Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday explaining why he is negotiating with the country’s main rebel group FARC – considered terrorists by several countries – and asserting that Colombia is, and will continue to be, a success story.
“Peace in Colombia is finally within reach,” opened Santos in the Wall Street Journal.
The President wrote that while most sights are currently on the Middle East and other parts of the world, “there is an untold story of hope and success emerging out of the Americas.”
“It is a story that reaffirms the role of responsible national leadership and effective international action in today’s world.”
“An extraordinary transformation”
“Over the past decade, Colombia has undergone an extraordinary transformation in terms of improved security, economic growth and social development. Our country has gone from near failed state to being invited for membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in less than a generation.”
Indeed, Colombia was invited to begin the accession process into the OECD this year for the first time since the organization’s creation in 1961.
The improving security situation in the Colombia was praised on Tuesday by David Petraeus, former head of the CIA, who said that Colombia was a “model of hope” to the world.
The peace process
In Santos’ article, he pointed out that improved security has come despite “a brutal, 50-year internal armed conflict that has left over 220,000 dead, countless others wounded, and deep scars in our national psyche.”
“But for more than a year now, the government of Colombia and representatives of the FARC guerrilla group have been conducting serious negotiations in order to bring an end to this conflict.”
Santos claimed that the stage had finally been set for peace.
“The conditions for peace have been created gradually over the years through a combination of military strength, the rule of law, economic reforms, progressive social policies and, crucially, the support of the international community. It is not often that the interests of the U.N., the European Union, the Organization of American States and countries like the United States, Cuba, Venezuela, Chile and Norway—among others—converge for a common purpose.”
“But in this case they have, because the opportunity is real,” said Colombia’s President.
“If the peace talks are successful, the benefits will be enormous”
Santos praised ongoing peace talks that began in November 2012 in Havana, Cuba, with the country’s oldest and largest rebel group, FARC, and said that the success of such talks could have an international impact.
“If the peace talks… are successful, the benefits to the region and the world will be enormous. Hemispheric security will be greatly enhanced. The values of democracy will be strengthened globally. The arguments for using terrorism and violence to achieve political aims will be weakened.”
“And of course, we will have a badly needed, highly visible example of the international community working together to resolve one of the world’s oldest conflicts.”
“A peaceful, 50-million strong, democratic, globalized Colombia in the heart of the Americas will be a powerful symbol of hope and an economic engine that will contribute to the rise of Latin American prosperity.”
“Peace requires patience”
Santos did caution that the country is not out of the water yet: “Negotiating with our enemies is an extremely difficult task.”
“War is easier. War is far more spectacular than peace. I know because I was Colombia’s minister of defense; I delivered the most devastating military setbacks to the FARC in their history.”
Santos served as Colombia’s Minister of Defense between 2006 and 2009, during the presidency of Alvaro Uribe.
“Peace, on the other hand, requires patience, discretion and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. And peace has many enemies. Yet nothing is more urgent than achieving it.”
Colombia’s head of state went on to emphasize that even after an agreement is reached, it will still take time to completely develop and cultivate peace in the country. He also called upon other countries to help support Colombia’s “right to peace.”
“We are the ones who have to find the right balance between justice and peace”
After receiving criticism from international organizations such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) for suggesting that those who committed crimes against humanity and war crimes could receive lenient sentences, if such leniency would result in a lasting peace, Santos has felt the need to assure the international community that such crimes would be properly punished.
Colombia’s President emphasized however that the Colombian government would be making the final decisions: “We are putting together the comprehensive legal framework needed for a transitional justice based on international law. There will be no amnesty, but we are the ones who have to find the right balance between justice and peace. This decision will be made democratically by the Colombian people.”
Santos acknowledged the rights of the countless victims of the 49-year armed conflict, and noted that there are few people under the age of 70 in Colombia who have not known what violence “feels like.”
He concluded his op-ed by writing about the future: “As president, I have assumed the responsibility of making sure that our children and grandchildren learn about the conflict only from history books.”
This comes after what Santos called a ‘very positive’ trip to New York and the United Nations.
Despite his claims, Santos’ popularity is suffering back home, with just 19% of the population saying that they would vote for him in the upcoming elections, to be held in May 2014.
Why I’m Talking to Terrorists in Colombia (Santos, Wall Street Journal)