(As prepared for delivery.)
I'll keep my remarks brief to leave more time for everyone to talk and enjoy the impressive crowd the Alliance has gathered here this evening.
As I look at the many diverse organizations represented here tonight – and the variety of programs covered by our partnership – it can be a challenge sometimes to see the unity.
But I believe a recent experience of mine can provide important context for all of our various exchange programs and serve to remind us of why they remain an essential element of our foreign policy.
Last week I was in Colombia for the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Dialogue.
I had the privilege of chairing the Education, Sports, and Culture Working Group and was joined by colleagues who engaged on topics ranging from joint efforts to counter illegal narcotics trafficking to advancing regional security to expanding our economic partnership.
It was gratifying to see all the dimensions of the work of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs come together in support of the strong bilateral relationship between the United States and Colombia and in support of U.S. foreign policy goals in a key region.
Colombia is at an historic crossroads.
After more than fifty years of armed conflict, the Colombian Congress approved a peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – the FARC – in November 2016.
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs programs support Colombia’s and the U.S. Embassy in Bogota’s efforts to secure a just and lasting peace.
Our programs strengthen Colombian educational institutions and teaching, communities and networks, support the Colombian government’s efforts to build a bilingual Spanish-English society, and engage the next generation of young leaders.
One measure of the success of our outreach is what alumni of U.S. government exchange programs have gone on to do.
I’m confident you’ll find the following examples of the power of a U.S. exchange experience as compelling as I do.
The President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, was a Fulbright Foreign Student at Tufts University’s Fletcher School in academic year 1980-1981.
In 2016, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his resolute efforts to bring the country's more than 50-year-long civil war to an end.
"In addition to President Santos, five former presidents of Colombia – yes, five – are alumni of U.S. government exchanges, including César Gaviria Trujillo, who also served as Secretary General of the Organization of American States.
Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship alumna, Paula Moreno Zapata, who served as Minister of Culture, was the first Afro-Colombian to reach cabinet rank in Colombia’s history.
In Bogota, I met a number of distinguished alumni who are working in government, the military, academia, and civil society to advance the Colombian peace process.
Another measure of our success is how closely Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs programs align with and advance U.S. foreign policy goals.
In Colombia, I’m pleased to say we are batting a thousand.
Key areas of policy engagement in Colombia include education, English language instruction, and youth outreach.
Running through all of these areas is the very important and relevant theme of social inclusion.
Even a most cursory look at U.S.-Colombian cooperation shows the relevance of people-to-people programs.
In the field of education, we have:
All aspects of the Fulbright Program--students, scholars, English Teaching Assistants, Specialists, and Foreign Language Teaching Assistants active in Colombia;
EducationUSA has 11 advising centers; and
Our community college initiative is helping young Colombians develop the skills they will need to work in emerging fields such as agriculture and tourism.
The English Access Microscholarship Program is a top priority in Colombia and across the region;
I had the privilege of meeting with some current Access students, as well as several alumni and I am confident our investment in empowering the next generation of Colombian leaders is and will continue to pay dividends.
In the area of youth outreach:
Our Youth Ambassadors Program will bring fifteen Colombian participants to the United States in June. More than 130 Colombians have participated in the program since 2010;
Our Museums Connect program brought a Medellin museum together with the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, in New York to encourage young people from both countries to develop creative solutions that apply science, technology, engineering, art, and math to their community needs;
Our Sports Diplomacy Division sent former U.S. Women’s National Team soccer player Lori Lindsey to Colombia last year and brought Sports Visitors from Colombia to the U.S. for a girls’ softball program; and
In 2017, more than 5,000 Colombians came to the United States as part of the Exchange Visitor Program, notably Au Pair, Summer Work Travel, and College and University Students.
This unity of purpose – a comprehensive, mutually reinforcing, foreign policy-focused purpose – is, and will remain, our focus in Colombia and around the world.
I thank the Alliance and all of our exchange partners for your support in our shared pursuit of advancing America’s foreign policy objectives.
I also wish to thank Congress for its many years of strong bipartisan support for international people-to-people engagement.
I believe we all agree that exchanges are American values in action.
Thank you and I look forward to continuing my conversations with you in the course of the evening.