Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 28, 1998


The South Grounds

9:50 A.M. EST

PRESIDENT CLINTON: President Pastrana, Mrs. Pastrana, members of the Colombia delegation, I am proud to welcome you to the United States and to the White House.

Two months ago when Andres Pastrana stood in historic Bolivar Plaza, the people of Colombia inaugurated not just a new President, but a new spirit of hope. Hope for change; hope for reconciliation; hope for the fulfillment of his citizens' most profound dreams.

President Pastrana was inspired to public service by his father, who was Colombia's President a generation ago, and by the enduring spirit of the liberator, Bolivar. He was already working for the public good while still a teenager, backpacking across the country to collect money for the poor and raising funds for young burn victims.

Now, Mr. President, as Colombia's leader, you have made it your mission to renew your country for all your citizens, to revive the economy, to lead in the global fight against narcotics, to bring relief and progress to people caught in the cross-fire of violence among rebels, paramilitaries, and drug traffickers -- to bring peace.

Colombia is the last site of major civil strife in our hemisphere. In recent years the violence and suffering have grown; the struggle has become intertwined with the deadly drug trade. The conflict has claimed the lives of many dedicated public servants. It has forced Colombians to flee their homes and made it difficult for others to run their businesses and farms.

Mr. President, we admire your courage and determination to end the violence, to heal the wounds of the past, to build a better future. We call on the insurgents and paramilitaries to respond to your bold initiative for peace by ending terrorism, hostage taking, and support for drug traffickers.

All around the world today men and women who have suffered too long from the poison of hatred are choosing the path of peace -- in Ireland, in Bosnia, in Southern Africa and Central America, now with renewed hope in the Middle East, and just this week with the agreement to end their longstanding conflict in Peru and Ecuador. With your leadership, Mr. President, peace can come to Colombia, too.

As you embark on your mission to build an honorable and enduring peace, count on the United States as a friend and partner. Count on us, too, as you work to bring prosperity to all Colombians. We will work together to create jobs and improve opportunities for both our peoples. We already are your largest trading partner and foreign investor. But there is much more we can do together, and as part of the extraordinary process of integration now taking place all across our hemisphere.

We will work together, and with our other friends throughout the Americas, to uphold human rights, root out corruption, fight crime, advance education and health care, overcome poverty, and protect our common environment. We will work together to combat illegal drugs. We have worked together, but we must do more. For both our peoples have suffered greatly from the drug trade and its brutality. The battle against drugs is a common battle. It must unite our people, not divide them.

Colombians deserve normal lives. They deserve to live free in their homes with their families, to enjoy the phenomenal richness of their culture, the vallenato music, the paintings and sculptures of Botero, the fantastic writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Mr. President, we in the United States watched with pride as you took the oath of office in August, wearing the suit of clothes your father had worn when he was inaugurated President of Colombia 28 years ago. You said then, "This is not my day, but the day of all Colombians. Change begins today."

This is a new beginning for Colombia. It is also a new opportunity to strengthen the bonds between our peoples. So let us begin today. Again, Mr. President, welcome and welcome back to the White House. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT PASTRANA: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Vice President, Madam Secretary of State, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, Nora.

Mr. President, thank you for your generous welcome and for your invitation to visit this great nation, which is the birthplace of liberty for all the Americas.

As I prepared for this trip, I thought back, Mr. President, of sitting in Bogota and watching your first inauguration as a hopeful world watched on international television. I remember your eloquent words on that day: "We have heard the trumpet. We have changed the guard. We must answer the call."

Now that day of change has come to Colombia, I come here to inaugurate a new era in relations between Colombia and the United States -- an alliance for free trade, an alliance against drugs, an alliance of hope and high purpose as we enter the 21st century.

Across a range of issues, we seek a renewed partnership between our nations, and I say "renewed" because I am mindful of other times we stood together in early years. After the United States was attacked, at the beginning of World War II, Colombia was the first of all Latin America countries to break relations with the Axis powers. Colombia was the only country in Latin America to send troops to fight side by side with yours during the Korean War. There were a thousand young Colombians there, and two-thirds became casualties.

In our own day and generation we have stood together in the war on drugs, and here the casualty list grows longer -- judges and politicians, journalists and policemen and, of course, the innocent bystander. Colombia has lost literally thousands in this war, a veritable Vietnam memorial worth of martyrs. We must never forget to honor the bravery and integrity. We must never retreat from the crusade for which they gave their lives.

Today the people of Colombia are marching for peace. In our presidential election an unprecedented total of 12 million voters cast their ballots for a peaceful change. We have seen and we have drawn resolve from the coming of peace in Ireland and the peace in the Middle East -- in both which, Mr. President, you have played an indispensable role.

Let me invoke the grateful words of our greatest writer, one of the epic poets of the human spirit, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When he received the Nobel Prize, he called for solidarity with our dreams and concrete acts of legitimate support. So we act now to achieve the dreams of peace, to end the fear and the killing and the corruption, and begin a new era of social and economic justice.

We approach peace with an open heart and a clear-headed realism. We have begun a process of peace, not to cede any of our territory and not ever to concede any sanctuary to drugs, but to deal with the causes of the conflict and restore the rule of law and the promise of progress everywhere in our country.

Let there be no doubt: Thousands of my countrymen and women have given their lives in the fight against drug trafficking. The only peace treaty acceptable to me and the Colombian nation is one that strengthens our ability to rid Colombia of cocaine production.

We seek both to negotiate and to strengthen our armed forces. We need an army to preserve the peace and an army to protect democracy and an army that defends human rights and the rule of the law. We believe that in the end there is no such thing as democracy without respect for human rights.

We act as well to achieve the dream of economic justice, to build a modern economy with education for our children and good jobs for our workers. We seek to do this not in isolation, but as a part of the new global economy, with new structures for a stability, with more open trade and investment. Here, too, Mr. President, you have been an unwavering voice for the future, for a hemispheric economic community. We in Colombia are ready to move ahead with you on a regional and hemispheric basis.

We must also act now together to achieve our common dream of a drug-free society in a drug-free hemisphere. We must and will continue to eradicate and interdict. And we must do more. We also need crop substitution programs and economic development, or the plague, no matter how often we stamp it out, will return.

We are prepared to enter into a new partnership to combat drugs, a partnership for a drug-free hemisphere, so that eradication in one country will not lead to cultivation in another; so the demand for drugs will not continue to induce an illegal, dangerous, endless, and deadly traffic that threatens too many families and both our societies.

Finally, in pursuing all these great purposes, we now enter a new era in relations between Colombia and the United States. We will not always agree. No two sovereign nations ever do. But on the central concerns, we can and should stand together. We seek and welcome your support, and we offer ours.

Mr. President, you are admired in my country and across the hemisphere. I look forward to our discussions here. I look forward to building the strongest bonds of friendship with Colombia and the United States. The world needs your leadership; the causes of peace need it.

Mrs. Clinton also has our admiration for her own historic leadership. Especially after her role at the Vital Voices Conference in Montevideo, she's not only the First Lady of your country, but the First Lady of our hemisphere. (Applause.)

I look forward to the discussions ahead of us. I do not underestimate the challenges ahead of Colombia. But we are a great people, mindful of a proud and noble heritage; a democracy nearly two centuries old, tested and tempered in adversity, looking now to a new era in our land and in relations between our two great nations. Today, here in this capital, I pledge the commitment of Colombia to our common causes of freedom -- freedom of markets, freedom from want, freedom from drugs, freedom from violence and the fulfillment of fundamental human rights.

Thank you, Mr. President, and may God bless our work and our countries. (Applause.)

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