President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos has politics in his DNA, the fourth member of his family to become head of state, succeeding Álvaro Uribe last year. He is also a hardliner in the fight against the FARC rebels. In the war on drugs he seeks international cooperation. euronews interviewed him in Paris on his first state visit to Europe.
euronews: President Santos, you have inflicted some of the hardest blows ever to the FARC guerilla, first as defense minister, now as president. Does this mean that you give priority to arms over dialogue?
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos: I do not think the two are incompatible. Weapons are needed at times to get to a dialogue. That’s what we want: to be able to build a dialogue on solid bases. To achieve that, many times weapons are required.
euronews: The Democratic Security Policy designed by Álvaro Uribe and continued by you has moved the fight against insurgents ahead, undeniably. But has also attracted heavy criticism, with scandals such as the so-called ‘false positives’: the murder of innocent civilians who were claimed as rebels killed. Is that water under the bridge?
Santos: It is, without a doubt. It never was a part of an organised political plan; it was the product of actions by some people who were completely unhitched from politics. In the end, the Democratic Security Policy is a policy that protects human rights. It seeks to restore certain liberties: the right to live, and the right to freedom for all Colombians. What you say is, fortunately, water under the bridge. Those people must now be brought before justice.
euronews: The FARC are showing signs of weakness with the disappearance in the past three years of some of their main leaders: Manuel Marulanda “Tirofijo” and Raul Reyes, among others. Are we perhaps witnessing the end of the guerrilla?
Santos: I don’t like to say that the end of the FARC is at hand, because they could endure. But yes, they have been weakened in the past few years. They no longer control such a vast territory, and we are going to keep pushing the rebels to a point of no return. This means we are evicting them. If they come back, it will be to find a hostile population. We are getting there.
euronews: Let’s talk about ‘Plan Colombia’, the anti-narcotics programme basically financed by the United States. Several Colombian governments have tried to get Europe involved in that strategy, unsuccessfully. Why is the EU hanging back?
Santos: I’ve never understood why. They thought that the plan was mainly military-oriented and not enough socially-oriented. Now, it’s the contrary, I would say. It’s more social, less military. That’s why I’m hoping to have the Europeans help us build this up, which is the best way to fight drug-trafficking.
euronews: That’s on this visit’s agenda?
Santos: Without a doubt, but not only that. Also on the agenda is how Colombia can help other countries: in Central America, the Caribbean, Africa and Mexico.
euronews: Speaking of Mexico, another Latin American country which is severely destabilised by drug-trafficking… Is there a real risk of Mexico becoming a “narco-state” if the government is unsuccessful in the current war against the drug barons?
Santos: No, there’s no such risk. President Calderon is showing great courage. He has confronted some very violent and brutal drug lords, because that’s the only way out. We’ve done it in the past, even though we took too long to move and, as a result, had bloodshed. If we want to preserve our democracies and institutions we have to stand up to them with strength. That’s what Mexico is doing.
euronews: In Colombia, if cocaine production and trafficking are eradicated, does that also finish off the rebels at the same time? What’s your opinion about Colombian ex-president César Gaviria’s proposal to legalize soft drugs to counter-balance the illegal traffic and the violence and corruption generated by that traffic? Could that work in Colombia?
Santos: It is a growing trend in the world. There are a lot of people proposing solutions like Presidents Gaviria, Cardoso and Zedillo did. But it will never work unless it’s applied worldwide. You a single country or small group of countries cannot do it; it has to be a global policy, as the fight against drug trafficking must also be. We need to operate in common.
euronews: Relations between Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador were very tense under President Álvaro Uribe. With Venezuela we had the impression – correct me if I’m wrong – that an armed confrontation was very close. Have things cooled down under your presidency?
Santos: No doubt. Today, we have normalised relations with Ecuador and Venezuela. We have exchanged ambassadors and we have an agenda. This benefits our countries and the whole region because it’s always better to have the possibility of dialogue, even if we think differently. President Chavez thinks in one way and I in another, but we respect our differences. That’s the most important thing. When two presidents fight, the people suffer the consequences.
euronews: Latin America experienced a severe economic crisis in the 1980s and although the causes are not the same as the current financial turmoil in Europe, the experts see certain similarities. With this experience, what advice would you give Europe to deal with the current economic downturn?
Santos: I might sound a bit arrogant, but Europe should learn from Latin America. In this latest crisis, the financial sector of the main Latin American countries has barely suffered any consequences, because we had policies and rules in place protecting us from what happened in other parts of the world. The same thing is not happening in Europe. Why? Because we’ve learned from our many crises. Europe has neither had a crisis like this one before, nor does it have our experience.
euronews: To conclude: is Colombia today a safe country for foreign investment?
Santos: Sure. And it’s not just me saying that; the World Bank, for example, says so in it’s ‘Doing Business’ guide. Colombia has become one of the countries that better protect foreign investments. I compare my strategy to personal relationships; Say one says that a person is predictable, is thought to be boring. Well, I want Colombia to be boring concerning foreign investments, in other words predictable, with clear rules of play, and stability. That’s what we want and that’s why investors can be reassured.