Vice President Biden delivered remarks at the U.S.-Colombia Advisory Council Meeting in Cartagena, Colombia. Below are excerpts from his speech.
Today, it’s my great privilege, Mr. President [Santos], to sit next to you at a time when I think historians, God willing, will look back at this moment — not necessarily this particular event, but this moment, and say, this was a genuine new beginning. This was the place, this was the time that Colombia, the oldest democracy in the hemisphere seized its opportunities in ways that many people thought would not happen. It’s been a long time in coming. There have been plenty of setbacks along the way, but you never took your eye off the primary goal.
And I have enormous respect for the work of you and your predecessors and the Colombian armed forces, and the people of Colombia. All the effort they’ve put together to bring this day about.
But as I told you last night, Mr. President [Santos], the Nobel committee made the right choice in awarding you the prize. And I mentioned then, and I’m going to repeat to the press tonight, that — today, that there are at least seven other nations I can think of right now — maybe as many as 10 — that are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally alter the trajectory of their countries. They’re lacking only one thing — lacking an individual leader, the courage to risk everything in terms of his or her future, being the catalyst for that change.
And I think that in addition to you receiving that prize, Mr. President [Santos], that you are going to give some hope and some spine and some courage — other leaders in other countries. I won’t name them, but I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m confident that there are those that are just on the brink, if they have the courage to make the break that is necessary. And that takes one man or one woman to do that. So I have enormous respect for what you’ve done.
And this is a moment, I think, of unmatched opportunity for the people of Colombia. And it ends — at the end of decades of conflict, to lock in peace, to reap the benefits of a society governed by the rule of law where people need not fear for their lives.
We also saw that a signed and ratified agreement alone will never deliver a lasting peace. And as my grandfather would say, now the hard part begins. And it really does. The hard part really does begin. And for peace to succeed, we have to deliver a better future for the Colombian people — pretty basic stuff.
That means creating jobs and new opportunities to give people the tools to feed their families, to get an education, to earn a fair wage, and to pursue their dreams.
It means drawing in more foreign investment. It means embracing policies that make Colombia even more competitive. It means expanding infrastructure so that those areas controlled by the FARC for so many years are actually totally, fully integrated. And there’s an alternative way to make a living brought totally into the mainstream of the country. It means continuing on the security issues. I talked at length and every American and Colombian leader does about the narco trade… a gigantic job. You have obligations at both ends.
On the Colombian side, we want to see a continued progress for greater transparency, continuing to weed out corruption, keep markets open, uphold the rule of law, provide security for all Colombians. And the companies that want to invest in Colombia need a predictable and welcoming business environment.
And so on the American side, I want to encourage all the businesses here to keep believing in Colombia, keep investing, pursue the opportunities that are here. And this is — in my view, it starts a virtuous cycle.
All of you around this table, all are part of a business ethic that is internationally accepted and is a rule… And so the more you are here, the more you are investing in your own countries, the more I think it raises the entire standard beyond the economic standard of a country. It suggests how people should do business writ large.
I was reminded by my staff back in 2000, I stood on the floor of the United States Senate, making the case for a piece of legislation I was — because of my responsibilities in the Senate, primarily responsible for writing with… administration. And the case I made for Colombia was as follows:
“We have an obligation, in the interests of our children and the interests of the hemisphere, to keep the oldest democracy in place — to give them a fighting chance.”
I believed then and I believe now — and I’m going to keep working as long as I can in whatever way I can right alongside you, Mr. President [Santos], and the Colombian people to help continue the journey toward peace and prosperity.