REMARKS BY AMBASSADOR ANDRES PASTRANA AND NOHRA PUYANA DE PASTRANA AT A MEETING WITH THE JUNIOR LEAGUE OF WASHINGTON
Good evening. Nohra and I would like to wish you a warm welcome to the Colombian residence. We’re delighted to have you here to learn and experience more about our country.
This residence has housed a variety of people, from well-known businessman Thomas Gaff, to distinguished politicians such as President Calvin Coolidge’s Secretary of War, Dwight Davis, and officials from the governments of Greece and Colombia. Because of the nature of work of those who have lived here, the residence has a long tradition of hosting people who are committed to leadership in the community.
So it is a pleasure and privilege to continue this tradition today by hosting a meeting of such an accomplished group of women – and men – who contribute to the community through action and leadership.
The Junior League of Washington exemplifies the drive and vision that are so much a part of what is needed to bring peace and prosperity to the world, and which is so important right now, particularly in Colombia. This is just the kind of commitment we need to promote international cooperation and further the cause of world peace.
There are many dynamic and innovative Colombian women in business, diplomacy, culture and the arts. Six ministries in Colombia’s current government have been headed by women, and women play an active role in every area of Colombian politics, business, culture and society.
Many Americans who know about Colombia have experienced my country only through a single prism – our relentless fight against drug traffickers and the violence and terrorism they have inflicted on both our societies.
Over the past five years, Colombia and the United States have been implementing a program in my country, known as Plan Colombia, which has targeted four areas of cooperation:
- Reducing the production of illegal crops used to manufacturing cocaine and heroin, and cease the production and trafficking of these drugs to other countries.
- Providing an economic alternative to growing illegal crops for thousands of peasant families in rural Colombia.
- Establishing a peace process in Colombia and demobilize and disarm members of guerillas and self-defense groups who are involved in armed conflict and drug trafficking.
- Strengthening the Colombian economy so as to provide jobs and opportunity for all citizens.
This program was developed when I was President of Colombia, with support from the Clinton administration and Democratic and Republican leaders in the U.S. Congress. It is being implemented successfully by my successor, President Alvaro Uribe, with continued support by the Bush administration and Congress.
This effort is unique because both our countries are working together, sharing the burden of working for peace and prosperity in Colombia. Both Colombia and the United States have invested in this process, and we today making great progress toward the day when drugs will no longer harm either of our societies.
Our fight against drug trafficking and terror is what you hear about most frequently in the news. But while these are certainly an important part of our bilateral relationship, it is only a small part of what defines Colombia.
There is so much more we want Americans to know about us. So I will ask my wife, Nohra, who served with great commitment as Colombia’s First Lady, to share with you a brief description of other aspects of our country…
Colombia is a large country – just to give you an idea, it is roughly the size of California and Texas combined. It is blessed with natural resources, including beautiful beaches, dramatic mountains, and lush Amazon rain forests. The dramatic and inspiring Andes mountain range dominates the central and western parts of the country, extending north-south almost the entire length of Colombia.
To the east of the Andes, vast Amazon tropical forests contain 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity, which is second only to that of neighboring Brazil. We also have coastal plains with rich fertile soil and an ideal climate for agriculture.
Colombia is the only country in South America with a coastline on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, with thousands of miles of spectacular, pristine beaches. There are also modern, dynamic cities – from the capital of Bogotá at the foot of the Andes, to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, known for its beautifully-preserved colonial architecture.
Cartagena is legendary both for its history and its colonial architecture, which has been remarkably preserved. The city has been immortalized on countless canvases and glorified in hundreds of books – and, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it deserves every one of these tributes.
Colombia it is closer that you might realize – in fact, the distance between Colombia’s northern coast and Miami is less than that between Miami and New York City.
There is currently a wonderful exhibit called “The Spirit of Colombian Gold” at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. I strongly encourage you all to go and see it, if you have the opportunity. It displays spectacular pieces of pre-Columbian gold and copper works and ceramics on loan from Bogotá’s Museo del Oro, which houses the most important collection of pre-Columbian pieces of silver and gold in the world.
In ancient times, gold was believed to be a product of the sun and it had special associations with fertility and power. For these early people of Colombia, the value of gold lay in the symbolic and transformative properties associated with its color, aura, and malleability.
I mention this because the very definition of gold – a dense, lustrous, highly malleable solid that is often mixed with other metals to make it harder and stronger – in many ways also defines the Colombian spirit even today.
My country is home to 85 different ethnic groups, creating a true melting pot of European, Afro-Caribbean and indigenous communities. We treasure this wealth of diversity. It gives us both strength and unity as a people, as well as a rich and proud cultural heritage. The diversity of our population, combined with its boundless energy, creativity and relentless optimism, creates a culture that sustains and holds the country together, even in the face of adversity.
Colombia is a nation of both entrepreneurs and industrious workers. We produce high quality products that are sought around the world, including our famous coffee – which is easily recognizable from the Café de Colombia logo of Juan Valdez and his mule. You may have even seen the Juan Valdez café located near the World Bank, or noticed construction of the new one in the Penn Quarter, near the MCI Center.
Other chief exports include upscale fashions, textiles and jewelry, fine leather goods, art, and tropical foods. A little known fact is that Colombia ranks as the world’s major source of emeralds and the second largest grower of fresh flowers in the world behind the Netherlands. We grow approximately 75% of all fresh flowers imported into the United States, including the ones you see here tonight.
For many Colombians, the character of our country is defined by the rich mosaic of our art, music, literature, dance, sports and culture.
Some of Colombia’s leading personalities have achieved remarkable success in the U.S. and on the international stage. Let me just name off a few:
- There are Grammy-winning Colombian rock stars Shakira and Juanes, who sell out their concerts in the United States and around the world.
- You’re probably familiar with Fernando Botero, one of the world’s most accomplished painters and sculptors who is known for his distinctive style of inflated, robust shapes.
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez is among the world’s most widely-read novelists.
- Earlier this year, Colombian actress Catalina Sandino Moreno was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her powerful role in Maria Full of Grace.
- Juan Pablo Montoya is one of young stars on the Formula 1 world racing circuit.
- And Colombian athletes perform in the top leagues around the world, from Europe’s elite soccer teams to Major League Baseball in the United States. Just last year, two Colombian shortstops from the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals played against each other in the World Series.
In addition, there is a strong flow of migration between our countries. More than a million Colombians live in the United States, where they contribute to strong local communities and America’s own rich cultural diversity. Many Colombians have achieved success in business, the arts and other areas of human endeavor here in the United States.
Our cuisine is also part of what defines us. From the coffee and cacao grown in the Andes to the tropical fruits of the Caribbean and Amazonian regions, the cattle farms on the plains, and bountiful seafood from the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Colombia is a country of vast culinary creations. Our cuisine including hearty soups, tasty meat and rice dishes, and a wealth of exotic fruits and vegetables.
Today, Colombia is a nation riding on a new momentum for change and progress. As our security situation improves, Colombia is alive with possibilities. The Colombia of tomorrow is one fueled by a nation of natural beauty, a warm and industrious people and immeasurable opportunity and potential. Colombia really is much more than you know.
The American people have extended their hands to Colombia in times of crisis. Tonight, in return, we offer you a vision of our country and the gift of our spirit, and delight in sharing with you all the essence of Colombia’s greatness.
It is my hope that this evening will provide you with a window into the diverse culture of my country. So please enjoy your stay and as we say in Colombia: ¡Bienvenidas!