New Hopes For War's End As Colombia's Santos Holds Power


Santos’s triumph in the run-off election on Sunday over Óscar Iván Zuluaga by 50.9 per cent against 45 per cent of the votes was also the victory of the peace process that began in 2012 and is under way in La Habana, Cuba.

The election was also won by political legitimacy – 60 per cent abstention in the first round dropped to 50 per cent, and Santos received a respectable winning margin of 900,000 votes.

“History has its chapters, and this is the chapter to end the conflict,” he said in his first speech.

Colombia’s civil war is now 50-years-old. It began in 1964, and since then there have been many fruitless attempts to bring it to an end.

The war – waged by the government against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the longest existing left wing guerrilla group in the world, has left Colombians up to their neck in blood.

Santos – who had lost against Zuluaga in last month’s first round, made the peace dialogue his central leitmotif of the campaign, a peace process that recently has also incorporated the much smaller war-waging Liberation National Army (ELN) guerrilla group.

Santos and Zuluaga are ideologically related. Both men are right wing conservatives and political heirs to the former President Álvaro Uribe, now a senator elect.

During Uribe’s government – 2002-2010 – Zuluaga was in charge of Finances and Santos was in charge of Defence. However, in his first terms, Santos began disassociating himself from the Uribista block, the hard line, right wing fundamentalist political cluster led by former president Alvaro Uribe. 

During the election, Santos positioned himself as a more appeasing negotiator. This included the recognition of an existing conflict that needs a “political solution”. Zuluaga on the other hand described the FARC as common criminals and terrorists and therefore as non-lawful interlocutors. 

He wants – as Uribe wanted – the military defeat and surrender of the guerrillas. And this won’t happen.

These two approaches have profound implications when it comes to the post-war process of reconciliation and immersion of the left-wing fighters into the civilian life and political arena.

The political participation of the guerrillas post-conflict is one of the most sensitive aspects of this scenario.

Santos has shown more willingness to incorporate the guerrillas into the political arena, while Zuluaga made his intentions clear, when he said he didn’t want to see FARC’s maximum leader Timochenko in Congress..

Santos will be president for the next four years and he will have to thank the Left for this.

Grouped around the Alianza Verde (Green Alliance), Marcha (March) and the Unión Patriótica (Patriotic Union), the Left gave its support to Santos on the basis of two central conditions: to continue with the peace dialogue; and establish a government with a stronger social vocation. 

While the peace process is among the priorities of many Colombians, they are mostly concerned about education, health and employment. 

Colombia, a country that this year has experienced the sorrow of losing its much beloved writer Gabriel García Marquez, and the exhilaration of a winning start in the Football World Cup, has historic and deeply rooted societal problems.

The war has taken the lives of almost 250,000 people and has displaced around 10 per cent of the population.

It is estimated that 32 per cent of its 47 million people live in poverty, and it is the seventh most unequal country in the world.  The high level of corruption – in all levels of the public sector – is a major problem, as is the justice system’s reluctance to bring it to heel.

While war violence is mainly experienced in rural areas, the cities have been engulfed in a spiralling urban violence – from assaults to pickpocketing – that has put Colombia at the top of the most insecure societies in the world.

Proportionally, the rate of homicides is higher than Brazil and Mexico.

“We continue to be a tremendously violent society,” said María Victoria Llorente, Director of the Ideas for Peace Foundation.

And this is indeed another problem – the re-socialization of the Colombian society with peace.

The culture of violence has scattered into all sectors of society. In the last few years, for example, gender violence has raised to levels and brutality not seen before. Acid attacks against women have become common.

The success of Santos – a classic exponent of the Latin American oligarchy – will depend on his ability to continue with some of the economic accomplishments of his first term in government, such as the respectable 4.3 per cent annual growth, the 2.5 million reduction in poverty and the steady decline of the 9.6 per cent unemployment.

It will also depend on his ability to get rid of the old faces in his cabinet, to incorporate the Left into his administration, and to heal the political wounds with the right, a sector that feels rather uncomfortable with the peace process.

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.