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Press conference by President of the Government and President of the Republic of Colombia

Madrid, Tuesday 3 March 2015

President of the Government.- Ladies and gentlemen, a very good day to you all. Please allow me, first of all, to address President Juan Manuel Santos.

Mr President, for me it is an honour and a pleasure to receive you on this State visit. Once again, we have witnessed the high level of understanding that exists between our two governments, the firmness and wealth of the friendship between Colombia and Spain, and, of course, our special personal empathy.

This visit comes, moreover, at a key moment in the recent history of Colombia. As you are aware, following half a century of hostilities and numerous victims, President Santos has pushed through a peace process of great complexity and of historic scope, which is now at a crucial stage. In November last year, he visited Madrid at the start of a European tour geared towards gathering support in light of a feasible post-conflict scenario; today, as I did on that occasion, I have reconfirmed the support of my government for his project, support which is shared by the main Spanish political forces and by general public opinion. Our support can be seen both bilaterally and through the European Union.

Our renewed support can be explained, above all, by one fundamental reason: we believe in Colombia. In life, you have to stand by your friends, particularly at difficult times. I am aware that President Santos works with drive and conviction. I hope that peace comes soon; that will be good for Colombia, for Latin America and for the whole world.

This State visit that concludes today has also been fruitful in other areas. We have signed a declaration updating the Strategic Association, which identifies priorities in our bilateral relations, as well as potential areas for future collaboration. It also establishes the re-launch of the High-Level Commission, chaired by the foreign affairs ministers, which will meet on an annual basis at alternating locations. Our two governments seek to forge our bilateral relations at a level to fulfil their full potential.

Other sector agreements have been signed on development cooperation, broadcasting in Castilian Spanish, air transport and collaboration on issues relating to penitentiary institutions.

President Santos and I have spoken about the bilateral agenda, and we were able to see the strong level of economic and trade relations between the two countries and the potential for expansion. We also spoke about relations between the European Union and Latin America, and particularly about Colombia, which is a good example of creative and diversified cooperation.

As you are aware, Spain has been advocating the removal of Schengen visas by the European Union for citizens of Colombia and Peru, and this measure, already shored up at a political level, is only pending certain technical issues to become a reality in the coming months.

I wish to highlight that this initiative is due recognition of thousands of Colombians that live in Spain and who have decisively contributed to our development and to our liberty. It is also due recognition of all Colombians, of their sacrifices and their desire for peace.

At an economic and trade level, the provisional entry into force in 2013 of the Multi-party Agreement between the European Union and Colombia initiated a new phase marked by the liberalisation of trade exchanges. We must continue expanding along these lines between Latin America and Europe, facilitating integration and freer trade processes. That is the way the world is heading and, to a great extent, that is what the well-being of our citizens depends on.

Moreover, in line with its economic and social progress, Colombia is negotiating its membership of the OECD. Spain will offer Colombia decisive support, as it has been doing to date in this process which will hopefully finalise next year.

Colombia has also increased its commitment to security beyond its borders. Last August, Colombia and the European Union signed an agreement that opens the way for Colombia to take part in European Union crisis management operations. This will soon allow it to play an active part, through one of its naval units, in Operation Atalanta, to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean. In another area, Colombia is laying the foundations for its co-operation with NATO following on from the information cooperation and security agreement signed in July 2013. Spain clearly supports these initiatives.

As regards issues in Latin America, we have seen an extensive converging of criteria. We have spoken, among other issues, about the upcoming EU-CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States] Summit that will take place in Brussels, in June; the next Ibero-American Summit to be held in Colombia in 2016 -the first in the new biennial scheme; and the progress made by the Pacific Alliance, of which Spain, as you are aware, was the first EU Observer State.

We also reviewed various issues on the international agenda.

In short, and in the hope that President Santos shares my vision, I believe that we can celebrate this visit, both for the climate in which it took place and for its results. That is why I wish to thank President Santos and his entire delegation who accompanied him once again for having honoured us with this visit and reiterate to him that that he will find our country, both now and I am sure also in the future, to be a loyal friend with a sincere desire to cooperate.

