Remarks by Vice President Pence and President Santos of Colombia in Joint Press Conference

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE:  President Santos, thank you for the warm welcome you and Maria Clemencia have shown to me and my wife, Karen.

It was an honor, along with President Donald Trump, to welcome you to the White House during your historic visit in May.  And now it is a personal honor for me to be to be the first member of our new administration to visit Colombia.

And on behalf of President Trump, I’m here to deliver a very simple message to you and to the people of this great nation:  The United States stands with Colombia.  Colombia has no better partner and friend than the United States of America.

Under President Donald Trump, the United States will always put the security and prosperity of America first.  But as I hope my presence here today demonstrates, America first does not mean America alone.

The United States stands with Colombia because our security and our prosperity are inextricably linked.  Our interests are aligned.  Our values that you spoke of so eloquently are the same.  And the birthright of freedom belongs to both our people.

Colombia won its independence less than a half-century after the United States.  And, last week, Colombia celebrated the 198th anniversary of the Battle of Boyacá, when your forbearers cast off the shackles of foreign oppression.

The United States was proud to be the first democracy to recognize your independence.  Colombia signed its first treaty of commerce with the United States, back in 1824.  And over the generations, our citizens have stood shoulder-to-shoulder to protect our most precious values of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.

The United States has stood with Colombia through times of great challenge, and we continue to stand with you today, in this time of hope and opportunity for the Colombian people.

Mr. President, under your leadership, Colombia has signed an agreement that ended the longest-running conflict in the history of the Western Hemisphere.  But now, Colombia faces the greater challenge of consolidating that peace.  The greatest risk, as we discussed, to that peace is practical and real:  the absence of infrastructure, basic services, the rule of law in war-affected areas that’s creating a haven for criminal activities, drugs and violence.

Mr. President, know that the United States will continue — continue to partner with Colombia to address these issues, because we’ve long recognized the importance of Colombian security and prosperity to our own.

This year, on trade, marks the 6th year of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.  It’s an agreement that has created jobs and opportunities in both our nations.  Colombia is the United States’ third-largest trading partner in Latin America, with a two-way goods trade of nearly $27 billion in 2016 alone.

Today, I am pleased to announce that the United States has reached an agreement to allow Colombian Haas avocados into the U.S. market.  I want to congratulate you, President Santos, and your government.  I also want to thank you for expanding access for U.S. rough rice in Colombia.

We welcome this progress, and we’re confident that our nations’ leaders can continue with further progress in the days ahead.

To that end, as I told you today, the United States supports Colombia’s aspirations to join the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.  As a concrete demonstration of this support, I’m pleased to announce today that the United States will provide Colombia up to $2 million in technical assistance to achieve that objective.

In spite of all this progress, our greatest concern, as President Trump discussed with you at the White House — and we discussed again today — is the dramatic increase in cocaine production, which has now reached an all-time high in Colombia.  This worsening crisis requires swift action to protect the people of both our countries.

The drug trade is a wellspring of violence, crime, and corruption, victimizing the Colombian people.  And in the United States, illegal drugs coming from Colombia have poisoned our children, torn apart our families, and devastated too many communities.  Mr. President, this must end — and this must end soon.

I can assure you, under President Donald Trump, the United States will continue to take decisive action to address our nation’s demand for illegal drugs, with border security, internal enforcement, and a renewed effort to remove dangerous criminals, gang members, and drug dealers from the streets of our country.

Last week, I stood with President Trump as he declared a national health emergency to combat the scourge of opioid abuse and addiction all across our nation.

And to protect the people of the United States, we will also continue to work directly with Colombia to combat drug production and transnational criminal syndicates.  And, Mr. President, we will support efforts to strengthen the Colombian judicial system to deal with traffickers more effectively.

Under your leadership, Mr. President, Colombia represents the future of Latin America.  It is a future of freedom, security, and prosperity.  And America stands with you.

As we look toward that future, Colombia stands not only with the United States, but with free nations and peoples all across our hemisphere.  The last three decades have seen the flowering of freedom and democracy from the tip of South America to the top of Central America.

And while Colombia and other countries across the region have achieved such rapid progress toward freedom, as the world watches we see your neighbor to the east has gone in the exact opposite direction.

In Venezuela, we’re seeing the tragedy of tyranny play out before our eyes.  As President Trump has said, in his words, “The [Venezuelan] people are suffering and they are dying.”  They’re experiencing grinding poverty.  Families cannot find the food and medicine they need to survive.  Innocent children are perishing every day from hunger.

Today, the once-free people of Venezuela are being forced to endure this fate by the brutality of the Maduro regime.  No free people has ever chosen to walk the path from prosperity to poverty.  No free people has ever chosen to turn what was once, and should still be, one of South America’s richest nations into its poorest and most corrupt.

