Santos 2014-2018: A new beginning for Colombia

In his inaugural speech President Juan Manuel Santos outlined a future of peace for Colombia.

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was inaugurated at the National Congress on August 7. [AFP]
    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was inaugurated at the National Congress on August 7. [AFP]

    President Juan Manuel Santos began his presidential address by outlining the three most important focus areas of his new term: peace, equality, and education. He ended his speech repeating those very three words.

    The Head of Congress, Jose David Name, addressed the audience by recalling the 1958 presidential inauguration, in which the Conservative Party leader and former president Laureano Gomez as Head of Congress, swore in Liberal President Alberto Lleras. The important symbolism of such an inauguration was that the two parties had been killing each other since 1949 and they had decided to put an end to the violence by sharing power. Name's words were an important message for unity at this important time in Colombian history.

    It would have been great to see former President Alvaro Uribe's reaction to these words, but neither he nor the congress members of his party, the Centro Democratico, attended the ceremony. Their absence had been foretold by Colombian media, although some international guests thought Uribe was going to show up till the very end.

    The absence of Uribe and his cohorts is not necessarily a bad sign for Colombian democracy. In the front rows of the audience were Claudia Lopez of the Green Party and Ivan Cepeda of the Polo Democratico Party, two of the most important young political leaders in a political system plagued with corruption, and until very recently, cynically involved in gross human rights violations.

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    There also were former guerrilla members who had been democratically elected to public offices, as in the case of Senator Antonio Navarro and the mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro.

    This transformation of Colombian democracy brought together various members of the international community - among them presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador, president Ollanta Humala of Peru and Isabel Allende Bussi, head of the Chilean senate - who were supporting with their presence the policies of Santos and his determination to bring peace to Colombia.

    The most important part of Santos' address was not the achievements of his administration in reducing poverty and striking three partial agreements with the FARC, but his encouragement of Colombians to start thinking big, to imagine a Colombia in peace and work for it.

    The recent escalation of violence was not ignored. Santos warned the FARC that for Colombians it was difficult to understand how, while in Havana they were negotiating a comprehensive agrarian reform, they were bombing roads and attacking civilian infrastructure. As Santos pointed out: "The patience of Colombians and the international community is not endless." Most guests showed support for these words and afterwards commented on the importance to send a clear messages to the FARC: to take the civilians out of the conflict.

    The new administration of Santos and the recently elected Congress have, without doubt, very serious challenges ahead. First they have to create and approve the law that will regulate the transitional justice mechanism that the Constitutional Court approved on 6 August 2014. Second, they have to ensure reforms to the legal and political systems so as to insert checks and balances mechanisms to curb the potential for personalisation of power by top officials, such as the General Prosecutor or the General Investigator. These reforms must also ensure that the regions gain more representation and autonomy from the central government. Third, they have to implement security sector reforms that include an overhaul of the military justice system to comply with international human rights standards.

    Colombia has experienced a radical transformation in the last four years. Santos' inaugural speech shows how the initiative to try to find a negotiated solution to the armed conflict has become the centre of his second administration. Only the leadership of a president convinced of the need to end the conflict in Colombia by sitting at the negotiation table with the "enemy" and by pursuing policies promoting equality and poverty alleviation can inspire the people of a country to start working for peace and contribute with imagination and generosity to building a more prosperous nation.

    Leftist political leaders know this and therefore supported his vision by attending Santos' inauguration. Public opinion also knows this too well and hence supported Santos' re-election.

    Public disagreements over what the economic model for Colombia is and whether it should integrate itself further into the global economy are for the parties in Congress to debate, for this is the essence of a healthy democracy.

    For now, it is important that Santos continues convincing Colombians that it is the time for peace. This is the only way to reverse the eight years of damage done by Uribe who was trying to convince Colombians to keep fighting the war to the end.

    Andrei Gomez-Suarez is an Associate Researcher at the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex and a lecturer at University of Los Andes, Bogota.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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