Mr. Santos.- A very good afternoon to you all, to President of the Government Rajoy, to his delegation and to all the members of the press.

I would like to start by commenting of the last issue mentioned by President of the Government Rajoy, and confirming that I share his vision. Not only do I share it, but I wish to strengthen and extend it. And I will say what I said to him in our private meeting, that since the very outset, when President of the Government Rajoy was kind and generous enough to come and visit us - he visited both Mexico and Colombia when recently elected - since that moment a very special personal bond was formed, and we have nothing but words of gratitude to say to the Spanish Government and to Spain for all the support it has been providing us with on all fronts and at all times. I believe that relations between Spain and Colombia are, and I have no doubts about this whatsoever, enjoying their best period ever. We share a similar mindset and ways of seeing problems in the different areas in which it falls to us to work together.

This visit has been most gratifying and particularly significant because we have been able to step up our relations in various areas, even some new areas for us, for our relations, and for us, as Colombians, this honours us; for example, in the area of culture. I believe that in terms of culture, there has never before been such a relevant presence of Colombian talent, of Colombian artists, as we have seen in Spain in recent days; in the last few weeks.

Colombia was the special guest, the guest of honour, at the ARCO Madrid Trade Fair; our artists were given this opportunity to shine before the Spanish people and they did so with great success. The way in which our artists told me they had been treated… Even the economy, President of the Government Rajoy, has to go well because all the works were sold and our artists are very satisfied with the results at this trade fair.

We also had the opportunity this morning, with President of the Government Rajoy, to do something historic which for me was also very symbolic; we saw, surrounded by works by Velázquez, our Monstrance - the so-called "Lettuce"- there, in the Prado Museum. To see the piece of art that is much-loved by the Colombian people in the Prado Museum means a great deal to us and we thank you, President of the Government Rajoy, and the museum, for giving us this opportunity. And coincidentally, when "The Lettuce" was bought from the Jesuits by the Central Bank, the Banco de la República, the money paid for this "Lettuce", this Monstrance, was invested by the Jesuits to promote peace in Colombia. This took place more than 25 years ago and now we are seeing the possibility of this peace becoming a reality.

From there I will move on to the second area of thanks for the support we have received from Spain in this process - which has been difficult - of making peace. This is more difficult, I can tell you, than making war, and I have done both. When you make war, you show trophies and people applaud; making peace requires tackling hatred, resentment, healing open wounds and seeking to reach reconciliation. And on this matter we have had the presence and the permanent support of Spain, of the Spanish Government, on all fronts. From the very outset of the process, Spain has accompanied us and, when we needed its support, for example, when we made a visit to the European Union to see if there was a possibility of creating a trust fund, the first country to support us was Spain, and the Spanish Government, which actually advised us to take this course.

And now, not only in the post-conflict phase, on the economic issue, or the issue of the trust fund, but also in terms of the political support that we will need when decisions have to be taken, which are decisions that will assuredly not satisfy everybody because, when you take decisions to ensure peace, when you draw a line between justice and peace, there will always be those on one side that are content and on the other that are displeased. That is when you need political support so that the decisions we take have legitimacy and that is where we have also found a great ally in Spain.

On economic issues, Spain is coming out of a recession, of a difficult economic situation. I was very pleased this morning to see the result of the employment figures, on job creation; this is a great sign. We are very pleased that Spain is coming out of this difficult situation and that also interests us greatly because trade with Spain and the potential that exists, both in terms of investment, and of trade and integration, is very great and we want to promote this aspect as far as possible.

Our ICT minister had the opportunity to be in Barcelona recently, at the mobile phone trade fair. For the first time, the minister was accompanied by a delegation of more than 30 business owners who are now selling software at an international level.

And we have identified certain areas where there is an enormous potential for working together, including the field of agriculture. Our Ministers for Foreign Affairs and for Agriculture had the opportunity to go to Almeria and visit this wonderful experiment that you have carried out here, in Spain, with such good results. This is something which, for Colombia, comes just at the right time because part of the post-conflict, and the only issue that allowed us to sit down and negotiate public policy, was related to rural development, to the development of the countryside in a world that is increasingly demanding more food, which increasingly needs more food. This is an issue on which Spain and Colombia coincide, which is pure common sense, logical and offers great potential.

