Colombia had long been considered Latin America’s most troubled country, a place where there has been violence for 50 years.
We are not paradise, we have security problems, but we have improved dramatically.
There have been wars against Marxist guerillas: In the government’s conflict with the FARC, an estimated 200,000 people died, and hundreds more were taken hostage.
Then there were wars against drugs barons: Colombia is the world’s biggest source of cocaine. The country has received billion of dollars of support from the US, as well as hardware and plenty of military advisers.
Central in fighting these wars is President Juan Manuel Santos. He was first the country’s defence minister, and then got elected to office in 2010.
But he surprised everyone, including his precedessor and mentor, former president Alvaro Uribe, when he began opening peace talks with the FARC.
“We don’t make war for the sake of war. I had to make war and I did it very effectively. But you fight for an objective and any soldier and any statesman should have peace as the ultimate objective, the highest value of your society. Especially a country that has been at war for 50 years, peace should be the objective of everybody. But many times you have to make war before you reach the conditions to allow peace to prevail,” says Santos.
Colombia is certainly now a much more peaceful place, and earlier this year, Santos was rewarded when the electorate voted him in to a second term. But the peace talks have dragged on and some believe a final peace deal will still be difficult to achieve.
“I am cautious but optimistic about the future of the peace process…. We are not paradise, we have security problems, but we have improved dramatically …. We have no more big drug cartels in Colombia … they don’t exist anymore. All of the big drug lords are either dead or in jail. But the business still continues, because as long as there is demand, there is going to be supply. But we are hitting them very hard,” says Santos.
On Talk to Al Jazeera, we speak to Colombia’s president about whether he can complete the country’s transition. Is there a risk of returning to the days of kidnappings, drug cartels and conflict? And how does he intend to deal with the country’s underlying problem, the huge gap between rich and poor?