Colombia's new president lays out his vision in speech

By Juan Forero
Washington Post staff writer
Saturday, August 7, 2010; 11:01 PM

Juan Manuel Santos catapulted to the presidency of Colombia after the armed forces, under his watch, delivered the biggest blows against the FARC rebel group in the country's long conflict.

But his cabinet appointments since winning the presidency in June, and his speech Saturday after being sworn in as president, suggest marked differences in tone and style between him and his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, in whose government Santos was defense minister for three years until 2009.

Though Uribe's security policies were widely supported, critics say he was a polarizing figure who weakened institutions, including the judiciary, while attacking opposition figures and human rights groups.

The following are comments from Santos, a 58-year-old economist educated in the United States, on issues ranging from poverty to the country's relations with Venezuela to the need to respect the separation of powers.

-- On the need for national unity: "More than ever, it's important for Colombians to opt for unity and not for confrontation. A government of national unity, like the one I propose, does not mean a bureaucratic handing out of jobs but a great alliance to consolidate the Colombia that we all dream of."

-- On the fight against poverty: "If we can meet overcome the challenge of poverty, the intellectual and economic potential of Colombia will take off as a force that cannot be contained. That is why I reiterate today . . . that we will not defraud the poor. We will not fail the poor. We will work to reduce poverty with the same intensity and with the same commitment with which we fight -- and will continue to fight -- terrorism."

-- On home building for the needy: "Another priority of my government will be making possible the dream of every Colombian to have a dignified home for his family. We have the goal of doubling subsidies and building at least one million new homes in the next four years."

-- On seizing land that is illegally in the hands of criminals: "We will present before Congress a Land Law and we will accelerate the mechanisms so that land the state has seized from criminals -- and we will seize it -- is turned back to rural villagers, who are the ones who really work it."

-- On possible peace talks with rebels: "To the illegally armed groups that invoke political reasons and today speak once again of dialogue and negotiation, I say to them that my government will be open to any talks that seek the end of violence and the building of a more prosperous, equal and just society."

-- On how the state will continue to fight the rebels, until they stop their war: "As long as they do not liberate hostages, as long as they commit terrorist acts, as long as they do not return children recruited by force, as long as they plant mines and contaminate farmland, we will continue to confront all the violent ones, without exception."

-- On fighting corruption: "Just as the terrorist chiefs were high-value objectives to locate and neutralize, we will go after and combat the corrupt ones who rob the resources of the Colombians."

-- On respecting the judiciary: "As a democrat, I believe and will defend the independence of justice in Colombia, which is essential to the separation of powers, the soul of a modern democracy. That is why I reiterate my invitation to the high courts to work in complete harmony, seeking fast and efficient justice for all Colombians and fighting impunity, which is one of the greatest challenges of our times."

-- On relations with Venezuela and Ecuador: "One of my fundamental objectives as president will be to rebuild relations with Venezuela and Ecuador, to reestablish confidence and stress diplomacy . . . I thank the many people who through their good graces have offered to mediate the situation with Venezuela, but I should honestly say that, because of the circumstances and the way I do things, I prefer frank and direct dialogue."

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