What President Juan Manuel Santos wants for Colombia

Friday, September 24, 2010

Colombia's new president, Juan Manuel Santos, surprised many by reaching out to Venezuela's Hugo Chávez after coming to office in August. He discusses the FARC, Venezuela and his country's future with The Post's Lally Weymouth. Excerpts:

Q. How will your presidency differ from that of your predecessor, President Álvaro Uribe?

A. When Uribe came into power, circumstances forced him to concentrate on security issues. He launched a very successful program called "democratic security" -- security for every Colombian within the law and the constitution. In the last eight years, this has transformed the country. I come into power with a different set of circumstances . . . [and have to] concentrate on social issues -- the fight against poverty and unemployment.

What do you plan to do to finish off the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia]?

It is a concept we call "consolidation of the territory." We come into a certain territory with the armed forces, we clean up, then we come in with the presence of the state -- with teachers and doctors to get to a point where if the FARC wanted to come back, they would be rejected by the population. That has been working very well.

Recently you met with Venezuelan President Chavez. . . . How do you see working with Chavez? Do you trust him?

When the problems with Chávez started and he shut down trade, it had a very dramatic cost to our economy. So when I came into power, I said there is nothing worse than what is happening at this moment: no diplomatic relations, no dialogue, no trade and the apparent presence of the FARC in Venezuela. Even though I have had deep differences with Mr. Chávez, I have a responsibility to try to achieve at least normal relations with Venezuela. So I made an approach . . . [and] we had a meeting.

What happened?

First of all, we said let's respect each other. We can think very differently, but if we respect our differences, [and] have good relations, our people will benefit. Things are going extremely well. Chávez called me two days ago and said that he had captured a very important drug trafficker. He asked if I wanted him, and I said [the United States had asked for him], so I said send him to them because that is what we are going to do. And he did that [Tuesday]. Trade is starting to flow again. He is starting to pay our exporters, which he had ceased to do. He is starting to help in terms of the security on the border.

So he is starting to stop giving the FARC bases in Venezuela?

I would say he is starting to deliver. He has said vehemently, and he repeated it to me two days ago -- "I will not support the presence of any illegal group in Venezuela."

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