And also the issue of education. Education for Colombia, for this government, is one of its cornerstones. The Spanish education system is one that we admire and we want to see increasing cooperation to boost the quality of our education system. What you have done here, for example, in access to education from an early age is something that is a great example for us and where we will continue working together to see how we can send more students, because Spain is now the leading recipient of students in Europe, and I want to send more students, above all, to the best Spanish universities, looking to the future.

We signed some agreements, as President of the Government Rajoy mentioned, in different areas: we updated the framework for co-operation, a framework which in itself was already quite comprehensive, but nonetheless we took this opportunity to strengthen it; the agreement on cultural co-operation through the Cervantes Institute, an agreement on penitentiary and prison issues, and a memorandum of understanding on tourism. Tourism is another of the issues where Spain and Colombia can do wonders together, in the sense that you have extensive experience on the matter here; it is a very sophisticated and developed industry. On the issue of tourism, we still have everything to do in Colombia. We are only now starting to take due heed of the tourism industry and there is everything here that we need to learn to help Colombia in this regard.

We also signed an update to the agreement on air services, which are moving ahead in a marvellous fashion. Flights between the two countries are already very frequent, but there is always room for improvement.

On this issue of visas, I once again wish to convey, President of the Government Rajoy, to you personally, to your government and to the Spanish people, my thanks for your support, your initiative, because it was your initiative on a day that I will never forget, because it was my birthday, when you called me - I was in Cartagena - to tell me, "I am going to propose to the European Union that they do away with visas for citizens of Colombia and Peru". That, for Colombia, represents something of great importance for our dignity because of what it means for our people. You cannot possibly imagine the expectations that so many Colombian families have to visit their relatives that live here or to come here as tourists to this wonderful country, and I once again want to thank you for this gesture, for this initiative of yours, which I hope that this year, as we mentioned, will be formalised and we can thus see many more Colombians coming to visit Spain.

So what I must do, President of the Government Rajoy, is express my gratitude. This visit has been very, very gratifying and very productive; which for us is very important. Here we have consolidated a very special friendship, a strategic relationship for us looking to the future. We are facing many challenges ahead of us. You are now members, as we were, of the Security Council. The world is facing many problems, regarding which we are also going to be able to work together to try to resolve them. And you, as a very important member of the European Union, are also pivotal in this very important relationship for us with the European Union.

The ties between our peoples are increasingly stronger and I believe that today they are stronger than ever. Thank you for this opportunity and for this invitation, this State visit, which commits me, my government and all the people of Colombia more than ever.

Q.- Firstly for the President of the Government, Mariano Rajoy. The issue of justice is a complex issue in the peace process in Colombia and President Santos has just said this when he mentioned "drawing a line between justice and peace". Some people ask for sentences, for the guerrillas to be imprisoned for their crimes, while others have proposed alternative sentences. With which of these two approaches do you agree? Which model could apply to Colombia in this regard?

And for President Juan Manuel Santos. One of the purposes of your government is the fight against corruption. Just today Colombia is going through an issue on this matter in the Constitutional Court in relation to a possible case of corruption, in which the President of the Constitutional Court has been invited to step down. What is your opinion on this situation?

Mr. Rajoy.- I will answer your question. You asked me which of the two possible solutions you mentioned I agree with. I must say that I agree with the decision adopted by President Santos and the Government of Colombia, because, logically, they are the ones who are most aware of what takes place in Colombia and of what is best for the Colombian people.

My function as President of the Spanish Government is to offer political support, and that is what I am going to do - I have done this on many other occasions and I will do so again today - and help on all those issues requested, fundamentally at an EU level, but also in our country and before any international body.

Hence, my function is to offer political support, that is what I am going to do, to help President Santos in whatever he requests; but it is he and his government who know the truth of the situation in Colombia, and I don't believe that I should be giving my opinions on this issue.

