Resilience, Peace and Security

Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia president, wins Nobel Peace Prize. Here's why

Cuba's President Raul Castro (C), Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, react after the signing of a historic ceasefire deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels in Havana, Cuba, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa - RTX2HV5L

Image: REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa - RTX2HV5L

Simon Torkington
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Juan Manuel Santos has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, just two weeks after declaring to the United Nations:“There is one less war on the planet.”

His role in ending the 52-year conflict with the leftist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was characterized by direct military engagement and negotiations that began in secret.

Taking the fight to FARC

As Defence Minister in early 2008, Santos ordered his forces across the border into Ecuador, where they killed FARC leader Raul Reyes in a bombing raid.

Months later, Santos again sent his military into action to rescue the kidnapped politician Ingrid Betancourt. She had been held hostage by FARC for six years. Santos released dramatic video of the helicopter rescue deep in the Colombian jungle. As the nation celebrated, his reputation as an astute political figure was rapidly being secured.

Two years later, in 2010, Santos ran for the presidency and won by a landslide victory. His share of the vote was among the largest majorities in Colombian electoral history.

Secret talks with FARC

By 2012, under the new president's leadership, the fight against FARC was taking on a different aspect. In the jungles, the military engagements continued, but in the diplomatic shadows the Colombian government was involved in secret talks with FARC leaders.
Santos stood for a second term of office in 2014. This time he put a peace deal with FARC at the centre of his manifesto. Amid deepening political hostility with his former allies, Santos won a second term after a run-off vote.

Santos speaks at the World Economic Forum in Colombia Image: World Economic Forum

Ending the war

With added vigour, Santos pursed his ambition to end five decades of war that had killed more than 250,000 people.

In June this year, as a deal neared, Santos spoke about his efforts to bring peace at the World Economic Forum in Latin America, which was being held in the Colombian city of Medellin.

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He told the Forum that his strategy of an unrelenting military campaign had eventually convinced FARC leaders that a negotiated settlement, and a transition from war to a political process, was the only way out of the conflict.

After six years of negotiations, Juan Manuel Santos delivered on his promise to end the war. On 25 August 2016 he stood on the steps of Colombia’s congress and told his country: "The armed conflict with the FARC is ending.” With those words, the president declared an end to military action against the rebels.

A referendum and a rejection

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos casts his vote in a referendum on a peace deal between the government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels at Bolivar Square in Bogota, Colombia, October 2, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino
Santos casts his vote in a referendum on the peace deal Image: REUTERS/John Vizcaino

The peace process suffered a setback on 2 October when, in a shocking development, the people of Colombia rejected the peace agreement in a referendum. Santos and the FARC leadership have both restated their commitment to ending the war permanently.

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