Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a particular pleasure to be able to return to Colombia this time with my darling wife exactly forty years after I sailed into Cartagena as a young naval officer on board the frigate, H.M.S. Minerva. I thought this may have been at about the same time that the President was serving as a naval cadet but I have discovered today that he had already finished his Naval service having started rather earlier, and younger, than I did! My naval journal records that not only did I spend a day diving on a seventeenth century Spanish wreck (not, I hate to say, on a British one!) just outside the harbour, but I also carried the Naval Colour during a parade through the crowded streets of Cartagena to celebrate the birthday of Simon Bolívar.
If I may say so, it seems particularly appropriate, therefore, that we should be dining this evening in the Simon Bolívar Room; we’re under the steady gaze of the man who might justly be described as the Father of Colombia. Over five thousand British men served under Bolívar in the "British Legions", most notably, of course, at the Battle of BoyacÃ¡, thereby setting the stage for an enduring friendship between our two countries that has continued to the present day. It has been a great joy to see this relationship flourish on so many fronts in recent years.
During this visit to Colombia, my wife and I will see many examples of the modern relationship between our two countries. Today in BogotÃ¡ I have already seen how this relationship ranges from harps to rugby, not to mention sheep...! My wife and I are also delighted to be able to celebrate the bilateral defence relationship and to returning a degree of hospitality, Mr. President - when we receive you and Mrs Santos on board H.M.S. Argyll on Friday.
Ladies and Gentlemen, for my part, I am greatly looking forward to travelling to the Colombian Amazon tomorrow with the President to learn about his Government's Amazon 2020 Vision. As some of you may know, for many years I have been deeply concerned about the fate of the world's tropical rainforests and the Colombian Amazon (as well as the Biogeographical Chocó) is, of course, home to some of the world's most remarkable and culturally and biologically diverse remaining forests. Whether we like it or not, these great forest ecosystems and their unique biodiversity are the insurance policy for our collective futures. Without the integrity of Nature’s economy, our own economy cannot function. It is not the other way round...
In the early 1990s, I was inspired to learn of the commitments made by one of President Santos' illustrious predecessors, Virgilio Barco, to the establishment of the great indigenous resguardos, or reserves, in Putumayo and elsewhere. These gained international recognition at the time, as did the work of the President's adviser, the anthropologist Martin von Hildebrand, with a number of the indigenous peoples in the Colombian Amazon. This inspired initiative felt historically right - a visionary statement of Colombia's commitment to the survival of the indigenous peoples and the forests of which they are custodians over time. As it happens, I drew particular attention to this far-sightedness in a lecture I gave at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew back in 1990...
It is so encouraging, therefore, to learn of President Santos's and his Government's ongoing commitment to the conservation of the Colombian Amazon and I shall be fascinated to learn more tomorrow about what is envisaged, and to seeing Chiribiquete National Park and Caño Cristales.
My wife and I will also be present with President and Mrs Santos at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation where we are deeply touched to have been invited to pay tribute to the lives that have been lost, and where we will take this opportunity to reiterate our solemn hopes and prayers for the success of the Colombian peace process.
If I may, I would like to take a moment this evening to congratulate President Santos for his leadership and vision in advancing the peace process. We know from our own experience in the United Kingdom that the achievement of lasting peace and reconciliation takes time, political leadership, courage and public support.
What a unique contribution to this fractured world it would be if Colombia in all its cultural and regional diversity, and having suffered such a dreadfully painful conflict for so long could find a lasting and durable peace. What an inspiring signal this would send...
I have learnt just how central to the success of the process will be the issue of land and rural development. As someone who believes that at the end of the day genuine, long term food security depends on the survival of small farmers all over the world, may I also express my support for the Government's efforts to ensure integrated and sustainable rural development and access to land for Colombia's smallholder farmers?
Perhaps, in addition, I may be permitted to congratulate Colombia for her ongoing leadership in the multilateral sphere, including in the key environmental discussions concerning the Sustainable Development Goals in relation to which, Mr President, the world is indebted to you for your crucial leadership and in the Climate Change negotiations, both of which of course come to a head in the vital year of 2015.
I can only pray, Mr. President, that the much yearned-for peace in Colombia will also, when it comes, lead to and, indeed, be based upon a more harmonious and truly sustainable relationship with your uniquely precious and varied natural environment, on which all of us, and our successors, will depend for so many of the blessings of this life...
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I ask you to join me in a toast to President and Mrs Santos, and to a truly peaceful future for the people of Colombia.