Colombian President visits the European Parliament

On November 4, the AFET Committee held an exchange of views with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón

By Dods EU monitoring

05 Nov 2014

Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.

On November 4, the AFET Committee had an exchange of views with the President of Colombia, Juan Manual Santos Calderon. Please find below a summary of the debate.

Juan Manuel Santos Calderón explained that Colombia was about to become a failed state, they were on the brink of war with Venezuela and were in a difficult situation with Ecuador. Four years ago, Colombia was on the list of countries that breached human rights. Colombians were even being denied visas for Central American and Caribbean islands. In the European Parliament, there was a large resistance vis-à-vis the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), this was also the case in the USA Congress. He said that they decided the situation had to change; the external and domestic situation had to change. They decided to strengthen and consolidate their economy by means of concrete policies and they proposed to bring an end to 50 years of war. Therefore, they launched the peace process with the FARC.

In terms of economic growth, he explained that they approved measures in Congress that were necessary to guarantee proper governance, they followed an example that was used by former USA President Lincoln: to invite rivals around the table and ask them to participate in governance. They approved institutional and legal reforms to consolidate their economy. This has led to positive results: Colombia is growing the fastest in Latin America; Colombia has now the lowest level of inflation and creates the greatest number of jobs. The rate of unemployment is decreasing month after month. Poverty has decreased to a large extent over the last four years, more than in any other country in the region.

He said that Colombia wants to eradicate extreme poverty; it has bridged the gaps between the different social classes. Colombia was the champion in inequality in Latin America, it was not doing well. This is however no longer true as they have managed to reduce the gap and now Colombia finds itself in the middle. He said that a lot still needs to be done. Approximately thirty percent of Colombians live in poverty and that is still too much. Eight percent lives in extreme poverty. Moreover, there is still a divide, also between regions. He said that it is important to unleash the potential Colombia has.

He said that the most important thing is to have peace after 50 years of war. The war has caused a lot of pain; there are more than 6 million victims. He said that they have started to compensate victims, but a lot still needs to be done. Peace has to be rebuilt and the process has been launched to do so. He said they knew there would be hurdles and difficulties: making peace is more difficult than making war. There is a time for war and one for peace and he said he truly believes the conditions in Colombia were right for peace.

The negotiations have been going on for more than three and a half years now. There was a secret phase with the FARC first, the purpose of which was to come to an agreement on the agenda of the talks. This first phase was successful and they managed to agree on five points. In Oslo, they declared they would start negotiations on those points. So far, they have managed to agree on three points: First, rural development: to give the land to Colombian farmers so they can farm the land and this is very important because those are the place where there is poverty and conflict. Second, political participation: we agreed to strengthen and deepen the democracy by giving more representation to conflict regions that were not well represented in Congress, and give more guarantees to the opposition. Third, drugs trafficking: we agreed with the FARC to work together, to reach the end of the conflict and make sure that all illegal plantations are replaced by legal plantations and eradicate drugs trafficking in Colombia. He said that this is of utmost importance.

Colombia has suffered from the surge of drug trafficking, it was the fuel to all violence. He said that Colombia has been rather successful in bringing down drugs trafficking and they have been able to fight the cartels. However, fighting them in Colombia has an effect elsewhere, as the problem of drug trafficking arises instead. There is also a knock-on effect in Europe and the USA where cocaine is consumed. Colombia is bringing down cocaine producers but is unfortunately still the largest producer. The FARC are protecting the plantations by putting mines around them for instance. These mines have caused thousands of victims. They also have snipers who shoot police and soldiers. The FARC has agreed to work together with the govenrment and turn the drug plantations into something legal.

Two points still need to be agreed on however: First, transitional justice for the victims. The victims have to be put in the centre of resolving this conflict. There are many victims and if one does not guarantee their rights, then these victims will continue to be victims. The right to the truth, justice, compensation and the right to be protected all have to be part of the equation. Therefore, they decided to take a courageous step: they invited victims to confront the FARC in the negotiations as they are the best place to tell how they feel. He argued that Colombia is the first country to resolve an armed conflict in this way, they are setting a precedent. Anything Colombia does is monitored by the international community. Victims` rights have to be respected. The rights of victims are non-negotiable, he said. He said that they want to hear from the victims themselves.

The other outstanding point is the DDR: Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration into society of those who took up the arms. If these two points are dealt with, then the war in Colombia will be finished. He said they are making a big effort and are doing their very best to reconcile the expectations of Colombians, the international community and the Colombian Constitution. He said that Colombia is turning to the rest of the world to ask for support. Decisions need to be taken to ensure the peace is sustainable.

In terms of the ELN, he said that they are in a secret phase at the moment and therefore he cannot give more explanations. Eventually, they would want to sign a peace agreement with both groups, but one has to take one step at a time. He said that peace in Colombia is something extraordinary. The effects of the conflict were devastating, he said. If Colombia has been able to achieve better social and economic indicators, imagine how well Colombia would do without conflict; he said. Another additional two percent could be added to economic growth, for some regions it might even be plus four percent.

He said that a large of proportion of Colombians has suffered, many were dislocated and that has had consequences for public health and has brought about many costs. He said that they have been very optimistic so far, He said that the FARC has been willing to cooperate, they have decided to come and sit down with the negotiators. The FARC are negotiating and they are doing this with a serious intention. That is why he is optimistic and believes an agreement can be reached. He reiterated the need for support from the international community as that is one of the conditions required. Finally, he said that the outcome of the peace process would also have positive effects for Europe in terms of drugs consumption and in terms of biodiversity.

He pointed out that Colombia is the richest country in terms of biodiversity per square kilometre. They also have water resources that are not comparable to other countries, the conflict and illegal mining did cause a problem from that point of view. All of this can change with peace. Peace will have an environment dividend that is important for Colombia and the rest of the world. Deforestation, which is happening because of the demand for drugs, could be avoided and he believes the goal of having zero carbon emissions could be met before the deadline of 2020

He concluded by stating that they need the support from the EU. He thanked for the support Colombia has received already and said that political support gives the legitimacy to make the final decisions so as to put an end to the conflict.

Luis de Grandes Pascual (EPP, ES) argued that that one should stress the important role of the Parliament in terms of the waiver for short-term visas. He wanted to underline the role of the Parliament in pushing this process forward and making headway. He said he hopes the process will continue in the Council and the momentum maintained so an agreement can be reached in early 2015. He reiterated that the Colombian economic indicators have improved, there is a progress in the business community and this brings more prosperity. He said there is a transformation from suffering to security and prosperity and that is an essential change. He added that there is no impunity in Colombia and there is no talk of impunity, there is dialogue. He referred to the President`s saying that he wanted to exchange bullet for votes and argued that this sums up the whole peace process. He said that Santos achieved the toughest thing by getting the parties around the table and argued that his initiative, his approach to dialogue, is exemplary. The Colombia he is forging is an exemplary model, he concluded.

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