Mr. Santos.- As regards the fight against corruption, that has been one of the flagships of my government since the outset, since 7 August 2010. The fight against corruption has been at the forefront of our government, and whenever an act of corruption emerges, whether in Parliament, in the Lower House, in the government, it must be investigated and, if proven, it must be punished. That is why I have said, regarding this case in particular, as the Head of State, that it must be investigated in depth and if there is evidence of corruption it will be punished.

That is the position we have always taken and we will be ready to collaborate to the extent of our possibilities, if it affects us, in this investigation.

Q.- I had a question for both of you. For President Santos. I would like to know whether Colombia supports Cuba's request to be excluded from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism in the United States.

The second part of my question is for President of the Government Rajoy as well. I would like to know your opinion regarding Maduro's accusation of the existence of an "evil triangle" comprising Madrid, Bogota and Miami, supposedly conspiring to overthrow him.

And for President of the Government Rajoy. I would like to know what you think about the president of a regional government accusing high-ranking police officials of blackmailing him and if you feel that a leader of this type is ready to stand as a candidate.

Mr. Santos.- As regards your question - they were two questions - in terms of the indication that there might be a plot between Madrid, Bogota and Miami against the Government of Venezuela, I have already made a statement to this effect. I said that there is no plot from Bogota; if I find out there is one, it will be punished with the full weight of the law, but I have been unable to detect or uncover any form of plot to bring down any government from Bogota, and I would not allow this to happen.

In terms of Cuba's request to be removed from the terror watch list, I believe that issue is moving in the right direction. The step taken by President Obama to improve relations with Cuba and re-establish diplomatic relations was a very important step, very audacious, very brave and highly necessary, and one which will have a far-reaching and positive effect on relations between the United States and Latin America. Consequently, things are moving in the right direction but it is down to the two countries involved to sit at a table and see what the procedure will be to achieve this objective.

President of the Government.- In relation to a conspiracy, I can think of many things to say to respond to that because the issue can be tackled in many different ways. But perhaps the most serious response is the one offered by President Santos. The only thing I can add is that, when I saw President Santos upon his arrival to Spain, I asked him, and he asked me, if we were involved in a conspiracy. I believe that we should all make an effort to deal with these issues as seriously as possible.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, through the Director-General of the Police, has already announced today that at the right time, in the coming days, he will offer an explanation on this matter. Hence, I will back the statement of the Ministry of Home Affairs at the right time.

In relation to the second part of your second question, this is an issue for the People's Party, because that is where these decisions are taken.

Q.- President Santos, could you give us a very specific and concise summary of the results of these three days in Spain? We would be very grateful if you could inform us of this.

As regards the United States and the possibility of suspending the extradition periods for FARC guerrillas, as you announced to us here, in Madrid, could you confirm to us how these talks are going, and whether the United States has provided some response and if you could mention the specific case of Simón Trinidad. And in relation to what the peace process advisor, Shlomo Ben-Ami, said confirming that you had already brought this matter to the negotiating table with the Vice-President, Joe Biden.

And I would ask the President of the Government, Mariano Rajoy, about the length of time, the number of months it will take to remove the Schengen visa requirement, because in Colombia there was talk about the first half of the year. Since you are aware of the procedure at first hand, when do you believe, in light of the expectations of the Colombian people, that this requirement will be removed?

Mr. Santos.- The balance of this visit couldn't be more positive or more productive for all those reasons I mentioned at the start. I believe that in that regard we are in agreement with President of the Government Rajoy and the whole Spanish Government. It has been a most productive visit which undoubtedly strengthens our relations on all fronts. I will come away from this visit very satisfied and very grateful for the way in which the Spanish Government has received us and how it has responded to our various concerns and requests.

As regards extradition, I cannot remember having mentioned that word during this visit or at yesterday's forum. I was aware that the issue had been raised and what I can say is the following: it is an issue that will eventually be put on the table, because I don't believe that any guerrilla is going to hand over his weapons in order to go and die in a North American prison. But each issue has its corresponding time and place. When we reach the end of the process, it will fall to me, as President of the Republic to propose some form of solution to this issue to the North American authorities; an issue which is complex, an issue which is difficult, but an issue which must be resolved in order to ensure a successful peace process. To date, this issue has not been tackled with the North American authorities.

