September 18, 2019

Menendez Statement at Senate Hearing on U.S.-Colombia Relations

“…Comments like President Trump’s claim in March that Colombia ‘has done nothing for us’ are blatantly false and risk undermining our strategic partnership. For two decades, there has been bipartisan consensus on supporting Colombia, and I look forward to reaffirming that support when I host President Duque in New Jersey this weekend.”

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered remarks at a subcommittee hearing titled, “U.S.-Colombia Relations: New Opportunities to Reinforce and Strengthen Our Bilateral Relationship.”

On Sunday, September 22, 2019, Menendez will host Colombian President Iván Duque in New Jersey for a public community forum to discuss opportunities to advance the U.S.-Colombia partnership with New Jersey’s vibrant Colombian-American community.  The town hall-style forum will be open to press and immediately followed by a bilingual Q&A session with credentialed media. This is an event for credentialed press only; RSVP required **Please RSVP HERE by Friday 9/20**

Below are the Senator’s remarks as delivered:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you and Senator Cardin for calling this incredibly important hearing. I don’t always come to subcommittee hearings, subcommittee of the full committee, but in this particular case the hearing on Colombia is of particular importance and interest to me. Having traveled to Colombia in July for talks with President Duque, his Administration, and civil society leaders, I remain convinced that Colombia is our single most important partner in South America. Our strategic partnership stands as a model in the hemisphere.

So I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on our long-term vision for strengthening this partnership, as well as how we can best support Colombia in addressing current challenges—including challenges to its 2016 peace accord, challenges related to counternarcotics, and from the Venezuelan crisis.

Without a doubt, the recent move by former FARC commanders to return to arms marks the single greatest setback to Colombia’s young peace accord. Press reports indicating that this group of FARC dissidents is operating out of Venezuela underscores the nefarious nature of Maduro’s dictatorship.

But this development is not the only challenge to accord implementation. I am deeply concerned about the violence faced by civil societies across Colombia. As I heard from Colombia social leaders in July, their heartbreaking stories underscore the fragility of peace.

I hope to hear from INL and USAID about how we can best support our Colombian partners as they address this violence, expand state presence, and implement the accord. And while the 2016 accord is far from perfect, it is the best opportunity the Colombian people have to heal the scars of decades of civil war.

It is also essential that we remain unwavering in our cooperation to help Colombia combat high levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production. Historic levels of cultivation leveled off this year, and I give the credit to the Duque Administration, but we have to expand efforts to help them drive down these numbers.

Specifically, I look forward to hearing a comprehensive strategy from INL that attacks every aspect of trafficking operations, including emphasis on eradication, but also include increased initiatives to strengthen the rule of law and address money laundering. I also hope to hear how USAID reinforces INL programs and Colombian initiatives to create programs for transitioning to the legal economy.

Finally, I am deeply concerned about the destabilizing nature of Venezuela’s refugee crisis. During my travel to Cúcuta in July, I heard directly from individuals fleeing the humanitarian tragedy in Venezuela and saw its impact on Colombian communities. Thirty thousand people crossing every day, Venezuelans crossing every day on the bridge, to get basic food and essentials that they cannot get in Venezuela.  But 10% of those stay in Colombia, that’s overwhelming for any nation.

So I commend the Administration for dedicating more than $300 million across the region to address the Venezuelan exodus, but we need to lead a global response. I have been advocating a donor’s conference that matches the magnitude of the crisis. And, if we want to have any credibility in this process, we must provide Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans in the United States.  You cannot have a travel advisory that says do not travel to Venezuela and then send back people to Venezuela who should be granted TPS.

Let me close by saying I caution that comments like President Trump’s claim in March that Colombia ‘has done nothing for us’ are blatantly false and risk undermining our strategic partnership. For two decades, there has been bipartisan consensus on supporting Colombia, and I look forward to reaffirming that support when I host President Duque in New Jersey this weekend.

With that, I want to thank our witnesses, Chairman and the Ranking Member, and I appreciate the opportunity.”                               

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