In his last accountability session before the end of his first term in office, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday highlighted his outgoing administration’s accomplishments while recognizing there was much more work to be done.
Santos led the four-hour presentation with his administration’s ministers thus:
“Above all, at this point in time, the greatest challenge is [achieving] peace: to continue spreading the peace that we are building together,” said Santos in his opening address at the Presidential Palace in Bogota, Casa de Nariño.
Reflecting upon his first four years in office, Santos said, “I recall moments of great satisfaction but also a lot of frustration, precisely because there’s so much to be done.”
Santos’ hailed his administration’s successful attempts to renew relations with Ecuador and Venezuela, neighboring countries who both severed diplomatic ties with Colombia during former president Alvaro Uribe‘s administration.
Santos claimed the Pacific Alliance between Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Chile is “today the most successful, integrated [trade agreement] in Latin America,” as well as a driving force behind Colombia’s increasing integration into the world. He added that today, Colombian producers have access to more than 500 million consumers.
Regarding the increase in international visitors, Santos said close to 3.7 million tourists visited the South American nation during his term who “can tell the world about the new Colombia.”
In the first quarter of 2014 alone, international visitors to Colombia increased by 12% with more than half a million visitors this year to date, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
As the second fastest growing economy in the world and with record levels of foreign investment, “we are currently experiencing quite possibly the best economic times in [Colombia’s] history,” said Santos. He also said that Colombia has the highest rate of foreign investment in the region.
Santos also stressed the positive aspects of tax reforms implemented during his first term. He said that in no way do the reforms reduce the income of Colombia’s middle and lower classes, with only the wealthiest 1% of Colombia’s workforce, roughly 143,000 employees, noticing deductions from their paychecks.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas said the good performance of Colombia’s economy enables the government to extend its social policy, with more than half of 2015’s budget earmarked for social investment.
Santos claimed 2.5 million Colombians were lifted out of poverty and another 1.3 million out of extreme poverty, a figure roughly “the population of Medellin [Colombia’s second largest city],” he said.
Access to potable water had been extended to another 3.5 million Colombians, the president claimed.
Santos said his government has begun a housing “revolution” following a scheme to build 900,000 homes. According to the president, one in nine dwellings constructed during his administration’s housing program were given to Colombia’s “poorest of the poor” free of charge.
Among social improvement plans implemented or improved upon during Santos’ first term were Families in Action, Youth in Action, the Victim Reparation Law, and Zero to Forever.
Families in Action is a government program that benefits more than 4.7 million children, giving nutritional and educational subsidies to the children of very low income, displaced and indigenous families.
“Not only did we reach our goal to create 2.5 million employers, we exceeded that mark by 100,000,” Santos claimed.
Job creation had been one of Santos’ flagship policies at the beginning of his government in 2010 when unemployment rates were in double digits. According to Colombia’s statistics agency, the country’s unemployment rate dropped from 11.8% in 2010 to 9.6% last year.
While having failed to secure a higher education reform, Santos claimed successes in primary and secondary education.
“We guaranteed free education for all children and youth in public schools” by amplifying education subsidies.
In terms of infrastructural improvement, Santos’ administration has overseen the construction of 385 miles of two-lane roads, 140 bridges, 5.4 miles of tunnels, and improved more than 620 miles of the nation’s highways.
Santos also pointed out that every municipality in Colombia is now connected to broadband.
Vice-Minister of Justice Miguel Samper claimed “6.8 million Colombians have resolved their conflicts through the justice system” owing to the nearly $800,000 invested in reducing congestion within the clogged judicial system.
Minister for the Interior Aurelio Iragorri said that in four years, 311 laws have been approved, “represent[ing] a momentous change in the lives of Colombians.”
Santos also praised the 2011 congressional ratification of the “Victims’ Reparation Law,” regulating the compensation of approximately four million victims of Colombia’s armed conflict.
The “Victims’ Reparation Law” allows victims of violence committed by left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and state officials after 1985 to claim financial compensation between approximately $4,500 and $11,000.
The law, officially called Law 1448 of 2011, also allows displaced farmers to reclaim land that was stolen or obtained under threats by illegal armed groups or their henchmen.
Santos failed to mention several important matters relating to the judicial system for which he received criticism during his first term in office. For example, overcrowding in Colombia’s prisons led to prison authorities declaring an emergency over inhumane conditions in its penitentiaries in May 2013.
At that time, five prisons in Bogota alone had an overcrowding rate of 70%, according to Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office.
In addition to the prison crisis, impunity rates remain extremely high in Colombia, with the impunity rate for sexual violence soaring to 98% in 2014.
Impunity rates for “false positives” perpetrators also remain high. Seven years after the “false positives” scandal broke — in which civilians were murdered by members of the public security forces and presented as guerrillas slain in combat — only 27.6% of those forces believed to have participated in the practice have been investigated. Furthermore, only 15% have been charged with a crime.
Santos’ administration also received considerable flack from the United Nations and Human Rights Watch when Colombia’s Congress approved a controversial bill in June 2013 that expanded the authority of military tribunals over crimes committed by members of the same military.
The military justice reform was approved in the last regular voting round of Colombia’s House of Representatives in spite of heavy criticism that the reform would grant impunity to members of the military guilty of killing innocent civilians.
Santos said that the reduction in the rate of homicides and kidnappings in the country, as well as progress in the fight against Bacrim (organized crime syndicates), is better than ever.
“Like never before we have hit hard illegal armed groups and reduced crime,” said the president.
Kidnappings fell by 8.9% nationwide and homicide rates have been reduced by 18%, the lowest rate in the past 12 year.
Armed conflict / peace process
The Colombian government and the FARC, the country’s largest rebel group, have been negotiating an end to Colombia’s 50+ year armed conflict in Havana, Cuba since November 2012.
The formal peace talks have been divided into a six-point agenda covering:
1. Land reform
2. Political participation
3. Drug trafficking
4- Victims’ rights
5. Rebel disarmament
6. The implementation of the peace deal
In more recent developments, five days before his re-election on June 10, Santos announced the government would also engage in peace talks with the ELN, Colombia’s second largest rebel group.
“Today we have the best military and police forces in the history [of Colombia], both in [terms of] equipment and capabilities,” said Santos.
During Santos’ administration there was a 37.2% decrease in terrorist acts, according to a report from the Ministry of National Defense,
More than 65 leaders of Colombia’s largest guerilla group, the FARC, were neutralized during Santos’ first term. Among them were the FARC’s two most important leaders, Victor Julio Suarez, nom de guerre “Mono Jojoy,” killed in September 2010, and Guillermo Leon Saenz, nom de guerre “Alfonso Cano,” killed in November 2011.
Santos and his new administration will officially take office on Thursday.
- Introducción del Presidente Juan Manuel Santos en la jornada de Rendición de Cuentas (Office of the Presidency)
- ‘Hemos hecho una revolución en vivienda’: Santos (Office of the Presidency)
- ‘Hemos sacado de la pobreza 2.5 millones de colombianos’: Presidente Santos (Office of the Presidency)
- ‘Tenemos una verdadera revolución en materia de infraestructura’: Presidente Santos (Office of the Presidency)
- Estamos pasando por el mejor momento económico de nuestra historia: Presidente Santos (Office of the Presidency)
- El Presidente Santos declaró que Colombia está cada vez más integrada al mundo (Office of the Presidency)