What Shlomo Ben-Ami said to me is that he imagined that I could have spoken with the Vice-President or with other top civil servants. The whole world expects that this will take place at some time, but that was not the occasion. I repeat, each issue has its corresponding time and place and, when it comes, and when we have made sufficient progress so as to raise this issue with the North American authorities, it will be duly raised, but not before.

President of the Government.- In relation to your question, the most important thing here is that the political decision is already adopted and what is left is to implement it. According to the information available, there are certain technical issues yet to be resolved. As far as I am concerned, it would be reckless of me to give a date, because the resolution of these technical issues is not down to me. What I will try to do, which doesn't necessarily mean that I will achieve it, is ensure that this takes place at the meeting between the European Union and CELAC in the month of June, hence in the first half of this year. We will do whatever is in our hands.

As I said, the political decision has been taken, which is what is important; but we would also like to see this resolved from a technical point of view and Spain - and this is one of the issues that we tackled today - through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and through whoever else we need to deal with to resolve this, will try, during the upcoming summit in June, in Brussels, to resolve this issue once and for all.

Q.- If President Santos will allow me, I wanted to ask the President of the Government two questions about domestic policy. Firstly, the unemployment figures have been announced today for the month of February and I wanted your assessment of them. Are you not concerned that, even though the bulk of your speech in the Debate on the State of the Nation revolving around the use of good economic figures such as today's, the survey by CIS in this regard gives a slight advantage to the leader of the PSOE?

Secondly, with three days to go until the start of the electoral campaign in Andalusia, certain information has come to light on new irregularities or on the irregularities in training courses in Andalusia. I wanted to know whether you consider that this could have a certain effect on these elections and what the government can do to avoid this type of incident taking place again.

President of the Government.- As regards your second question, I really don't know what type of effect this could have on calling elections. What it does have is a very negative effect on all those people who were going to or would have benefitted from these training courses for employment, but who could not in the end, because these courses were not given in many cases.

Taking into account that unemployment is the main problem in our country, and also in Andalusia, the fact that this has taken place is very negative, in addition to the fact that this undoubtedly gives a bad impression of those who managed the funds.

What will we do in the future? Change the training system in our country, as you are all aware and as I again announced in the Debate on the State of the Nation, based on the fact that this is a key issue. Employment is the main problem in Spain, as we are all aware. On many occasions there are no jobs because there is no economic activity, no investment and hence companies do not want to hire, but, on many occasions companies want to hire but cannot find people with the right qualifications. That is why allocating resources to training people is something absolutely fundamental and cases of fraud on this matter is something tremendously negative.

Secondly, the unemployment figures announced today. You are aware, because I also reiterated this on numerous occasions in the Debate on the State of the Nation that the aim of this legislature was, and remains, and moreover it must continue to be so in the future in our country, to create jobs and not have unemployment or as little as possible.

In the Debate on the State of the Nation I set a target of creating one million jobs in Spain between last year, 2014, and this year, 2015. Then in the next few years, we will need to work to reach the figure of 20 million people in work, as there were in our country at the time with the highest level of employment. Well, the figures we have seen today tell us, with absolute clarity, that this target can be reached. In particular, the National Insurance figure is wonderful - 96,000 more people affiliated to the Social Security system in a month that is not traditionally good, such as February, is wonderful. The figures on recorded unemployment, as well. We are talking about figures not seen since 2001.

Hence, what today's figures tell me is that we have to persevere, we have to continue working and it is fundamental to maintain the same economic policy, and it is fundamental to continue with the reforms, because that is what will lead Spain to create jobs.

We went through some awful years for employment and recovering these jobs takes time. But, if between the years 2014 and 2015 we are talking about one million more people who can work, then we are starting out a very positive path that will lead us to these three million jobs that I said would be created in the Debate on the State of the Nation.

As regards the surveys, the truth is that I can offer no explanation. I have been involved in nine Debates on the State of the Nation and, according to the surveys, I have won one, and only just. What do you want me to say? The problem must be mine since I cannot think of any other person to endorse this.

At any event, what is important is that these three million jobs are created.

Thank you very much.