Speech of Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos

Speech of Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos to the IAPA General Assembly in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, November 7, 2010 Thank you very much, Alejandro, and good afternoon to everyone. Greetings to the Governor of the State of Yucatán, Ms. Ivonne Ortega Pacheco; to the Mayor of this very beautiful city of Mérida, Architect Angélica Araujo Lara; to Mr. Ruben Beltrán, Assistant Minister for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Foreign Relations Ministry of Mexico; to Mr. Scott Schurz, Honorary President of the IAPA, and his wife, Katherine; of course to our dear friend Alejandro Aguirre, President of the IAPA; to his wife, María, I say thank you very much for the beautiful tie which she gave me ¬– I was going to put it on now but I thought that would break protocol, so I will put it on tomorrow in Colombia; to Julio Muñoz, IAPA Executive Director, with whom we also have a long and old friendship; to Dr. Guillermo Mendoza Iago, Attorney General of our country, who was kind and generous enough to accompany me to this meeting; to Dr. Jaqueline Espitia Arias, Colombian chargé d’affaires in Mexico; to the honorable members of the Executive Committee, and of the Advisory Council whom I have just met with very briefly; to the IAPA Board of Directors; to media presidents and managing directors; to all of you a very special greeting. Believe that for me it is a real pleasure and honor to be standing here in this 66th General Assembly of an institution that has been so close to my entire family. I recall perfectly when my father took me to the first IAPA General Assembly in the late 1960s. I was still, well, I was a child. I remember Andrew Heiskell, the editor of Time magazine, who had a very pretty daughter, and I asked my father how to approach her. And he told me not to be so pretentious! With the IAPA I have had a very close relationship, as Alejandro mentioned. I was vice chairman of the Press Freedom Committee. I remember the visit to Chile during the time of Pinochet to defend freedom of the press there. We were in Nicaragua when the Sandinista regime was pressuring the press and Violeta Chamorro; out of that trip Enrique and I wrote some accounts, some features that soon reached Spain – stories that called it a squandered revolution -- and we won the first King of Spain Prize. Since then we have been personae non gratae in Nicaragua -- my brother and I. We were in other countries. I often attended the IAPA Technical Center and I learned a great deal from that excellent institution. That’s why it’s such a pleasure for me to be here for this event with friends -- old and new. I have come to reaffirm my commitment to press freedom as President of Colombia -- for my country and in the region -- to confirm a commitment that I have maintained throughout my public life and my life as a journalist. It is a commitment I firmly believe in because, as Thomas Jefferson said when he introduced his First Amendment, he believed that without absolute freedom of the press there is no possibility of good governance; but I hope that the same thing does not happen to me that happened to him because when he became president he wrote that with absolute freedom of the press good governance is impossible. I believe that no matter what, every government needs freedom of expression, it needs freedom of the press, and that is one of the commitments we have in Colombia. Fortunately my predecessors have respected that commitment. Colombia is a country where the press enjoys freedom, at least on the part of the government there is no intent to curtail that freedom and you can be absolutely sure that that will continue to be the case in my administration and I am sure in future administrations. It is something that we Colombians carry within – the need for freedom of expression. But in Colombia we have also put tremendous effort into attempting to implement policies that defend the other freedoms and the other fundamental rights of our society. Colombia for many years lived with a situation that you all reported on the front pages of your newspapers. We were a country on the point of being considered a failed state, a country where there was a mixture of drug trafficking, guerrillas, paramilitaries, and where respect for human rights was practically zero. That situation forced us to make a series of decisions and set up policies which, fortunately, have been successful and today we see the future through a very different lens than the one we saw through a few years ago. The results of a survey came out on Friday last week: 83% of Colombians believe that the country is on the right path. That’s never been the case before in Colombia. This is a very special level of optimism that imposes upon us, as government, a tremendous responsibility to meet expectations and to continue with a process that has had a great deal of success – a great deal of success with regard to defending fundamental rights and creating the bases for sustained growth, not only of the economy but especially on the social side. In my administration I have said that we want to move on from democratic security to democratic prosperity. The word “democratic” has two meanings – security and prosperity for all, and the second definition is compliance with the law and compliance with the Constitution. Our Constitution is a Constitution that guarantees rights, perhaps the most in the universe, and establishing a security policy, as President Uribe did that respects the Constitution,…that was not easy. Because traditional security policies in our continent were made at the expense of human rights, at the expense of laws, at the expense of constitutions; but the decision was made to establish a security policy that respects human rights and respects the Constitution, which gives it more legitimacy and a much more solid base than any security policy. We have taken more time, but I believe that we are now, fortunately, reaping the benefits. The figures concerning security in recent years – in the last eight years – tell the story: the number of homicides has gone down 46%, massacres 80%, abductions 91%, murders of journalists 90%. Unfortunately, this year one journalist was killed; last year too. One is one too many for us. Our expectation is that not a single journalist dies. We won’t stop until that happens – not a single journalist. But not only journalists, we expect to continue reducing murders of all kinds. In Colombia today 170 journalists have some kind of protection and people ask me, “But are so many journalists threatened?” The reply is possibly no, but we prefer to err on the side of caution…so that tomorrow morning no one can say that the Colombian government failed to do everything possible to defend not only journalists, but also labor union members, everyone who