While Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos missed his self-assigned deadline of March 23 to end the nation’s conflict, he maintained yesterday at an economic conference in Medellín that he will sign a deal and submit it to a popular vote as soon as possible.
He also warned that if Colombians do not approve the agreement eventually reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the final step of a nearly four-year-old peace process, the guerrillas would recommence fighting and bring the conflict to the country’s cities. “We will go back to the state of war,” said Santos during the first day of a World Economic Forum event in Colombia’s second city.
Throughout the peace talks with FARC, which officially began in October 2012, Santos has received condemnation from his political opponents. Current Senator and former President Álvaro Uribe has been the most vocal, consistently criticizing Santos for being soft on the guerrilla group that has been waging war inside of Colombia for more than half-century.
The president was sure to stay in front of the political fallout he knew his statements would bring. “We are not building a policy just for FARC,” said Santos. “This is a policy to benefit farmers and all the people who work the land … This is not a peace with impunity. There is no such thing.”
The president has also stressed the economic benefits of peace. Colombia lost decades of potential growth and became an international pariah as it fought with cartels and guerrilla groups from the 1980s through the turn of the millennium. While the relatively secure environment of the past decade has reversed the country’s fortunes, the administration believes that the peace process is the great step forward Colombia needs to overcome its past.
“Parts of Colombia haven’t grown at all for years because of the conflict and the absence of the state,” said Santos. “When peace comes, we expect they’ll grow at rates of 8%, 10%, or even 12%, and help the rest of the country grow faster too.”
In addition to the local growth in rural regions, the government has said that ending the war with FARC will immediately add at least 1% to the GDP in the short term and provide lasting benefits that increase foreign investment, bolster domestic markets, and secure prosperity.
Felipe González Márquez, the former prime minister of Spain, who joined Santos on stage during the event, added his optimism for the potential economic benefits of peace. “We have Colombia growing at 3% with an armed conflict,” said Felipe González Márquez. “Can you imagine what the potential is without it? … I hope it happens soon. We are in a hurry — in every sense of the word.”
Photo: “We will go back to the state of war” if the peace deal doesn’t pass the popular vote, said Santos during the first day of a World Economic Forum event in Medellín. (Credit: World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell)