It has always been said that Juan Manuel Santos has been preparing his whole life to become President of the Republic and- as clear in these facts- he has also worked towards putting an end to over five decades of war with the FARC.
After taking over Bolívar’s throne on the 7th August 2010, Santos made it clear that the key to achieving peace is not so hard to find, and prepared, secretly, to establish links with the rebel group in order to explore the possibility of dialogue.
On the 26th September in Cartagena, under the eyes of the whole international community in Colombia, he brought this cycle to an end in the historic signing of an agreement, which finalized 52 years of conflict in another chapter of the country’s recent history.
Even so, the process is in a waiting phase, after the results of the 2nd October plebiscite stated that, ‘No’, the public did not agree with the peace accord put forth.
Santos, since working as a journalist with this very publishing house, El Tiempo- for which he went on to become assistant director- has always been interested in matters related to peace. This led to him conducting in-depth analyses of the different processes undergone in other counties, especially focusing on the peace process in South Africa and the part played by the emblematic Nelson Mandela in this process.
Santos recalls a conference which powerfully influenced his attitude towards the process, at which Adam Kahane, an expert in conflict resolutions, spoke. Kahane actively assisted the peace process in South Africa. This meeting took place at the request of the Good Government Foundation in 1996.
A year later, following this discussion, Santos organized another conference which took place in Antioquia between national leaders, and which centred around envisaging Colombia’s future. At this meeting, ‘Destino Colombia’ was born, a document which forecast possible contexts for concluding the conflict. One of these concerned strengthening the national army and therefore diminishing the guerillas to a point at which they would be obliged to negotiate their disarmament.
This was precisely what Santos did, and this Monday, he saw the results. In 1998, in his first official bid for presidency of the Liberal Party, his political banner was to achieve peace through dialogue.
The peace agreement was protagonised by more than simply those Santos expected. Whilst he tried to negotiate in the ‘demilitarised zone’ of Caguán, the last unsuccessful process with the FARC, the then president, Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002), laid the foundations for strengthening the military in ‘Plan Colombia’, a cooperative program financed by the United States.
The fruits of this labour materialised during Álvaro Uribe’s (2002-2010) administration, under which Santos acted as Minister of Defence and managed to weaken the FARC’s offensive and criminal capabilities to a historic low.
Aware of this historic moment, which was facilitated by the State’s efforts to recuperate institutionalism (which shared the same political outlook as that from which the ‘Destino Colombia’ document was born), Santos took the opportunity to open up dialogue, to put an end to internal conflict and begin to focus on the victims, in order to really transform the country. This Monday, as he himself highlighted, we saw the results.
At 65, Santos achieved an objective he had been working towards practically since his initiation into public life, both as a bureaucrat and a journalist. He was the first Minister of Trade in Colombia, and also acted as Minister of Defense throughout Uribe’s time in power, a role which allowed him to administer forceful blows to the FARC.
It is clear that there were many people who came together to the end the conflict with the FARC, including both politicians and combatants, however it is undeniable that Santos’ work over those years- and in those years of post-conflict still to come- has and will be fundamental in finally concluding the bewildering matter of establishing peace.
He has stated that after leaving the Casa de Nariño, he wants to dedicate himself to teaching, and- said with some irony- that he doesn’t want to bother his successor. Without a doubt, in academia Santos will become an example of triumph, remembered in history as the president who, after half a century, ended the conflict with the FARC.
This is how it was stated at the UN General Assembly last week in New York. The message was direct: “The war in Colombia is over”.