Two years ago the Colombian government entered peace talks with the FARC rebels in neutral Cuba after half a century of armed struggle.
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos wants peace but says the post-war period will need international support.
He visited our Brussels office to talk to euronews’ Marta Vivas Chamorro.
euronews: “You are counting on the EU’s political and financial support. How much money are you hoping for?”
Juan Manuel Santos: “The main purpose of this visit is to seek political support that will speed up the conclusion of the peace talks. There are two main sticking points, the most complex and difficult, where we need international support. This international support is very important. The other support I’m looking for on this visit is for the creation of an EU institutional fund to finance peacetime projects. The sum is yet to be established, and I’m not yet looking for specific guarantees of financial resources.”
euronews: “At the recent UN General Assembly you said you were very close to agreement with the FARC. When will it be possible?”
Juan Manuel Santos: “It’s impossible to tell, I hope at the earliest possible date. The sooner we end the talks the more lives we’ll save and the more suffering we’ll avoid.”
euronews: “Do you still hope it’ll be this year?”
Juan Manuel Santos: “If I’m being realistic then, no, we won’t finish the negotiations this year, but I have the hope it will be as soon as possible.”
euronews: “As you said you are now at a decisive stage, so what are the remaining challenges you face?”
Juan Manuel Santos: “The hardest points remain unresolved. The hardest by far is linked to the victims and what we call ‘transitional justice’, or the way we apply justice during this period to ensure a peaceful transition. This is the heart of the problem in every armed conflict.”
euronews: “Mr. President, have you spoken or are going to speak about specific projects during your European trip? What are the top priorities for funding?”
Juan Manuel Santos: “Peace in Colombia will not only benefit Colombians, it will benefit the region and the whole world. This is because there is a specific point on the agenda; the drugs trade. We have engaged the state in co-operation with the guerrillas to replace criminal plantations with legal farming, and fight drugs barons.
“Colombia remains the world’s number one cocaine exporter and our exports come here to Europe, and the whole world. Imagine what that means, that the guerrillas, instead of helping these exports ally themselves with the state to wipe out the drugs trade once and for all. There’ll also be positive effects for the climate as deforestation will be slowed, and Colombia has the world’s richest biodiversity per square metre.”
euronews: “ Will these funds also be used to reduce inequalities?”
Juan Manuel Santos: “Of course, but that’s already a policy we are pursuing . In the last four years the country that has reduced poverty by the greatest percentage in Latin America is Colombia. We still have much to do but it is a fundamental objective because my vision for Colombia is a country at peace, more equal, and with better education.”
euronews: “Returning to the drugs trade a UN report says Colombia reduced its cocaine production by just 13 percent last year. Plenty of people are still growing these crops. Beyond the help the FARC can offer what measures is the government taking against the growers and dealers?”
Juan Manuel Santos: “We had some success because the big old mafias that once pressured Colombian democracy are no more. All the bosses are in jail or in a tomb. But the trade continues because as long as there’s demand in Europe, America, or internationally, someone will supply cocaine.”
euronews: “The latest news is that the FARC has demanded forgiveness for the victims. I wanted to ask you, Mr. President, is it right and fair that members of the FARC should be allowed into parliament and participate in political life. Many critical voices have been raised.”
Juan Manuel Santos: “This is what it means to talk peace. They will have to surrender their weapons, abandon violence, and then they can continue with politics, but by democratic means. This is the peace process. We will see if they win any seats in parliament, it may be part of the deal. The goal is for them to continue with their ideals and political struggle but without violence or weapons.”
euronews: “One of the talks’ most sensitive points has been disarmament. What can you tell us? There has been talk of laying down weapons but not surrendering them?”
Juan Manuel Santos: “It’s part of the negotiations. What is completely clear is that there is no possibility of the guerrillas remaining armed. Continuing in politics while still armed is crossing a red line; we cannot accept that and they know it.”
euronews: “Will we ever see pictures of guerrillas giving up their weapons to the government?”
Juan Manuel Santos: “At the moment it won’t be to the government, but that doesn’t matter. There are many cases of a third party participating in disarmament and ensuring weapons will never be used again We cannot have armed politics, it’s impossible and must not happen.”
euronews: “What would be the economic impact of such a peace in Colombia?”
Juan Manuel Santos: “Very significant economic and social benefits. We estimate that it could add an average 2 percent annual growth. We have Latin America’s highest growth rate, and in the first half of this year we hit 5 percent. With peace we could reach 7.2 percent if we add the ‘peace dividend’. But above all it’s everything that concerns development in the Colombian countryside. Social development is vital as we have six million internally displaced people, victims, and it’s hard for them to survive out of their environment.”
euronews: “Where are you in your talks with the ELN (National Liberation Army. Spanish: Ejército de Liberación Nacional)?”
Juan Manuel Santos: “We are having secret talks to see if we can, as we have done with the FARC, identify points in an agenda around which we could find an agreement to end the conflict.”
euronews: “Do you believe that could end up with a single peace process integrated with a FARC agreement?”
Juan Manuel Santos: “Yes, that could happen and I want it to happen.”