The Maduro regime has ignored and undermined its National Assembly.  It’s stifled the voices of a free press and the masses alike, and imprisoned countless political opponents.  And more than 130 brave Venezuelans have already died in the desperate fight for democracy.

The United States, Colombia, and free nations of Latin America will not be silent.  Venezuela is sliding into dictatorship, and as President Donald Trump has said, “The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles.”  We will continue to stand with free nations across our hemisphere until democracy is restored for the Venezuelan people.

Let me take this moment to thank you, President Santos, for Colombia’s regional leadership in this cause.  Colombia has publicly denounced the Maduro regime and increased financial surveillance of its ill-gotten assets.

Last week, 12 nations, including Colombia, jointly issued the Lima Declaration — a strong statement of the region’s opposition to the Maduro regime’s abuse of power and abuse of the Venezuelan people.

At President Trump’s direction, the United States of America has issued three rounds of targeted sanctions, including new sanctions just last week, against Maduro and his inner circle.  And you can be assured, Mr. President, we will continue to take action until the Maduro regime restores democracy, holds free and fair elections, releases all political prisoners, and ends the repression of the Venezuelan people.

As President Trump said just a few days ago, “We have many options for Venezuela.”  But the President also remains confident that, working with all of our allies across Latin America, we can achieve a peaceable solution to the crisis facing the Venezuelan people.

Working with free nations across this hemisphere, the United States will continue to bring the full measure of American economic and diplomatic power until democracy is restored in Venezuela.

We do this because it’s right.  The Venezuelan people deserve freedom.  We do this because, as President Trump has said, in his words, a “stable and peaceful Venezuela is in the best interest of the entire hemisphere.”  Failed states know no borders.  A failed state in Venezuela will drive more illegal drug trafficking, with its murderous criminal consequences, radiating outward.  A failed state in Venezuela will drive more illegal migration, compromising our borders, damaging our economies.  And ultimately, a failed state in Venezuela will endanger the wellbeing of all who call this hemisphere home.

And know this, Mr. President:  What we do for Venezuela, we will do together.  We all live in the same neighborhood.  We succeed when our neighbors succeed.  We suffer when our neighbors suffer.  And so we will continue to act, together, to support the people of Venezuela in their struggle for freedom.

And we call on our neighbors and your neighbors in Latin America to do more.  And I promise you, the United States will not rest, we will not relent until Venezuela is restored to a full and prosperous democracy.

The Venezuelan people will be free once more, for here in the New World, freedom always wins.  And as Simón Bolívar said, “A people that loves freedom will in the end be free.”

The United States is grateful for our partnership and our friendship with Colombia.  And, Mr. President, you can be assured that we will continue to work hand-in-hand with Colombia, in security, in prosperity, and in defense of the timeless values that gave birth to our nations and that have brought us closer together ever since.

We share a past and we share a future — and we will meet that future together.

Thank you, President Santos, again for your hospitality.  It’s my great honor to be here.

MODERATOR:  President Santos and Vice President Pence will take a couple of questions from the media from both countries.  And we will start with the Colombia press, Maricia de la Torre (ph) from Caracol News.

Q    (In progress) — here in Colombia.  When President Trump, when your government said this day that he is not ruling out a military intervention in Venezuela, exactly what does it mean?  And I also would like to know if this part of this trip that you’re having in Latin America includes looking for support from the countries, like Colombia, Chile.  You’re going to Chile, you’re going to Argentina, you’re going to Panama later.  So are you looking for support in Latin America for that military intervention?

And also, if President Santos would like to say something about that.  Welcome.  Thank you.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE:  Well, thank you very much.  And let me say, as the world learned in this administration, President Trump is a leader who says what he means, and means what he says.  But the President sent me here to continue to marshal the unprecedented support of countries across Latin America; to achieve, by peaceable means, the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.  And we believe it is achievable by those means.

As I said earlier, the United States will continue to bring the full weight of American economic and diplomatic power to bear.  We simply will not accept the emergence of a dictatorship in our hemisphere.  The Venezuelan people deserve better.  Our hemisphere deserves better.  And you hear in President Trump’s words the resolve of the United States of America to see this through and to restore democracy and constitutional government in Venezuela.  And as I travel throughout the region, it will be my aim to continue to build on the momentum that exists today among countries all across this region to achieve that objective for the Venezuelan people.

PRESIDENT SANTOS:  (As interpreted.)  I have little to add to what I said earlier.  A military intervention would be unacceptable to all countries in Latin America.  And what we all want is to reestablish democracy in Venezuela, and we will continue collectively pressing in this regard.

