He will have to deal with a very polarized nation - between right and left; between supporters and opposers of the peace process with the guerrillas.
Euronews' Ana Lazaro Bosch interviewed him as he conducts his first European tour, where he traveled to gather support in the face of the crisis in Venezuela.
One of the issues that brought you to Brussels is the refugee crisis. It is estimated that one million Venezuelans have entered Colombia, fleeing the economic crisis in their home country. That is a huge number. What is the situation for these people?
Since our government came into power, what we have done is to say with great warmth to the Venezuelan people that our immigration policy is a policy of open arms. First by showing understanding, because they are fleeing dictatorial persecution.
And what we want to do in Colombia is to really normalize migration, to provide humanitarian assistance. Obviously, there are many people in incredibly vulnerable situations. So this represents fiscal and social pressure for Colombia.
What do you expect from the European Union in this regard? Brussels has already unlocked a fund of 35 million euro for humanitarian aid in the region. During your meetings with European leaders, have you reached any other agreement?
Several. First of all, we are grateful for the economic support. The other thing to be done is to face the cause of this crisis. I believe that the world has to be stricter on the sanctions that are applied individually to the dictator and to the people who form his inner circle.
Your relations with Venezuela are far from cordial, you speak of dictatorship. The Spanish government has proposed opening a path of dialogue with President Nicolás Maduro, to go beyond the sanctions that the European Union has imposed. What do you think of opening a dialogue?
I don’t believe that the dialogue with a dictator who is committing systematic crimes every day has produced any results so far. What the international community should look for is for the dictator to leave power, and for a transition to be made so that Venezuelans can recover their freedoms.
At some point, it has been said that you favoured a military intervention to overthrow him. Is that true?
I have always said the opposite. I have always said that the solution is not a military one. Because that is what the dictator always wanted. The dictator wants to create the demon of a military intervention to use that as an excuse to perpetuate himself in power.
From your predecessor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Juan Manuel Santos, you have inherited the peace agreement he made with the FARC rebels. You criticized it harshly during the electoral campaign. First you said you wanted to cancel it, and then that you wanted to modify it. Now that you are president, what do you want to maintain and what do you want to change?
I never said I was going to cancel the agreement. During the electoral campaign, I was very clear about the things that could go wrong. And now, as president, I have said what I always said: that we are going to implement it, mainly focusing on a transition to reincorporate the guerillas. All those who are genuinely making a successful transition to reincorporation, we will support them. And we will have zero tolerance with those who want to turn back to a life of crime.
Will all the demobilized guerrilla leaders be able to participate in the political process?
What we cannot have in Colombia is a double standard, where a person who is in Congress and commits a crime can never again aspire to that position, and those who have committed crimes against humanity remain there.
But there are precedents in Europe. For example, in Northern Ireland, some leaders of the IRA terrorist group participated in politics. Don’t you think that by not letting these guerrilla leaders participate, you are distorting the essence of the agreements?
First, they are already participating. And second, what is established is that they have to go through transitional justice. But since you bring me international examples, there is also one that is very interesting in the case of Spain: Basque politician Arnaldo Otegi. Otegi was not able to participate in a recent election because of his crimes.
But there has not been a peace process in Spain. In Northern Ireland and in Colombia, there were.
But in the case of Colombia, when the process was agreed, it was always established that there would be a transitional justice based on the principles of truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition.
The European Union has created a trust fund of 95 million euros to consolidate this peace process. Do you think that this fund will continue to flow?
Without any doubt. And I also celebrate their continued support. It is an important support for us to have a successful implementation that allows people, who are genuinely making a transition for reincorporation, to do so successfully.
Another pending issue in Colombia is that of drugs. It is estimated that there are some 200,000 hectares of illicit crops. What policy will you adopt?
First, we have to work on substituting the crops and eradicating them. We will comply with the voluntary substitution and eradication agreements that were signed. But we will also keep other tools available. Among other things, improving illegalization, breaking the supply chain and of course being much more effective in capturing and fighting against money launderers, extinguishing the cartels’ assets.
Are you cooperating with the US administration to fight drug trafficking?
We have always cooperated. From the government of President Clinton when the Colombia plan began, then President Bush, President Obama and now President Trump. What Colombia has had is not only an ally, but a very good aid worker. And the shared work has been very important to distort or dismantle the organized crime networks that exist in the country.
It was clear during the elections that Colombia is a very polarized country. Recently, Pope Francis asked you to work for reconciliation. Don’t you think that if you apply both liberal and conservative policies, there is a risk that this gap widens?
I think it's the opposite. I was proud of my campaign because there was no aggression towards any contender. And receiving that support from the Pope to continue working for unity seems to be very positive.
To finish this interview, I would like to ask you what you think about the leader of the Brazilian far right, Jair Bolsorano. Do you have points of agreement with him? For example, on his economic policies?
As president of Colombia, I do not like to take sides with regards to a democratic decision that affects the Brazilian people. What I hope as president of Colombia is, whatever decision is made in Brazil, to work for hand in hand with the president to strengthen the integration of South America, to work on commercial issues, to improve investment agreements. And the important thing is that countries have the possibility to understand that investment and entrepreneurship are generators of formal employment, and formal employment is a transformer of the social reality of our countries.