[It is very interesting to watch Pres. Santos trying to untie the American knot. So far, he has walked a fine line defending Colombia’s interests without cutting their own throats with the American administration. The Colombian Supreme Court has challenged the demobilization plan to pardon most of the paramilitary foot-soldiers, but nothing has been said about the American role in the illegal armies. Since all of the players in the paramilitary history have been administrators of an American plan, with nearly all of the military leaders trained either at School of the Americas or by American Special or Delta Forces. Everyone used American-supplied weapons, wearing American uniforms…
There is no daylight between the Colombian and US Armies in this dark chapter. It seems that Colombia will only be able to play a role compatible to American interests if Santos can demobilize the entire Colombian Civil War without exposing its nerve center.]
By Juan Forero
Washington Post Staff Writer
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who was inaugurated Aug. 7 and has taken his country by storm with a wide array of new initiatives, spoke to The Post’s Juan Forero on Dec. 6 in New York and again on Dec. 10 in the Colombian capital, Bogota.
Q: You and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela had been bitter rivals. How did you change that relationship?
A: I told Chavez from the beginning: "Let’s not pretend to change each other’s minds. We think very differently on many aspects but let’s respect our differences, and if we respect our differences we can have cordial relations, and that is in the best interest of both the Venezuelans and the Colombians." And that is what I have been doing, establishing a cordial relationship under the understanding that he doesn’t mingle in our internal affairs and vice versa.
Q: What did you get out of this new relationship?
A: So far we have done very well in the sense that we have been starting to collaborate on aspects that for us Colombians are very important. We started having trade, he started paying our exporters, he started collaborating in security issues and for the first time he has helped us recover a couple of kidnapped people that were taken to Venezuela.
Q: You also immediately began to try to reestablish relations across the continent, though your closest ally is the United States. What’s your strategy?
A: I have had extremely good relations with the United States and with both parties (Republicans and Democrats), and I hope to continue to have these good relations, which I, again repeating, do not consider to be mutually exclusive with having good relations with Venezuela or Ecuador or whichever country in South America. And as a matter of fact, President Obama, Secretary Clinton and many members of Congress have celebrated that we have improved our relations with Venezuela and with Ecuador.
Q: You speak of "enhancing" the relationship with the U.S., which has long been defined by the war on drugs. What do you mean?
A: We have improved enough [in the security situation] to be able to include other points in our bilateral agenda like education, the environment, like transfer of technology. . . . Let’s really be strategic partners, not in name but in practice. And what does that mean? That means that Colombia can play a role in the region that coincides with the U.S. interest, like for example helping the Central American countries and the Caribbean countries an
Q: You were defense minister in Uribe’s government but are taking a different path as president. Did you not support his policies?
A: Uribe and I have very good relations. I owe him loyalty, I admire him, he did great things for our country, and I think that because of what he did, I can now concentrate on different issues, different from what he concentrated on.
Q: The Colombia congress has been busy since you took office. What initiatives are you hoping to push through?
A: In these first four months, the congress is approving reforms that nobody ever imagined were going to be even presented, and we not only presented the reforms but they have been approved by congress and with an overwhelming majority. Reforms on royalties, for example, something almost impossible a couple of years ago. This law that is going to allow us to restitute the land to the peasants that were displaced by the illegal groups, or another law that is going to repair [through compensation] the millions of victims that have suffered more than four decades of violence.
Q: Your predecessor, President Uribe, fought with the Supreme Court and criticized its rulings. Was that damaging to democracy and how important do you see the separation of powers?
A: Of course it was damaging the democracy. . . . Democracy is like three oxen pulling a plough. The oxen are the independent powers, but you have to walk in the same direction; otherwise, you cannot plough and that is what was happening in Colombia. One ox was walking in one direction, the other in another direction, so the democracy was not working. The very first step I took was to reestablish relationships with the judicial power, respecting its independence but reestablishing good relations.
Q: What worries do you have about the drug war?
A: There are some fundamental structural contradictions in this war on drugs. . . . We in Colombia have been successful, but our success is hurting the whole of Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Africa, and eventually it will backfire on us again. So are we pursuing the correct long-term policy?
Q: So is legalization of drugs an alternative?
A: I don’t object to discussing any alternatives, but if we are going to discuss alternatives, let’s discuss every alternative. Of course, I am not going to be stupid enough to propose legalization by myself, as a country, but let’s discuss what alternatives do we have – what is the cost, what is the benefit of each alternative?
Q: Are you looking more toward Asia, as are other Latin American countries?
A: We depend too much on the U.S., as we depend too much on Venezuela, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t give a tremendous importance to the U.S. The fact that we are looking to China and Asia is simply the reflection of reality. China is becoming an engine of growth, and we want to participate in that growth.