News

Former Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, Speaks to Georgetown about Peace

March 12, 2019

By: Zeke Gutierrez & Miranda Carnes

Former Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, captivated the audience in a discussion of the peace-building processes in Colombia during his presidency, leading to the dissolution of the FARC and subsequent Nobel Peace Prize. During his time in office, Santos sought to end the conflict with the FARC and build trust. In order to do this, he spoke honestly with the FARC, ensuring that there would be no cease-fire until an agreement was reached. Santos acknowledged he served as an initial symbol for what the FARC fought against – the established, high society, which invigorated his belief that, “you build trust very slowly – with gestures.” One has to create the appropriate conditions for both sides to agree on peace negotiations. By speaking plainly with the FARC, he gained their trust and created a successful peace deal.

In addition, the involvement of enthusiastic international organizations, such as the United Nations Security Council, and the support of the international community were crucial to the successful peace accord, ensuring that negotiations continued and pressing for the implementation of the agreement. Security Council Resolution 1325, for example, placed the victims and their rights in the center of the resolution. In Santos’ experience, “women suffer more than men in wars,” grieving the loss of sons and husbands, and falling victim to sexual attacks. As a result, it was imperative for Santos to have women involved and to put victims in the center of the solution. In support of the victims, Santos collaborated to place a special chapter in the agreement that focused on the experience of women, coining it an “affirmative action for women.”

As a source of inspiration, Santos meditated each week and spoke to women about their stories. This helped establish the ground rules of the process and reminded Santos of the importance of his work. Additionally, victims traveled to Havana, where the talks took place on a neutral ground. As a source of inspiration, Santos stated, “whenever you’re sad, whenever you want to throw in the towel, hear the victims’ stories.” This invigorated Santos’ belief that peace was necessary and needed to be accomplished even if it came to a cost in political reputation.

However, the future of peace in Colombia continues to be threatened with the current President Duque’s clear opposition to the peace accords. When asked about the uncertain future of the agreement, Santos called on a Constitutional Court ruling – no government for the next three governments could approve an accord that goes against the agreement – effectively shielding it from Duque’s opposition. Additionally, with regards to further opposition to the agreement, Santos lamented, “we’re in that process – convincing people that it is better to have peace than to have war.”

When referring to the current state of Colombian and Venezuelan relations, Santos also urged for a peaceful transition. He compared Venezuela to a plane that ran out of fuel, warning that “the plane could have a soft landing, or it could crash.” For a soft landing, Santos believes there needs to be an agreement with major stakeholders, namely China, Russia, Cuba, the US, and Latin America. Warning of the repercussions, Santos felt that “if there [was] a violent transition, the aftermath would be very difficult to administer.”

In relation to the tenuous situation in Venezuela, Santos closed the dialogue with important words for future diplomatic leaders and students, advising that “you cannot solve a problem without talking about it.”