Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's president, on fighting drug cartels and corruption.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Aug. 26 2011 11:31 AM

"Every Corrupt Person—No Matter How Important He Is—Will Go to Jail. "

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on reviving relations with Venezuela and fighting drug cartels and corruption.

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J.M.S.:  Yes, and I hope you will continue to be. That's why I am so interested in the approval of the free-trade agreement.

L.W.: What do you think of the prospect of the agreement passing?

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J.M.S.:  I have my fingers crossed. The U.S. has been our most important trade partner and our most important investor. It is not only in the interest of Colombia—it is in the interest of the U.S. that Colombia has free trade. We are a source of growth for the U.S. We are 46 million Colombians. We are growing at a relatively high rate; we are taking millions of Colombians out of poverty. We want to lower the poverty rate by at least 7 or 8 percent.

L.W.: How are you doing with the FARC and violence? Is the security situation under control?

J.M.S.:  Yes, the security situation is under control. We still have security problems, because we still have an interior conflict. But the FARC is weakened; they are politically defeated, but they still have enough muscle to commit acts of terrorism, and that's what they have been doing.

L.W.: Is Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez still giving them sanctuary?

J.M.S.:  He has made a commitment to me that he will not allow the FARC to use his territory as a sanctuary.

L.W.: Do you believe him?

J.M.S.:  So far he has given me no grounds to say he is not complying. There probably are guerrillas in Venezuela, but he says it is without his say-so and that if I pinpoint where they are, he will go and get them. On two different occasions, I have pinpointed, and he has delivered.

L.W.: Has the drug trade diminished so it is not one of your major problems?

J.M.S.:  It is a big problem, but it is not a major problem. We were able to defeat the major cartels. We now have mini cartels. But as long as we have consumption in Washington, Paris, or London—there will be a supply and the business will continue.

L.W.: Why did you create the fiscal rule?

J.M.S.:  We introduced into our constitution the criteria of fiscal sustainability in order to oblige not only this government but future governments to be fiscally responsible.

L.W.: The fiscal rule would call for a deficit of only 1 percent of the GDP?

J.M.S.:  Our aim is to lower deficits to a maximum of 1 percent, and we have the plans as to how we will arrive at that figure.

L.W.: What do you think of President [Barack] Obama?

J.M.S.:  I hope he does well. If the U.S. does well, the world does well.

L.W.: What do you think of the Republicans?

J.M.S.:  I have good friends on the Republican side. I want to continue having good relations with both parties.

L.W.: It has been reported that you are going to abolish the DAS.

J.M.S.:  I am going to abolish the DAS in the next three or four months. I want to create a new and completely different intelligence agency. By abolishing DAS, we can take away the bad culture that it has developed. I want to take away some of the functions that the DAS had and transfer them to other entities. For instance, they were in charge of immigration.

L.W.: President Uribe picked you out and promoted you for president and has now emerged as one of your main opponents.

J.M.S.:  I can assure you that I have great respect for President Uribe. I understand that he might not like some of the things I am doing. ...

He doesn't like my foreign relations strategy. Every president has his own way of doing things. He has criticized this government for unveiling a lot of corruption; he thinks it is an attack on his government. But I have said no, it is not an attack on his government, it is an attack on the corrupt people and I will continue to do that.

L.W.: When you talk of attacking corruption, are you talking about the attorney general or other parts of your government?

J.M.S.:  We have a crusade with the attorney general, the prosecutor general, the police, and the controller general to identify cases of corruption, put people in jail, and start cleaning up this country. So far we have done it. We have saved a lot of money for the state that was going to corruption. For example, people were stealing money from the health system. The mafia was in the system, manipulating the computers and presenting false claims. With the sales tax system, they were inventing fictitious exports and claiming the tax refunds for millions of pesos and people are now in jail. We will continue fighting those mafias. We are attacking corruption and every corrupt person—no matter how important he is—will go to jail.

Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.