Colombia’s Nobel prizewinner and former president, Juan Manuel Santos, was one of the leading speakers onstage at the first day of World Government Summit in Abu Dhabi on Sunday February 10th.
The veteran peacemaker reflected on his expertise in managing conflict in a country mired in conflict for about five decades. Freshly presented to public life, Santos soaked up advice from expert figures who had previously led the country in order to find a balance between human rights and establishing peace.
Santos concluded the wisest way of solving conflict in his country was to recognise that peace is born under certain conditions, varying from one country to another, asserting that “peace does not come out of the blue” and that the peace process in his country came at the expense of victims.
Colombia’s 32nd president was triggered towards a lifelong pursuit to end his nation’s conflict with FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia after a monumental terrorism accident took place in a conference held to attract investors to the country, when he was recently appointed as trade minister. A bomb exploded in the capital city, Bogotá.
“Minister, you will never have investment developing in your country as long as you have this war,” investors invited to the failed conference advised Santos. “Those words stuck in my mind,” Santos said. Some months afterwards, the Colombian leader met Nelson Mandela in South Africa who told him, “as long as you have war, you will not have a good country or a developed country.” From that moment, Santos knew where he had to start implementing reforms in the country.
Speaking at the World Government Forum’s first day, Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s 32nd president and Nobel Peace prizewinner, said his life’s objective was to fight for peace in Colombia after over 50 years of war.
Studying 17 different peace processes that have taken place in Africa, Asia, Latin America and in countries such as Sri Lanka and South Africa, Santos said he identified the essential conditions that made peace possible. “I then identified the conditions in the case of Colombia and started creating them,” he said. Santos looked at military effectiveness and armed forces and relations with neighbouring countries.
“Peace does not appear out of the blue. You have to create it. This has to do with military and armed militias. any solution has to gain the support of region and international community,” he said.
Applying transitional justice as an opposition to the traditional model of justice was a must at that level. “Traditional justice simply puts you in jail, against transitional justice, which forces you to relate to your victims and pay back to society,” Santos said. “Without transitional justice you cannot have a peace process,” he added.
“It is most important to convince counterparts and find a way to better negotiate peace than continue in war. Sometimes this needs to be done with a carrot and sometimes with a stick. This how we brought commanders to the negotiations table,” he said.
Santos has an insightful approach to psychological conversation and reframing enemies as adversaries. The former president referred to the need to respect the human rights of your adversaries in order to achieve peace objectives, another perspective that can make a big difference.
Recalling the obstacles facing Santos as a defence minister to counter FARC guerillas, he said, “I referred to a retired intelligence general. I went to his home to ask for advice. He said, “Look you have to deal with FARC as your adversaries not enemies to be destroyed because you will live with them and with their families in the future.” This had a profound effect. I started introducing into the military the idea of respecting human rights of adversaries and this gave the military legitimacy and achieved the support of the people.”
Turning back to achieving a state of peace was a hard sell to opposition and people who were trapped in their boxes of ways of thinking. “After 50 years, people had got accustomed to war. When the peace process started people were afraid of peace and some were afraid to lose their interests by ceasing war, whether political or economic, such as drug traffickers.”