Colombia’s President Has a Controversial Peace Plan

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Aug. 7 2014 7:14 AM

Can Colombia Find Peace?

An interview with President Juan Manuel Santos on the eve of his second inauguration.

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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos waves after voting in the presidential election on May 25, 2014, in Bogotá.

Photo by Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images

BOGOTÁ —Juan Manuel Santos, to be sworn in for a second term as president of Colombia on Thursday, campaigned for re-election on his vision of ending the country's decadeslong civil conflict and negotiating peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group. But the country is so divided over the peace talks that Santos actually finished second in the first round of voting. Santos met with the Washington Post's Lally Weymouth just before his inauguration to discuss the prospects for peace and the war on drugs. Excerpts:



Lally Weymouth: You staked your re-election on the peace process.

Juan Manuel Santos: Yes. Quite frankly, my main reason to seek re-election is the possibility of ending a conflict that has had devastating effects for 50 years.


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Former President Álvaro Uribe was attacking you during the campaign, saying you are selling out the country.

The people who—for some reason that I still don't understand—don't want peace managed to sell the idea that we are selling the country to communism, that the FARC would take over. I made a mistake thinking people would not believe that because it was so outrageous, but when I realized that they were believing it, I had to react. Fortunately, we won.

What are the elements of your peace process?

There are five points. One is what we call “rural development.” There is land in Colombia, fortunately, for everybody. We don't have to expropriate land from people who are cultivating that land legally. What we are doing is taking the land from the people who grabbed it through violence.

Only 1 percent of the people control most of the land?

There is a lot of inequality in Colombia. We have to correct that. What I am going to do is to give land to peasants who don't own land, because there is still a huge amount of land that has not been cultivated because of the conflict. We have to conquer half of Colombia. Item No. 2 is political participation.

You are talking about giving the FARC some political participation if they lay down their arms?

Of course. The peace process is precisely to achieve that. Instead of them trying to gain power through the use of violence, they [should be] incorporated into the democratic system and try to persuade people to vote for them. I will allow them to become a political party. They are already convinced that through violence they will never achieve any of the objectives that they have.

But meanwhile, the violence has escalated.

It hasn't escalated. It continues. Because I put a condition when I started this process that there will be no cease-fire until we reach an agreement. In the past, every cease-fire was taken advantage of by the FARC to renew and rearm. We have learned. So we are talking in the middle of the war.

Do you feel you have diminished their strength?

Never in 50 years of the history of the FARC have they been hit so hard as by my government. They used to be between 20,000 and 25,000. Today they are between 7,000 and 8,000.

So the third negotiating point is?

Drugs. I insisted we need the commitment of the FARC to end any relations they have with the cultivation and trafficking of drugs and to help us in our war against drugs. And they accepted. This is remarkable.

They accepted that together we will start a program to eradicate drug trafficking in Colombia. Instead of putting mines around the coca plants that blow up our soldiers and policemen, and instead of having sharpshooters killing the people who eradicate the coca, they will help us in substituting legal crops for illegal drugs.

Colombia has been the most important provider of cocaine to the U.S. for 30 or 40 years. So can you imagine the effect this will have?

Now the talks are on the topic of victims.

We—the government and I—have decided to put the victims at the center of the solution of this conflict. We have more than 6 million victims. Their rights must be respected and taken into account.

What will you pay the victims?

Where do we draw the line between peace and justice?



What is your answer?

We want as much justice as possible that will allow us to reach peace. And this is what we have to negotiate.

If I'm a FARC leader, I'm not going to turn myself in if you're going to put me in jail for the rest of my life.

That's one extreme. The other [is the] victim saying—

“You must go to jail because you killed my father.”

Exactly.

So where do you draw the line?

I cannot give you that answer. I have to give this answer to people at the negotiating table.

So a commander might be guilty, but not all the FARC?

Exactly. You cannot judge and condemn 8,000 people. It would take you 100 years. So you have to choose the [most] responsible. Those people will be judged and condemned, people who are really at the top and are responsible.