President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón of Colombia arrived to a warm reception and a full house at UNU Headquarters in Tokyo on Monday, 12 September, to deliver the 18th U Thant Distinguished Lecture. President Santos laid out his vision for Colombia and discussed the great strides his country has made.
The president, on a working visit to Japan with senior cabinet ministers, described Colombia’s difficult recent history. He noted that ten years ago, “despite its incredible potential”, the country to many analysts seemed doomed to remain “a failed state”. The president spoke in the strongest terms for those who “always knew” that Colombia would succeed, and “always had faith” in its democracy.
President Santos spoke not only about the practical gains made in recent years, from the demobilization of illegal security forces to the creation of more than 700,000 new jobs, but also about the strong legal nature of the policies revolutionizing his country. Describing it as “an effort guided by a fundamental respect for human rights and international law”, President Santos argued that, in any country, security, stability and prosperity can only be won by using the weapons granted by the “constitution and law”.
Throughout his lecture, the president emphasized the importance of Colombia as a model for conflict resolution across the world, and the amount that other nations could learn from Colombia’s development. Only by focusing on the importance of stability and “governability”, he argued, can genuine progress be made. In Colombia, he said, the National Unity government has served to provide an end to polarization without losing the benefits of a pluralist democracy, governing not with unanimity but with amity.
Equally, the president was quick to stress the critical importance of the “Democratic Prosperity” programme and its three pillars: improvements in security, increases in employment and poverty reduction. With every state institution geared towards these objectives, the president expressed his confidence in his government’s ability to improve the lot of the poorest and most vulnerable, and the even greater gains to be made in the months and years to come.
Looking to the future, President Santos was positive and optimistic. With the groundwork now being laid, he said, Colombia could finally broaden its agenda and focus on issues of poverty, housing, good governance and fiscal prudence, infrastructure, safeguarding the nation’s unparalleled biodiversity, and much else. With its focus on conciliation and dialogue, the president put Colombia forward as a supporter of mediation in the region and “throughout the world”.
Anticipating a “decade of Latin America”, the President reminded the audience of Seneca’s famous maxim: “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable”. For Colombia, he said, the port is known, “and we have called it ‘Democratic Prosperity’.”