MOVING FORWARD

Colombia 2017 | DIPLOMACY | INSIDE PERSPECTIVE

Colombia has changed for the better; Colombia is still changing for the better. And our task is to continue this path of progress to ensure that more Colombians have access to a better quality of life.

Juan Manuel Santos
BIOGRAPHY
Juan Manuel Santos graduated from the Naval School of Cartagena in 1969. After leaving the Navy, he attended the University of Kansas, graduating in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration and went on to receive an MSc in economic development from the London School of Economics and another in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He has worked as Chief Executive of the Colombian Coffee Delegation to the International Coffee Organization and Sub-Director of his family-owned newspaper, El Tiempo. Under President César Gaviria he acted as Minister of Foreign Trade. During President Pastrana he served as Finance Minister. In 2006 he became Minister of Defense, before being elected President in June 2010.

On July 20, 2017, we celebrated the first Colombian Independence Day since 1963 without the shadow of an absurd war. Weapons were handed over to the UN. Stashes of weapons are being located and destroyed. This in an example of peace in a turbulent world and was recognized and applauded recently by the 15 member countries of the UN Security Council.

After many failed attempts, many believed we would never see this day; however, today is an irrefutable reality. This is not just the achievement of this President or this government; I want everyone to rid that idea from their heads. The peace of Colombia is precisely of Colombia. This peace belongs to each and every single Colombian; we must protect and defend it. This belongs to the congressmen who consciously approved the reforms and laws needed to pave the way to ratify the agreement to end the conflict and to start its rightful implementation.

Congress drew up the laws to put an end to a past of violence and is now dictating the laws to start building a future in harmony, civility, and coexistence. How was this accomplished? For instance, creating the integral system of truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition; making it possible for those who abandoned the path of weapons to join democracy; and guaranteeing the stability of the agreements among many other initiatives approved during the past legislature. However, we still have a full legislature ahead, a legislature that Congress and the government must continue to advance to consolidate the new country that we can become after we are done with a civil war that lasted over half a century.

Moving forward, we will pass reforms of the greatest importance, such as a reform that will allow the investment of COP 1 trillion on tertiary roads, political and electoral reforms that will contribute to cleaning up and improving our democratic system, a statutory law for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, and reforms targeting an integral rural development and a more balanced use of the land.

This is all a result of the negotiators, the public workers of the government, judges, the international community, artists, sportsmen, intellectuals, and every Colombian and foreign person who have added the grain of sand to make that we can live the moment that we are living right now. And of course, many thanks to the thousands of heroes in our Military Forces and the Nacional Police who have given everything to obtain the biggest victory that a policeman or a soldier can achieve: peace.

I am the first to recognize that insecurity is still a preoccupying factor for Colombians. That is why we have to make a huge effort to reduce the crimes that affect civilian security. We have to continue to reduce current homicide and kidnapping rates, which are the lowest in the last four decades. Even one homicide or a kidnapping is one too many. Another major challenge is drug trafficking; we are aware of the significant surge that coca fields have experienced in the country. Now, without the armed conflict with the FARC, we can be more effective in dealing with this issue and insecurity in general. We have set a goal to eradicate at least 100,000ha of coca: 50,000ha through voluntary substitution and another 50,000ha through forced eradication. Of the latter, we have already eradicated 23,000ha. We are also doing this via a special mechanism to monitor and prevent replanting.

No one has said the end of the conflict with the FARC will be complete peace or the beginning of paradise on earth. However, it is a milestone that no one can deny, and it is a factor to continue consolidating many other advancements that the country has had in the social and economic spheres in the defense of the rights and welfare of all Colombians.

Frankly, let us forget that these advancements were achieved during this years of government. But do not forget the common achievements that we have reached together. In a country such as ours there are many needs to attend to; we still have a great deal of work to do in many areas and we will dedicate this last year of work to making further advancements in even larger goals. But do not forget, do not minimize what Colombia has achieved in the last seven years. Colombia has changed for the better; Colombia is still changing for the better. And our task is to continue this path of progress to ensure that more Colombians have access to a better quality of life.

Seven years ago, our country had less than 19 million employed people. Today, there are 22.3 million, which is extra 3 million. Unemployment seven years ago was over 12%; today it is in single digits, as we promised. Seven years ago, the majority of the jobs were informal, without social benefits. Today, more than half the employed people in Colombia work in the formal sector. In addition, over 5 million Colombians have moved above of the poverty line in the last seven years. We achieved this with timely advancements in health, housing, education, public services, and access to culture and sports. Today, health is a fundamental right, and we have established almost total universal coverage. And also, there are no patients of first and second category level.
As for education, we are on the path to becoming the best educated country in Latin America for 2025. Before, basic education was not free, and children went to school for just a few hours. More than 1.2 million young children are now benefiting from the strategy of integral attention “From Zero to Forever," and over 8 million young people are studying in primary and secondary for free.

I know many citizens are worried about the deceleration of the economy. We are taking the right measures to ensure the economy is more dynamic and we hope the economy will experience an important surge in the second semester. Colombia suffered from the dramatic fall in oil prices, an important revenue source, last year around at the same time we experienced the worst El Niño phenomenon in our history. We grew less, but are still growing over the average in Latin America. We passed unpopular but responsible measures such as the tax reform, and injected resources to sectors that generate jobs and energize the economy such as housing and infrastructure.

On the other hand, inflation, which soared in previous years, is again under the 4% band. Exports in the first five months of the year increased 25% compared to the same period the year before. FDI, meanwhile, grew in 1Q2017 by over 8%. Total investment as percentage of GDP was also the largest in the entire region. Tourism is a sector that grows rapidly and hits a new record every year. Last year, for example, more than 5 million people visited Colombia and in the first half of 2017 the number of foreign visitors increased 46%, another fact that demonstrates the benefits of peace.

Colombia is changing and will continue to change. Do not ever forget this: we are one people. We are one nation.