has been regarded, or is regarded, as a vulnerable part of society, a threatened sector of society. We have also implemented a series of policies, laws and amendments to the Constitution so that the terrible conflict, the terrible hostility that we have been living through for so many years, and that fortunately is being overcome, can be overcome on solid ground. And that is why, for example, a law called Justice and Peace was enacted. This is the first time that any country in the world has managed to demobilize an armed group that was not conquered and to apply within the demobilization a process that respects the principles of justice, truth and reparations. It has not been easy, but it has, in general terms, been very successful – 32,000 members of those groups have been demobilized, 22,000 guerrillas have been demobilized. This hasn’t been seen in recent history in any other country, and demobilization has happened through a legal process…what we want is a justice that does not impede peace…justice that does not impede peace. But we do not want a peace with impunity. We want a peace where truth, justice and reparations are present. That is why we have also moved forward with some very aggressive justice policies together with important members of the Colombian government. Today there are more than 400 politicians, mayors, governors, city council members, and lawmakers on trial for alleged links to the illegal armed groups. More than 30 members of Congress are in jail. That also is unprecedented. What we want is that the scars -- that were open wounds for so long -- be healed so we can look to the future, consolidating a democracy with the foundations of a true democracy – respect for fundamental freedoms, respect for the independence of the branches of government, respect for private property, respect for freedom of expression. We are achieving it with difficulty, of course, but we have advanced in a sound manner, without haste but also without pause. Two weeks ago we sent to Congress a Victims Law and a law we call the Retribution Law that would return all the displaced farmers to their land. This will be a true revolution in Colombia. The more than two million hectares that have been seized by the government from the illegal groups who displaced these people; the process will be difficult to manage and administer, but it will be done with justice precisely to heal the scars. It is perhaps the most ambitious victims’ law that any country has ever attempted, and that’s what all the international observers are saying. We are the first country to recognize all of the displaced persons as victims and we want to give them some form of reparation because it’s the only way establish the base for our democracy to move forward without looking back at the past; rather, towards building a better future. We want those wounds to heal and to move ahead in the social sector. That’s why we call ourselves the government of democratic prosperity. Prosperity means fighting poverty. Prosperity means fighting unemployment. Prosperity means taking those who are marginalized from society out of the margins, and being able to deliver a much more just country. We are one of the countries with the highest level of inequality in Latin America and on the planet and now that we have advanced on the security front we can concentrate on those areas – and that is what we’re doing. It is the focus of my administration with no letup, because we have not yet won the battle. All this process of restoring justice, this process of seeking the truth, is taking place amid conflict, because the FARC is still alive, the ELN is still alive – something that has never been done in any other country…generally these processes are only begun once conflict has ended. We started them without the confrontations having ended. That makes the process difficult, but we believe it also provides a much more solid base, a much more solid base to advance with firm steps towards the objectives that we have set for ourselves. In this process of seeking prosperity we have initiated a whole series of policies – economic policies, social policies –that have been well received. We have introduced bills in Congress whose passage is moving forward. We have called for national unity, taking advantage of the very unique situation that Colombia is undergoing – going from being a country that was on the verge of being declared a failed state to one of the democracies that today is seen as the most vibrant and dynamic in the region. The gains in the economic sector are clear to see. Foreign investment in Colombia is increasing at a faster rate, I understand, than in any country in Latin America. The risk factors are improving week by week, that measurement that economists make of the risk factor in the bonds market. Already today the markets have classified us as being investment grade, which means we are paying a lower interest rate than those countries with troubled investments, and the big challenge is to take advantage of this very special situation -- to take that leap on the social side and be able to say in a few years that Colombia stopped being one of the outlier countries, to be able to say that Colombia joined that group of countries with fair, equitable, ongoing and high growth. We are on the right path because already, for example, a new group of countries has been created in the world. Before there were the BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India and China, That was coined by a president of Goldman Sachs around 10 years ago. Those are the four engines that were going to run the world, and indeed during the world recession in 2008 those four engines were the ones that the world adored. Now the president of the Hong Kong-Shanghai Banking Corporation has made a speech in which he said a new group has arisen that is called the CIVETS – Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa –the countries that are coming from behind with a special dynamic. I asked that bank president what was the reason he had chosen Colombia. He told me, “Because you are passing through a golden age. What you have done and plan to do convinces me that you will make a real leap forward in your democracy and in all your economic and social activities. Your geographical position, your foreign policy, the quality of your human resources, all that has led us to identify Colombia as a country in progress and as a country that is worth investing in.” The problem with that is that now the success is becoming a double-edged sword, because with the policy of the European countries, and especially that of the United States Federal Reserve and the cheap dollar -- all that liquidity is rushing into Latin America and to Colombia and revaluating our currency, like in all Latin American countries, and that is causing us some serious problems. Of course, these are problems that have to be faced, but