Q    Hi, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, thank you very much.  To start with — Vice President Pence, President Trump on Friday, when he suggested that a military option may be under consideration for Venezuela, many analysts interpreted that to play into Maduro’s hand because it invoked dark memories of a whole generation of U.S. interventionism abroad.  Can you speak to that at all?  How does that affect that situation here diplomatically?  Do you think it makes it more difficult to unite the forces within the region and within the hemisphere against Maduro?  And, separately, is the United States considering any oil sanctions as additional pressure for the Venezuelan government?

And, Mr. President Santos, a question for you.  You said that you thought it was unwise for President Trump to make that threat, and I’m wondering why you think that is.  If you can elaborate that on a little bit more.  And does it make more difficult for you to unite your allies and your neighbors here in the continent against Venezuela when there’s a U.S. military threat that looms over all of this?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT SANTOS:  (As interpreted.)  I will repeat what I said during my initial remarks.  The Latin American continent, every country in Latin America would not favor any form of military intervention, and that’s why we’re saying that we are intent on looking into other measures, some of which are already underway, and others to be implemented in the future.

But a transition in the Venezuelan regime towards democracy must be a peaceful transition.  It must be, hopefully, a democratic transition.  And it must be quickly, this transition — because as we have said here, what interests us the most is the people of Venezuela, because the people of Venezuela are suffering.  They are hungry.  They lack medications.  And that’s why this transition has to take place as promptly and quickly and possible.  But it must be done peacefully.

You mentioned in your question the ghost of military interventions.  Fortunately, in Latin America, [this] disappeared a long time ago, and we don’t want that phantom to reappear.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE:  Well, thank you for the question, Phil.  The President said the United States has many options.  But the President sent me here to build on what we believe is an unprecedented and growing alliance among Latin American nations, with the United States of America, to isolate Venezuela economically and diplomatically.  And we believe that we can achieve, by peaceable means, a transition in Venezuela back to the democracy that the people of that country so richly deserve.

What the world heard last week in the voice of President Donald Trump was resolve and determination — a determination not to let this moment slip, not to stand idly by while a neighbor collapses into dictatorship — which, as President Santos said very eloquently, is precisely what is happening in their neighbor to the east.

Under the guise of democratic institutions and a so-called constituent assembly, we’re seeing the apparatus put in place to result in Venezuela crumbling into a dictatorship.  And that is simply unacceptable not just to the President of the United States and our country, but, happily, it is broadly acceptable to leaders all across this region.  And I can assure you that what the United States and our friends and allies in the region have done before, we will do more.

President Santos and I discussed in some detail additional measures that could be taken to further pressure the regime in Venezuela economically.  We will continue on this trip, and beyond, to bring diplomatic pressure to bear.

But as the President has said, the people of Venezuela are suffering.  They’re suffering under deprivation.  They’re suffering under the brutal tactics of the Maduro regime.  And President Trump is absolutely determined to marshal all of the support of nations across this region to see democracy restored in Venezuela.

Q    The possibility of oil sanctions, is that something that came up in your discussions?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE:  Well, let me say that we’re looking at a full range of additional economic sanctions and also calling on nations around the world to become more engaged and more involved in restoring democracy in Venezuela.

But again, the President sent me here to say that we are going to bring the full weight of American economic and diplomatic power to bear on creating the conditions where the Venezuelan people can once again enjoy the democracy that is their heritage, before the last two regimes, and will be their future.

MODERATOR:  Maria Camila Roa from Blu Radio.

Q    Now that FARC are no longer an armed group, will the U.S. government be willing to remove them from the terrorist list?  And will there be support from the United States in this stage without FARC to combat or to face common crime here in Colombia?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE:  President Santos and I talked extensively about his government’s efforts to follow through on the historic peace agreement.  And the United States, in a variety of ways — USAID and others — has made efforts to come alongside and support those efforts, and we will continue to do so.

We remain hopeful that peace will prosper in the wake of this agreement, but we do believe that addressing core issues of judicial reform, infrastructure, basic services, will all be part and parcel of moving the nation forward in the years ahead.

But Colombia is a valued partner of the United States, a cherished friend, and we will continue to stand with Colombia for security and for the advancement of peace in this nation in the years ahead.

PRESIDENT SANTOS:  (As interpreted.)  As I said earlier, we are truly grateful for all the support that the United States has provided us to bring about the process.  Because without its support, the process would not have been possible.  The U.S. has supported us during the process in order to coordinate it, and now it will support us in peace-building.  And this is something for which we are truly grateful.  It’s been significant help, and will continue to be very important, this help — because we stand before the monumental challenges I’ve said in the past.  Putting an end to the conflict is one thing, but building peace — that is another thing and a very difficult thing.  And in peace-building we need all the help we can get, and the help received from the U.S. is something we appreciate from the bottom of our heart.

