The Washington Post

Colombia’s president on the country’s new war-reparations law

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos spoke with The Post’s Juan Forero on Friday about the new law that calls on the government to compensate millions of victims of the country’s long armed conflict.

Q: How significant is this law, and what does it mean in the framework of Colombia’s conflict?

Santos: “This law is very, very significant because I think we are the only country in the world that, in the middle of a conflict, we are repairing millions of victims, and we are giving back to millions of peasants their land that was taken away by these violent groups. And what this means for society is, it’s going to heal the wounds that we have accumulated for decades.”

Q: Is this a gesture that could lead to a framework to spur negotiations with the rebels?

Santos: “What they must understand is that we’re not talking about peace, we’re reconstructing the peace in Colombia, especially in the rural areas where the violence has been concentrated. And if they don’t understand that, the train of history will leave them behind forever.”

Q: But to have peace, you need to negotiate with your adversary. Does this law get you there?

Santos: “When I say we’re constructing the peace, [it’s] that the violence in Colombia has concentrated in the rural areas, and by giving back the land to the peasants, you take away many of the reasons why some people still think that the violence is necessary.”

Q: There are obstacles to making this law work, such as the cost. How much will it cost?

Santos: “We don’t know yet because we need to see how many victims we have to repair and how many persons we have to give the land back to, so there is not a precise figure. But we know it is going to be very costly, and of course we need help from everybody.”

Q: The FARC in January reacted positively to the possibility of a law to compensate war victims. Now that the law is approved, is there an opening here?

Santos: “The door is open, but I need to have a very clear message from them that they are willing — and they are willing in good faith. . . . Unless there is a clear message in that respect, I see no possibility of a dialogue.”

Q: So if their attitude changes, this law could serve as a steppingstone to creating space for talks?

Santos: “Oh, yes of course. If they’re intelligent and shrewd enough to take advantage of this, of course they could.”


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