The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech in Bogota – 10 June 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made in Bogota on Wednesday 10th June 1992.


Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I say firstly how good it is to be back in Colombia. I came here in 1984 for my first visit and several things struck me when I made that visit at that time – the courage, the warmth and the friendliness of the people of Colombia as well as the beauty of the country was the thing that struck most in my mind through those years. It made at that time a very deep and a very lasting impression upon me, I was determined than to come back but I am delighted to have had the opportunity of doing so in the last day or so.

It is often said, sometimes by realists and sometimes by cynics, that people get the leaders they deserve. If that is so then I think the people of Colombia are both fortunate and to be congratulated. In ex-President Barco and in President Gaviria they have chosen leaders exemplary for their courage and for their capacity and willingness to tackle deep-seated and difficult problems.

But I am glad also to be back here in Colombia today because in our own way we are making a little bit of history. Anglo-Colombian relations go back a long way. One of the very first contacts was in Cartagena, where I had the pleasure of a most enjoyable evening last night. Francis Drake, whom I must claim some ancestral responsibility for, at least on a nations basis, visited in 1586, I am not sure he was your most welcome visitor over the past 500 years, but there was at least one positive result from that visit – the construction of the magnificent ramparts of Cartagena. Admiral Vernon with 27,000 men and 3,000 artillery pieces had planned a visit a little later, in 1741, but Blas de Leso had other ideas and on that occasion he carried the day.

Since then Anglo/Colombian naval relations have been perhaps on a slightly more even keel than they were during those two visits. And since the time of the naval mission before the Second World War we have built a pattern of fruitful cooperation which continues to this day and will continue in the future.

But our links of course were in no sense limited to the sea. Britain has played a prominent and I think honourable part in Simon Bolivar’s campaign for the liberation of Colombia. And many of those who fought alongside him in those campaigns stayed on to link their fortunes and those of their descendants with the new nation.

In Belgrave Square we have a statue of the liberator and on that statue are inscribed some of his own words, and perhaps I might quote them to you, they read as follows:

“I am convinced that England alone is capable of protecting the world’s precious rights as she is great, glorious and wise.”

It was very generous of him to write in that fashion. Later in a letter to General Sucre, Simon Bolivar wrote that he was, and I quote again from his letter: “beside myself with joy and happiness at the very thought that our interests and policies may be linked with Great Britain”.

That is the end of the quote but the courage, the idealism and the dynamism of the man who wrote those words are an inspiration for all of us today who want to make a success of the partnership between Britain and Colombia. It is a partnership that I believe is secure, it is a partnership I have no doubt after my discussions with President Gaviria over the last two days that is set to remain and to grow in the years ahead.

At the time of the liberation we bore arms together. Since then our cooperation has taken a more peaceful turn trade, investment, the development of cultural and educational links. And now our two governments are working together on another vitally important matter, working together to combat the evils of drug trafficking.

And I would like to salute President Gaviria and his predecessor for the immensely brave stand that they have taken on that subject. I launched our bilateral cooperation at the United Nations when I was Foreign Secretary in 1989. Since then it has been a success, it is helping to save lives and during my visit I want to build on those foundations. There is real scope for increased cooperation in trade and investment, British Petroleum’s recent find at Cusiana, which the President and I and many others had the opportunity of visiting this morning, is one good example.

But a crucial element, an element that is fundamental to the relationship, is our shared commitment to democracy. For us in the United Kingdom the most encouraging development in Colombia has been the growing vitality of democracy in your country. I mentioned ex-President Barco, now active in the cause of Angle-Colombian relations as Ambassador in London, I should also mention Luis Carlos Galan and the worldwide shock of his evil murder. President Gaviria showed enormous courage in stepping into the breach, I pray tribute, unreservedly, to his leadership then and subsequent.

And yet that same courage is visible elsewhere. It is I believe visible in the efforts of many Colombians, many prominent, many less prominent, some almost unknown, who continue to make your democratic institutions work despite the dangers that exist.

That courage and the President’s leadership has been rewarded by the strides that Colombia has made, the calling of a constituent assembly, the new constitution, progress in bringing many of the guerrillas to the negotiating table and then into the political mainstream, the prosecution of the war against the drug barons and the progressive liberalisation of the economy. Those are remarkable achievements upon which all Colombians deserve to be congratulated.

Our cooperation in many of those areas, based on a shared cultural heritage, is reason enough for a British Prime Minister to come here. But there is another reason. We have not forgotten and will not forget the principled stand that Colombia took in 1982 condemning the unjustifiable use of force. So, Mr President, I take pride in being the first British Prime Minister to visit Colombia, indeed I believe the first British Prime Minister in office to visit South America.

The Joint Declaration that we have signed sets the seal on our friendship. It expresses our determination to develop that friendship in all its aspects. Britain is at present the third largest foreign investor in Colombia. British Petroleum has a 40 percent interest in Cusiana. There are subsidiaries of 22 British companies working here.

The President and I have agreed in the last 2 days that we will negotiate an investment promotion and protection agreement to encourage even more investment in the years ahead. Our anti-narcotics programme, bilaterally and through the European Community, is worth nearly 20 million sterling. Kenneth Clarke, our Home Secretary, looks forward to visiting Colombia later this year to assess that programme and to see what more we can do to help. I want to build more of that Ministerial cooperation in the coming years and I am sure the luncheon may care to know that I have invited the President to visit Britain as our guest next year.

Mr President, the winds of change have been blowing through our own European continent, they have blown away in the whole of the Eastern half of that continent the tyrannies of the last 50 years and brought in democracies and free markets. Because our eyes have been so firmly fixed on that peaceful revolution we have perhaps overlooked the peaceful revolution in Latin America for the winds of change have been blowing through your continent as well.

In this country you have a long tradition of democracy. Elsewhere in the hemisphere democracy and constitutional rule have been returned and have been reinforced. Free markets, essential, essential to individual liberty and choice and economic growth, free markets have been opened up.

In the 19th century Britain and Latin America were significant trading partners. How ironic it is that as the jet age began after the Second World War so our paths diverged. Now there is nothing to stop them coming together again, and indeed there is every reason today for them to come together again. The well of historical, cultural and commercial ties has in no sense run dry. Latin America is a source of inspiration in many fields: literary, cultural, economic.

Yours is a region of infinite natural resource and environmental potential. It is a region moving towards full democracy, an open trading system, steady economic growth, sound administration and respect for human rights. These are firm foundations for our rediscovered relationship.

Colombia herself, if I may say so, symbolises this transformation. You face problem on a huge scale from drugs trafficking and terrorists. You have tackled them heroically. You have secured growth in the economy every year for the past 30 years, you have not had to reschedule your debts. You have preserved and strengthened democratic institutions.

Those are, by any reckoning, substantial achievements and how much greater will Colombia’s achievements be once the violence against which you have fought so long has been conquered.

I have no doubt in saying that I believe the future is bright here in Colombia. My government has recognised the significance of the transformation the Colombians themselves have brought about. We look forward to being South America’s partner, to being Colombia’s partner, in a common future that lies ahead of us. We look forward to building that relationship in the years ahead.

In our bilateral relationships there is much to be done. But President Gaviria, I believe you and I can claim that we have made a good start in the last two days and in the months and years ahead I look forward to your government and my government continuing that start and building upon it. Thank you for your hospitality today.