Exclusive: Colombia’s president on fighting FARC and the war on drugs
Colombians are packing their bags for Europe. During the recent EU-CELAC summit, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santossigned an agreement allowing residents of some South American countries to visit Europe visa-free. What does this mean for Colombians and how is the country negotiating with its nemesis FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia?
Mr President, thank you for being with us. Since you started your European tour, one of the most interesting items has been the signing of an agreement with the EU, eliminating Schengen Visas for Colombians wanting to travel to the ‘Old Continent’ for business and pleasure. Can you tell us about this?
Well, what is still missing? The agreement we signed must be translated in the corresponding languages and the European Council must implement the law. It is just a simple procedure. No Colombian citizen wishing to visit Europe will have to apply for a visa. They will get a 90-day entry permit which they can renew once, not consecutively, up to a maximum of 180 days. This is not only for tourists; professionals can also enter to conduct their specialised business.
Regarding Colombia, will you have a quota of people free to leave the country?
Every passport holder can do so. Of course, immigration authorities will be free to decide who enters their country or not.
Mr President, let’s talk about the peace process and FARC. Some months ago you told me that you were quite convinced that peace would be achieved. What’s the status quo now?
We carry on with the many problems linked to a complicated process such as this. Some days ago we decided to create a ‘truth-commission’, which is a part of achieving what we call ‘transitional justice’. It is a specific legal system. Victims want to know why some atrocities have been committed. This is the most important point in every peace process.
You said that terrorism also represents an environmental threat. Why?
Concerning Colombia, FARC has expanded via the trafficking of drugs. Drug trafficking has destroyed our rainforests. One of the basic points within the peace process discussed with FARC is that they must stop the business of drug trafficking rather than protect it.
And they have to help us to substitute illegal cultivations with legal ones to stop the destruction of our rainforests. On the other hand, FARC uses violence and terrorism against pipelines and our oil. A couple of weeks ago, they stopped some 200 trucks carrying oil to Ecuador and they spilled the oil on the route. This oil reached rivers and polluted the environment. What FARC is doing is ecocide.
Do you feel betrayed by the recent attacks by FARC?
Their daily way of attacking…of course I don’t like it. They attack me personally and I cannot justify it, but it is part of the game in order to succeed. In Colombia, we say “We have to eat crows” so that the process continues.
What could the international community do in order to put pressure on FARC?
Exactly that. They can put pressure on FARC. They must tell them that if FARC wants legitimacy tomorrow, if they want to switch bullets with votes and somehow be ‘respected’ …well, what we want from them is that they must stop. They have to speed up negotiations and they have to accept agreements which are right for both the international community and Colombians.
You also said that Colombia is trying to create an EU fund for post-conflict. What do you mean?
This fund will be created. It is merely caught up in the European Union’s bureaucratic process. For now we need the legal procedures in order to create and to make this fund effective. Many countries have not yet said how much money they want to contribute. For Colombia of course, the more the better. But we will have this fund…I hope as soon as possible. I believe the ones who will put money into it, they will decide. Perhaps a management board will be implemented. They will do it here or in Colombia, wherever it will be more useful.
Mr President can you tell us something about the terms of the peace agreement?
We put together five points in one single agenda.
The first concerns the rural development of the country. The conflict was focused on the countryside where poverty and inequality are stronger. What did we agree? More overall investments, increased ability of the peasants to land ownership, more help in productive projects and increased financing in the public sector, such as hospitals, schools and roads.
Secondly, political participation. It is a way to make our democracy stronger. We must give more room to regions and sectors which have not been represented enough in the parliament. We must enlarge our democracy.
Third – and on this point I insisted – FARC should end drug trafficking and stop making a profit out of this. They must leave the business and help the state transform illicit cultivations to legal ones in order to eradicate drug trafficking from Colombia. Imagine how important it will be for the whole world. Despite our relative success, Columbia still is the number one producer of cocaine in the world. In Europe and in many cities worldwide consumption has increased. The peace process is very, very important in the fight against drug trafficking.
The last two points we are negotiating are the victims of FARC’s terrorism and demobilisation, reinstatement and reintegration into civil life.