we are on a very good path and I believe that over the next four years we will have sufficient governance to be able to make that leap. We have it now. I called for national unity. All the major parties, except a leftist party that holds about 10% of Congress, joined this national union. We have the backing of Congress and of civic organizations and that’s why we are optimistic that we can continue along a good path. Now…. The success that we have had, for example, on the security front has unfortunately become a problem for neighboring countries, for Central America, for Mexico and for the Caribbean. We were successful in dismantling the drug cartels. At a high price. We lost our best politicians, our best journalists, our best judges, our best police officers, but we persevered and in the struggle we learned how to fight them and we have been able to dismantle those huge mafias, or at least the big drug lords that reigned in Colombia; today they are either in their graves or in prison. The drug trade has not disappeared. There is another debate now with this referendum that was presented in California, a discussion on how to confront the problem at a global level. A process of contemplation began, but as they say in my country, that is a different kettle of fish. The battle against the cartels is one that for Colombia and for many countries is a matter of national security. That’s why we took it on and we managed to dismantle those gangs and put the capos of the big cartels away in a safe place. Organized crime is fearless and very resourceful and has been moving into other countries that now face serious difficulties – all of Central America, the majority of the Caribbean islands. Now at least Colombia is not the main producer of coca leaves. Unfortunately, we pass the problem once again to Peru and that also is a matter that should be taken under consideration. In this respect we have offered all those countries any help that we can give them from the experience that we have accumulated. We have a very effective police force in the battle against these cartels, against these mafias. We set up a mechanism and a legal system that facilitated that battle. We have a public prosecutor’s office – and here I want to give recognition to our public prosecutor who is here, who is confronting all these illegal groups with determination – and we are achieving that objective of not allowing the mafias to take control, as they did of our democracy. But what we want now is to pass that experience on to other countries so they do not commit the same errors we did, so they don’t remain in denial for years. The worst error that a country can commit is to enter, as alcoholics and drug addicts do, into a state of denial, because when they discover they have it, it is too late. That’s what happened to us in Colombia and we paid a very high price, and we are telling many countries to confront those mafias in time. In the case of Mexico, President Calderón, very bravely, when he was President-elect, went to Colombia and said, “I want to confront this problem, this problem that is silent but which is increasingly evident.” And he did, and he did it with great courage. And when one makes that decision one cannot turn back, and the decision has to be made…otherwise the problem really overtakes you. President Calderón did the right thing, because in the Colombian case the mafias had already crushed our democracy, they even had extradition prohibited under the Constitution. We’d fallen to that level in Colombia. That’s why any country that wants to defend its democracy has to react in a timely manner and has to react with full force. What is the role of the press in this difficult process? Well, all members of society have to make a sacrifice, they have to be a part of it. The press is a fundamental element of any democracy and also has a huge responsibility. I believe that Enrique, my brother, has told you on several occasions that in the case of Colombia the press at the most bitter moment, when they murdered the editor of El Espectador – here with us is Mr. Fidel Cano, who kindly accompanied me and whom I also want to thank, the current editor of El Espectador, a nephew of Guillermo – when they killed Guillermo Cano the press made the decision, not imposed by the government, it was the press that took the initiative, to stage a 24-hour countrywide news blackout to remind people what it means to lose free speech and press freedom. At the time radio, television and the press joined forces and all published reports unmasking the cartels, identifying their members, reporting on what they were doing. If they kill us, they kill all of us, we said at that moment. I at the time was working at El Tiempo, and the press gave its share of sacrifice but emerged strengthened, more vigorous, defending its work and the right to report and that all Colombians be well informed. I think that the experience of the Colombian press should be an example. It should serve as an example for the press of other countries that are undergoing similar situations to that of the Mexican press. The enemy is not the government, the enemy is organized crime. As a journalist – and excuse me for speaking as a journalist – one is often confused and blames the government for what organized crime does. It is a serious mistake. What is happening in Mexico, it seems to me, requires caution so that they do not make the mistake of giving in to organized crime’s plan to make the Mexican people call on their government to lower its guard against it, to undermine the spirit, the capacity to fight, of the Mexican people, saying this fight is not worth the effort. That is what the drug lords want. And magnifying the news, making that the only topic in newspaper headlines or on television newscasts. What can happen in the long run is support in the fight against organized crime, whose first victims, as we are seeing here in Mexico, are journalists. My cordial advice to the Mexican press, as a journalist and today as president --as someone who has played both roles -- is to be careful not to fall into the trap. That is what the drug lords want, it’s what Pablo Escobar wanted when he threatened journalists, when he told them, “You cannot publish this or that, because you will pay the consequences.” That is when the press has to say, “We stand here determined, for a common cause with the rest of society.” For any country that is battling organized crime and its unlimited resources, one that has the audacity that our own police officers, our own judges don’t even have, what is called for is perseverance. One cannot stop halfway. To accommodate organized crime is to succumb. That experience we have and it is the experience that we would like to share with you – with journalists and those who maintain order, like the governing forces. To accommodate is to succumb to organized crime. Thank you very much.