Videotaped Address to the People of Colombia
Muy buenas noches. Tomorrow morning I will travel to your country to bring a message of friendship and solidarity from the people of the United States to the people of Colombia and a message of support for President Pastrana and for Plan Colombia.
I will be joined on my trip by the Speaker of our House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, and other distinguished Members of our Congress. We come from different political parties, but we have a common commitment to support our friend Colombia. As you struggle with courage to make peace, to build your economy, to fight drugs, and to deepen democracy, the United States will be on your side.
Some of the earliest stirrings of liberty in Latin America came in Colombia, as the proud people of Cartagena, of Cali, of Bogota rose up one after the other to fight for independence. Now, nearly two centuries later, Colombia's democracy is under attack. Profits from the drug trade fund civil conflict. Powerful forces make their own law, and you face danger every day, whether you're sending your children to school, taking your family on vacation, or returning to your village to visit your mother or your father.
The literary genius you call Gabo, your Nobel laureate, painted a portrait of this struggle in his book "News of a Kidnapping." He presented me with a copy, and his book has touched my heart. Now I know why he said writing it was the saddest, most difficult task of his life. And yet, all across Colombia there are daily profiles in courage. Mayors, judges, journalists, prosecutors, politicians, policemen, soldiers, and citizens like you all have stood up to defend your democracy.
Colombia's journalists risk their lives daily to report the news so that powerful people feel the pressure of public opinion. Their courage is matched by the bravery of peace activists and human rights defenders, by reform-minded military leaders whose forces are bound by law, but who must do battle with thugs who subvert the law. There is also uncommon courage among the Colombian National Police. They face mortal danger every moment, as they battle against drug traffickers.
Tomorrow in Cartagena I will meet with members of the police and the military and also with widows of their fallen comrades. The people of Colombia are well-known for their resilience, their ability to adapt. But my friends, enough is enough. We now see millions rising up, declaring no mas, and marching for peace, for justice, for the quiet miracle of a normal life.
That desire for peace and justice led to the election of President Pastrana. In the United States, we see in President Pastrana a man who has risked his life to take on the drug traffickers; who was kidnapped by the Medellin, but who kept speaking out. As President, he has continued to risk his life to help heal his country. He has built support across party lines for a new approach in Colombia. The United States supports President Pastrana, supports Plan Colombia, and supports the people of Colombia.
Let me be clear about the role of the United States. First, it is not for us to propose a plan. We are supporting the Colombian plan. You are leading; we are providing assistance as a friend and a neighbor.
Second, this is a plan about making life better for people. Our assistance includes a tenfold increase in our support for economic development, good governance, judicial reform, and human rights. Economic development is essential. The farmers who grow coca and poppy must have a way to make an honest living if they are to rejoin the national economy. Our assistance will help offer farmers credit and identify new products and new markets.
We will also help to build schoolrooms, water systems, and roads for people who have lost their homes and their communities. Our assistance will do more to protect human rights. As President Pastrana said at the White House, there is no such thing as democracy without respect for human rights. Today's world has no place and no patience for any group that attacks defenseless citizens or resorts to kidnapping and extortion. Those who seek legitimacy in Colombian society must meet the standards of those who confer legitimacy, the good and decent people of Colombia.
Our package provides human rights training for the Colombian military and police and denies U.S. assistance to any units of the Colombian security forces involved in human rights abuses or linked to abuses by paramilitary forces. It will fund human rights programs, help protect human rights workers, help reform the judicial system, and improve prosecution and punishment.
Of course, Plan Colombia will also bolster our common efforts to fight drugs and the traffickers who terrorize both our countries. But please do not misunderstand our purpose. We have no military objective. We do not believe your conflict has a military solution. We support the peace process. Our approach is both propeace and antidrug.
The concern over illegal drugs is deeply felt around the world. In my own country, every year more than 50,000 people lose their lives, and many more ruin their lives, because of drug abuse. Still, the devastation of illegal drugs in Colombia is worse. Drug trafficking and civil conflict have led together to more than 2,500 kidnappings last year; 35,000 Colombians have been killed, and a million more made homeless in the past decade alone.
Drug trafficking is a plague both our nations suffer and neither nation can solve on its own. Our assistance will help train and equip Colombia's counterdrug battalions to protect the National Police as they eradicate illicit drug crops and destroy drug labs. We will help the Colombian military improve their ability to intercept traffickers before they leave Colombia. We will target illegal airstrips, money laundering, and criminal organizations.
This approach can succeed. Over the last 5 years, the Governments of Peru and Bolivia, working with U.S. support, have reduced coca cultivation by more than half in their own countries, and cultivation fell by almost one-fifth in the region as a whole.
Of course, supply is only one side of the problem. The other is demand. I want the people of Colombia to know that the United States is working hard to reduce demand here, and cocaine use in our country has dropped dramatically over the last 15 years. We must continue our efforts to cut demand, and we will help Colombia fight the problems aggravated by our demand.
We can and we must do this together. As we begin the new century, Colombia must face not 100 years of solitude, but 100 years of partnership for peace and prosperity.
Last year I met some of the most talented and adorable children in the world from the village of Valledupar. Ten of them, some as young as 6 years old, came thousands of miles with their accordions and their drums, their bright-colored scarves and their beautiful voices, to perform for us here at the White House. They sang "El Mejoral." They sang "La Gota Fria." Everyone who heard them was touched. Those precious children come from humble families. They live surrounded by violence. They don't want to grow up to be narcotraffickers, to be guerrillas, to be paramilitaries. They want to be kings of Vallenato. And we should help them live their dreams.
Thousands of courageous Colombians have given their lives to give us all this chance. Now is the moment to make their sacrifice matter. It will take vision; it will take courage; it will take desire. You have all three. In the midst of great difficulty, be strong of heart. En surcos de dolores, el bien germina ya.
Viva Colombia. Que Dios los bendiga.
NOTE: The address was videotaped at 9:50 a.m. in the Map Room at the White House for broadcast in Colombia on August 29. The transcript was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on August 29. In his remarks, the President referred to President Andres Pastrana of Colombia and author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
William J. Clinton, Videotaped Address to the People of Colombia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/228524