Q    President and Vice President, thank you so much for having us here and for holding this press conference.

President Santos, I wanted to begin with you.  I know that you both spoke a great deal about the drug crisis.  Are you considering at this point, or would you endorse the idea of returning to aerial fumigation?

PRESIDENT SANTOS:  (As interpreted.)  We did discuss that point precisely, and I’ve explained to Vice President Pence that aerial spraying did not bring about the results everyone hoped for.  In the year 2007 — and I showed him the numbers — is when we did the highest volume of air spraying of illegal crops, and that is one of the years when coca production increased the most.

And we are convinced that the plan we have in place today, for the very first time, will provide us with a long-term structural solution — because we’ve been combatting drug trafficking and illegal crops for 30 years.  And in spite of all the efforts made, Colombia is the country that has made the biggest sacrifices in this global war on drugs.  Even though those efforts did bring about some results, they were all marginal results, because today, regretfully, we are still a major exporter of cocaine to the global market.

However, now, thanks to the peace process, we’ll be able to go out to all these places where coca shrub is being grown, and we have in place a plan so that the coca growers will voluntarily substitute their illegal crops for legal crops.  And we’ve already signed agreements with 86,000 families so that at least 50,000 hectares, from here to early next year, will be voluntarily substituted,

And, on the other hand, we are doing what we call forced eradication, plant by plant, through our military services — an additional 50,000 hectares of which we’ve already cleared 27,000.

So the ongoing plan is a plan we measure on a weekly basis with the participation of the United States.  And I am confident that this plan, for the very first time — because we are in times of peace and we don’t have FARC opposing this process — we will be successful.

Q    To Phil Rucker’s question, would you expect any additional sanctions announced this week?  And then, I wanted to give you a chance to address what has been having in Charlottesville over this weekend.  A number of critics, Republicans included, have criticized the President, saying that he was not forceful enough in specifically condemning white supremacists and other racist rhetoric that happened during that weekend.  What do you make of that criticism, and what do you have to say about the crisis?

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE:  Well, on the first topic, let me say that we did talk extensively about aerial spraying and the need for enforcement of the peace agreement and arrangements that are made transitioning citizens of Colombia away from illicit crops.  And the United States will look to Colombia to follow through strongly on that, and we’ll be supportive of those efforts.

With regard to additional sanctions, what I can assure you is that we will remain vigorous in our efforts to isolate Venezuela economically and diplomatically.  And I would anticipate additional U.S. action in this regard sooner rather than later.  We’ll be talking to our allies across the region on this trip.

But again, as President Trump has made clear, we simply will not be silent.  We will not stand by while Venezuela collapses into dictatorship.

With regard to yesterday, what happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy.  Charlottesville, Virginia is a beautiful community, a university town with a rich heritage.  President Santos’s son just graduated from the University of Virginia, and the President himself spoke on that campus.

And what occurred there, as local and state officials have said, is in no way a reflection of the good and decent people of Charlottesville or of America.

Of what happened there — yesterday, President Trump clearly and unambiguously condemned the bigotry, violence, and hatred which took place on the streets of Charlottesville.

Our hearts go out to the victims of violence that ensued; the family of the young woman who lost her life; of the families of the two police officers who fell in the line of duty, and all of those that are injured.

We have no tolerance for hate and violence, from white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or the KKK.  These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.

The President also made clear that behavior by others of different militant perspectives are also unacceptable in our political debate and discourse.  Our administration is bringing the full resources of the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the violence that ensued yesterday in Charlottesville.  And we will hold them to account, under the law.

The President’s call for unity yesterday, though, was from the heart.  It was a sincere call, in these too divided times in our country, for those on the extremes to be dismissed, and for the vast majority of Americans who cherish freedom, who cherish justice for all, to come together in new and in renewed ways.

I will say I take issue with the fact that many in the national media spent more time criticizing the President’s words than they did criticizing those who perpetrated the violence to begin with.

We should be putting the attention where it belongs, and that is on these extremist groups that need to be pushed out of the public debate entirely, and discredited for the hate groups and dangerous fringe groups that they are.

The truth, as President Santos knows, is, the overwhelming majority of Americans, I would say, with very few exceptions, cherish the values that are at the foundation of our nation.  They’re the shared values that we have with the people of Colombia.

And in the aftermath of yesterday’s violence, and on this Sunday here in Colombia, I think it’s a good time to pray — to pray for those who lost their lives yesterday; to pray for their families; to pray for the injured; but also to pray for greater unity in America that I believe will come.  We can seize this moment, as President Trump said yesterday, as a moment where we stop, where we pause, and where we move forward together.