BOGOTA – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, in an interview with Efe, expressed his confidence that formal peace negotiations will be opened with the ELN guerrillas and a peace agreement with the larger FARC rebel group will be concluded so that, by the end of his term in 2018, peace will reign in the South American country.
On the eve of his state visit to Spain, which he will begin on Sunday at the invitation of King Felipe VI, Santos said that the local elections in October could serve to back up the agreements with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, with which talks are moving forward in Cuba.
And by that time, a formal dialogue should be under way with the National Liberation Army, or ELN.
“This year we’re going to begin a dialogue with the ELN. I’m almost sure that it will be so,” said the president, noting that currently the informal discussions are in “the secret phase.”
Months of secret contacts preceded the August 2012 announcement about the start of negotiations with the FARC.
“I don’t deny that it’s been difficult,” he said regarding the ELN, which – he added – “has a different structure, it’s more about taking collective decisions. They have to consult among themselves, they have another way of thinking about many issues.”
“But if they have the will that they’re saying publicly, we’re going to get to agreements,” he said.
Regarding the dialogue in Havana with the FARC, Santos said that this is a key moment and responded “yes” when asked if the agreements could be ratified by the public in October.
“It would be ideal to be able to use the entire infrastructure of the elections to fulfill that requirement, but it depends on how much we’ve moved forward,” he said.
The most critical point now is the discussion about how the perpetrators of crimes should be treated, and Santos said that “the magic formula is the maximum justice that allows peace.”
“It’s not possible to pardon, to forget, those amnesties, those reprieves that were achieved in the past. Today, that’s not possible,” the president said. “There cannot be peace with impunity.”
The FARC “doesn’t want to be the first guerrilla group in world history to lay down its arms to go to jail,” but they have been warned that “they must understand that today’s world demands justice,” Santos said.
The president acknowledged that the FARC “have complied with the cease-fire” the rebels put in place before Christmas, but “unfortunately they continue extorting, trafficking, they continue with illegal mining.”
And he said that “it’s possible” to begin the removal of antipersonnel mines even before signing a definitive accord in Havana.
With those advances secured, Santos will make a state visit to Spain following another one in November when he sought support for the creation of a European fund that would finance the post-war period in Colombia.
He emphasized that Spain’s support for peace in Colombia is “fundamental” due to its political clout and being “a window on the European Union.”
“We want Spain’s support to be maintained, especially in the difficult time that’s coming, when we’re going to make complicated decisions, when the international community has to support us and be flexible,” he said.
Santos imagined how Colombia will be in 2018, when he leaves the presidency, saying it will be “a fairer country, with fewer inequalities, an ideal country in which to live” and with “guerrillas doing politics without weapons.”
And he said that he will be a respectful ex-president. “What I can guarantee is that I’m not going to bother my successor,” said Santos, alluding to his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, who is currently the main opponent to the peace process.