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President Santos of Colombia: you have to draw a line between peace and justice


the global conversation

President Santos of Colombia: you have to draw a line between peace and justice

Isabelle Kumar
What future for Colombia ? After more than half a century of civil conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, in which more than 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed, and 7 million displaced, it looks like a historic peace deal is finally drawing that conflict to a close. It’s won Juan Manuel Santos the Noble Peace Prize – well the President joins me here in Paris.

Many thanks for being with me.

President Juan Manuel Santos
Thank you for having me.

euronews
So there is good news in Colombia – the ink is dry on that peace deal – and implementation seems to be going to plan?

Juan Manuel Santos
Yes something very important happened. 100% of the weapons that have been in the hands of the FARC have been commissioned to the United Nations. This is really the end of the FARC because there was a group that was an armed group and now has no arms. So they have disappeared as a guerilla group and now they have become a political party and they come into legality – which is what peace is all about.


Juan Manuel Santos

  • He has served two terms as President of Colombia
  • Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016
  • He signed a peace deal with the FARC in 2016
  • He is from one of the most politically influential families in Colombia

euronews
How can you know that 100% of those weapons have been decommissioned – how can you be so certain?

Juan Manuel Santos
No one ever knows if it’s 100% or not, but each member of the guerilla group has registered. They have to sign a pledge that they will never use arms again, each arm is registered. It is a very serious process. If you compare the process here with the FARC with other peace processes around the world, this is probably the most serious and the most detailed in the sense of the control of the decommissioning of arms.

euronews
But your critics will say you have been too lenient on the FARC in your bid to get this deal, in your bid to get this decommissioning – what do you say to that?

Juan Manuel Santos
My critics, what they want is for me to simply disappear the FARC through military means. This would have prolonged the war for 30-40 more years. Or they wanted me to put them in jail for 40 years. If you ask them to go to jail for 40 years they will never give up their arms. In a peace process you always have to draw a line between peace and justice.

euronews
It is ironic isn’t it, because you have said that the world recognises this peace process and the way it has to be implemented – but back home you are not very popular, your popularity ratings are extremely low – how do you explain that?

Juan Manuel Santos
Because making war is very easy and very popular. I was minister of defence and was very effective – that is why I was elected President. Making peace means you sit down with your enemies and you start making transactions in order to achieve that peace. People don’t like the FARC they have committed all kinds of atrocities for the last 50 years, so seeing the person who was militarily effective against them sitting down and making concessions, this is something that is not very popular or accepted. Let me tell you peace is much better than war and Colombia will flourish after this peace deal like never before.

euronews
You say that but there are elections coming up just next year and you cannot stand in those elections and members of the opposition are very keen to unpick this deal – so are you convinced that this will continue after your administration.

Juan Manuel Santos
Peace is irreversible right now. Whoever wins the election cannot go back. To think that the FARC might be armed again and go back to the mountains and keep shooting…

euronews
But they are very upset that the FARC will be given places in government for example – so that could possibly be reversed.

Juan Manuel Santos
The constitution today is what allows the FARC to become members of parliament. But this is part of the peace deal anywhere in the world. If you compare what we have done in Colombia with other peace processes, this is the first time in the history of the world that an armed conflict a guerilla group submits its weapons and accepts to be judged and condemned. This has never happened before. There will be no impunity.

euronews
This is a peace process, that although you have said it is Colombian, you have had to rely on the international community for support – you have recently met Donald Trump at the White House – how do you gauge his support for the peace process?

Juan Manuel Santos
He was very clear in the press conference and the peace process…

euronews
He did not mention the peace process in the press conference…

Juan Manuel Santos
He said he had support for Colombia, there was support in the Congress – the Republican party voted to increase the support for post conflict, so they cannot be more clear in their intentions. Fortunately we have had a very good bi-partisan relationship both with the Democrats and the Republicans and what I did in my last visit to Washington was to ratify that relationship.

euronews
You are obviously also working with the United States in the fight against drugs and that seemed to take up more of Donald Trump’s attention than the peace deal. He was pretty categorical in his approach to the fight against drugs and he said – “walls work” – do you agree with him?

Juan Manuel Santos
Drug trafficking is like a chain: we have to fight each link of that chain with the appropriate methods. We have to be very, very hard on the intermediaries, on people who make the profits – we have to be less hard on the peasant and the consumer here in Europe, the consumer in the United States is part of the problem also. It is a co-responsibility – the United States and Europe have a responsibility, and what Colombia is trying to achieve is a more effective and pragmatic approach to the war on drugs.

euronews
Does building walls come into that pragmatism?

Juan Manuel Santos
If you build a wall, drugs will go around the wall. So what you need is a more pragmatic approach to be more effective. The best walls you can build are economic development for central America, for South America, for people to not have the incentive to go to the north, the United States or Europe. The best wall is economic development in those countries.

euronews
So when it comes to economic development the cocaine trade is a problem for Colombia – Colombia is the biggest exporter in the world of cocaine…

Juan Manuel Santos
We still are, and the United States and Europe are still the biggest consumers.

euronews
So are they working hand-in-hand with you on this?

Juan Manuel Santos
We are working hand-in-hand with the United States, with Europe. This is a global problem that has to be dealt with globally. One country cannot win the war on drugs: two countries cannot win the war on drugs. This has to be a multi-lateral approach and this is what we in Colombia are trying to achieve, to again fight every link in the chain of drug trafficking.

euronews
You mentioned the European Union as a partner. The EU has pledged close to 95 million euros for building peace – what are you going to use that money for?

Juan Manuel Santos
Many things – de-mining for example – after Afghanistan we are the second most mined country in the world, we have to de-mine. We have to give the peasants and the people who are in the areas of conflict an alternative: build roads, build schools, build hospitals. We have to retrain members of the guerilla groups to become normal citizens – there is a big challenge there in the post-conflict process.

euronews
This has obviously not been a very easy path driving this peace deal- what role models have you had as you have pushed for this peace deal? How would you evaluate your strengths, but also your weaknesses?

Juan Manuel Santos
I have many weaknesses as a human being: maybe I am sometimes impatient, maybe I get mad because sometimes this happens or this doesn’t happen….

This peace process has been very difficult: no peace process is easy. We studied many peace processes and we took from each peace process what was applicable to Colombia – the IRA peace process, the South African peace process, the Salvadorian peace process, the Sri Lankan one, and I had a group of very good advisors with hands-on experience who advised me from the very beginning. If you have an objective and you want to achieve that objective you have to persevere. I was in the Navy and I was taught sailing: you have to have a port of destiny – you use the winds to get to that point of destiny and that is what we did with the peace process.

euronews
President, many thanks for having been with us on the global conversation.

Juan Manuel Santos
Thank you very much.

A full version of this interview can be seen at euronews.com/globalconversation

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Making peace is less popular than war - our full interview with Colombia's President Santos

the global conversation

Making peace is less popular than war - our full interview with Colombia's President Santos