Reuters Newsmaker Interview: Colombia President Santos

Peace in Colombia and the dividends it could pay

A conversation with Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos - Sept. 30, 2015

Days after the Colombian government announced it was nearing a peace agreement with organized-crime syndicate FARC – an insurgent communist guerilla group that has been waging a half-decade war – President Juan Manuel Santos sat down with Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler. 

Peace could promise a tidal change for the South American country that, 15 years ago, was on the verge of being declared a failed state. Now, Santos looks towards a brighter future marked by greater economic and social inclusion, more equal access to justice and education, and better, more transparent protection of land and property.

President Santos addressed questions on how he’ll lead his country through the peace process with the FARC, with the goal of creating a more prosperous future for the people of Colombia. “Making war is easier than making peace,” he said.

This is the story of Colombia’s economic and social surge, and the remarkable progress it has made in recent decades – emerging from many years of both civil conflict funded in part from the illicit narco trade. Santos said the change begins by first teaching the people that "peace is better than war."

Use the video clips below of President Santos to dive more deeply into the thematic elements the president addressed in his remarks.

Regaining equality Dividends of peace Potential for agriculture
A vision for Colombia Land restitution Cost of war

"Is the price of sacrificing some justice versus the benefits of ending a war that has lasted 51 years, is this a reasonable price to pay?"

Of course it is – by far, Santos said. Calling this period a time of "transitional justice" as the country works towards peace, he said, "The most difficult negotiation in any peace process is where you draw the line between peace and justice." Yet the alternative is to continue 30 more years of war, creating more victims. With 7.5 million victims of the conflict already, Santos said the war must stop.

The former defense minister said he was "absolutely convinced" that the FARC leaders were committed to peace.

"You make peace with your enemies; you don't make peace with your friends. I sat down with the FARC because they are my enemies and I said let's make peace because it is good business for both of us."

But, he added, "if I am convinced that they are again trying to play their games and not make peace I will stand up and continue the war."

Regaining equality

Colombia is nearing an historical moment in its modern history – the end to conflict that has lasted more than a half a century. Peace requires a transitional justice. Demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration – are efforts underway. What will peace mean to the 7.5 million victims of the conflict?

Related articles on economic improvements in Colombia:

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: Colombia Economic Survey 2015 (PDF) >

Colombia Reports: Poverty levels continue to fall in Colombia >

"Is the price of sacrificing some justice versus the benefits of ending a war that has lasted 51 years, is this a reasonable price to pay?"
“The peace dividend is huge, in terms of the economy, the social, and the environmental in every respect.”

Dividends of peace

President Santos predicts that peace can result in a 1.5% bump to national GDP, and could be as high as 5% to 8% in the region’s most impacted by the conflict. Already posting impressive GDP growth rates, is Colombia posed to become an economic jaguar – similar to the Asian tiger economies, for the LatAm region?

Related articles on improving Colombia's economy:

Financial Times: Infrastructure, the road to greater prospertiy in Latin America >

Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative: Colombia adopts Oxford University poverty reduction plan >

Potential for agriculture

Illicit cocaine trade has financed war in Colombia. With peace at hand, the supply of cocaine from Colombia – today the number one producer, may fall markedly. With global demand for food skyrocketing, led by an ever more wealthy China, does swapping out coca production for other food types represent a revolution for Colombia’s agriculture sector?

Related articles on the reach of peace beyond Colombia:

Embassy of Colombia: Colombia, an important market for U.S. agriculture >

Colombia: Agricultural census evidence unjust distribution of land >

Land and political prisoners: unfinished business for Colombian peace talks >

“The dividend of peace in Colombia goes way beyond our Colombian borders.”
“My vision for Colombia is to have a country at peace…a more equal country, and a country better-educated – three pillars I want to make into reality."

A vision for Colombia

Social and economic inequality, a root cause for the civil conflict, remains an acute challenge for Colombia. Access to justice, land rights, and opportunity, most especially for the millions of people displaced as a result of the war, will help sow the peace.

Related articles on the president's developing vision for Colombia:

English Summary of the September 23 Government-FARC Communiqué on the Transitional Justice Accord >

White House hopeful Colombia's peace negotiations will be successful >

Colombia, FARC rebels vow to end 50-year war within 6 months >

Land restitution

500,000 households were displaced from their lands, the equivalent land area the size of Switzerland. Many of them moved to the cities. Unlocking the potential of rural communities requires restituting people’s rights – getting people back to their lands and providing security of ownership to stimulate investment and increased productivity.

Related articles on land restitution:

Amnesty International: A land title is not enough: Ensuring sustainable land restitution in Colombia >

Latin America Working Group: Far from the Promised Land: Land Restitution on Colombia's Caribbean Coast >

Land issues in Colombia: From dispossession to restitution >

“We are effectively giving back the land to everyone who has claimed a right...There is sufficient land for everybody.”
“The cost of war is much higher than the cost of peace.”

Cost of war

Fifteen years ago Colombia was on the verge of being declared a failed state. Today indicators are pointing up for the nation: economic growth, social equality, trade, and investment are all on the rise. The world yearns for a peaceful Colombia; and Colombia needs the world to support the peace process.  

Related articles on the costs of the conflict:

Jorge Ramos: Peace for my Colombia friends >

Colombia peace talks must not fail, says Pope Francis >

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