U.S.-Colombia joint operations have been carrying out both in nations Colombia and the United States?
UNDER SECRETARY FEITH: I think that the type of assistance the United States is providing is fairly well known. There is the financial contribution to the effort that comes through our foreign and security assistance programs. There is training, there is intelligence, advice and sharing. This is an effort that is being made by the Colombian Government and the Colombian Forces, and the U.S. role is a supporting role. As I said, it is an effort in which the Colombian Forces are doing well, and achieving success. We are proud to be associated with it.
QUESTION (José Luis Rodríguez, Caracol TV): Good afternoon, sir. On many opportunities over the recent months several Colombian Government officials have expressed their concern given the level of weapons in Venezuela. How does your Government view this mater in the regional context?
UNDER SECRETARY FEITH: The U.S. Government’s position on Venezuela has been expressed I think quite well by Secretary Rice and others in recent days, I don’t think I have anything to add to that. It is an important subject and I think it has been covered.
QUESTION: (Hugh Bronstein, Reuters): Mr. Under Secretary, in your talks with the Colombian Government today what role does human rights play? And, your evaluation of Colombia, the kind of aid that Colombia is going to get in the future, and I am wondering in particular, is the U.S. Government looking closely at Colombia’s efforts at investigating and resolving the February massacre in San Jose de Apartado, and could this incident delay certification?
UNDER SECRETARY FEITH: We were impressed by the emphasis that our Colombian friends put on the human rights issue. This is obviously something at the fore of their minds, of course I’ll let the Minister speak for himself, but I can tell you that we on the American side were pleased to hear his strong emphasis on how important that issue is for the creation of the kind of military that Colombia wants to have and for the contribution that proper respect for human rights by the military makes to achieving Colombia’s strategic purposes in this war, which is how it was explained to us. Fundamentally, what Colombia is fighting for in this war is the success and the security of democratic government in Colombia, and a key element to that is a properly professional military that respects human rights. As your question noted, there are issues under U.S. law about certifications that have to be made in order to allow elements of our assistance to be provided, and we are working on that and we hope to be able to make the kinds of certifications because the Colombian Government will be taking the kinds of actions that it is interested in taking to protect this interest in human rights.
MINISTER URIBE: I would like to add that in spite of the fact that our official meetings have not started yet, the issue of human rights has been touched, it has been touched with pride on our behalf because that is one of the areas where most effort we have impressed to the members of our military forces and the police and in which we have progressed the most. Speaking of the case of San Jose de Apartado the investigations by the Prosecutor General’s Office continue with all the cooperation of the Forces and they are working in a totally transparent manner, and I am pleased to state here, as I stated to the Under Secretary, that more and more we are confirming that the Public Forces did not carry out this massacre. The investigations are still on going with the cooperation of the Armed Forces. I would like to close saying that in any case, regardless of the rank and the circumstances; if we were to prove that a member of our Public Forces actually violated human rights that member will receive all the weight of the law. That is our commitment, and it is not for international reasons but because simply that is out a conviction of the Colombian Government and the Colombia Public Forces. Thank-you.