“Diplomacy by definition is dialogue.” Former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is convinced that any solution to the deep political, economic and social crisis in Venezuela must be negotiated, because “if Nicolás Maduro’s regime is not given a dignified solution, they will be killed.” The architect of the peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla once again exhibited his optimism and passionately vindicated this Thursday the value of dialogue when discussing the challenges of Latin America with analyst Moisés Naím in the framework of the Hay Festival in Cartagena.
Although Venezuela is worse, “today Maduro is stronger than a year ago,” lamented the Nobel Peace Prize winner, president of Colombia between 2010 and 2018, who managed despite their differences to make Hugo Chávez a partner for his purpose of turn the page of an armed conflict of more than half a century. Santos told by way of confession that when Donald Trump asked him to bring together several Latin American leaders to discuss the strategy against the Bolivarian Republic, he exposed to the US Administration that a military intervention was the worst of all options. And Colombia, a neighbor whose capacity to absorb Venezuelan migrants is reaching its peak, the country that would suffer the most. Venezuela is like a plane that runs out of gas, he said, and there are only two possibilities: it either crashes or has a soft landing. “A soft landing suits us all.”
The Santos, who received a standing ovation at the centennial Adolfo Mejía Theater in Cartagena, was proud of the peace that had been agreed despite the critical situation experienced by ex-combatants and peasants in various territories of the country. He defended it calmly and said that “it is not perfect because it is made between humans.” For him, the current uncertainty is not overwhelming. “With problems, peace continues to advance,” he said. That there are dissidents, yes, but he clarified that “they represent a smaller percentage compared to 90 percent of the ex-guerrillas who remain in the process.”
With his book The battle for peace Under his arm, the former president had already exhibited his vision of a stable and lasting peace last year in Mexico. At the Hay Festival in Querétaro he had shown his optimism and at the Guadalajara Book Fair he sat down to speak in public for the first time with Rodrigo Londoño, Timochenko, since both signed the final peace agreement in another theater, the Colón de Bogotá , three years ago. In Cartagena they received him with spontaneous cheers for “the president of peace.”
For Santos, any criticism has been worth it for the victims. For stories like that of Pastora Mira, a woman whose husband and father died as a result of partisan violence, then two of her children were murdered and despite that she forgave one of her perpetrators. “When she was about to throw in the towel in the process, she spoke with the victims. Many of them were telling me, ‘President, go ahead.’ That energized me. The victims were the most generous when I thought they were going to be the most difficult ”.
Instead, the most complex moment was when he decided to attack Alfonso Cano, the FARC’s top leader, when they were already advancing the secret phase of the negotiation. The risk was that the guerrillas would get up from the table, but “as the rules of the game were clear, they did not.” However, later on, when the negotiations came to an end, the polarization during the plebiscite on the agreements was the hardest surprise.
“One of my great frustrations was not having been able to build those bridges, nor manage that polarization around an ideal of peace, an objective that should unite the country. I thought that in the end the people were going to accompany that peace ”. Santos assured that there was a disinformation campaign against the process and even the inclusion of women in the agreement was misrepresented, which his detractors called “gender ideology.” “Those lies were feeding a polarization that I hope will dissipate … I hope we move to accept that peace is better than war.”
Santos also referred to the fight against drugs. As president, he advocated a thorough review of the global strategy against drugs and its results based on evidence, and this Thursday he reaffirmed that idea. “What came out of that agreement is the only structural solution for coca crops,” he said, referring to voluntary agreements for the substitution of illicit crops and making a new call for regulation. “When the peasants are given another alternative, they do not plant again.” “We have to recover the value of the argument,” he concluded.