The Colombian Minister Of Defence, with a mandate to fight the revolutionary armed forces of Colombia (FARC), resigns and instead runs for president – convinced that negotiations, rather than war, will have a better outcome. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end – a war that was costing $9.3 million per day.
There is no better cause worth believing in, for any society or country, than living in peace,” says Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Despite an initial setback, where a margin of 0.2% of the population voted against his attempts at securing a lasting peace, he is now closer after Congress passed a new bill in November last year. “It’s foolish to believe that the end of any conflict must be the elimination of the enemy,” he says. “A final victory through force is none other than the defeat of the human spirit.” Santos sees his quest for peace as giving hope to other nations also in the grip of conflict.
War has never been good for human rights or for creating a thriving economy and the Colombian conflict has historical numbers that stack up in favor of despair, rather than healthy economic growth. According to a study by Colombia’s National Centre for Historical Memory, 220,000 people have died in the conflict between 1958 and 2013, most of them civilians (177,307 civilians and 40,787 fighters) and more than five million civilians were forced from their homes between 1985 – 2012, generating the world’s second largest population of internally displaced persons.
Almost 17% of the population in Colombia has been a direct victim of the war, 2.3 million children have been displaced from their homes, and 45,000 children killed, according to UNICEF. In total, one in three of the 7.6 million registered victims of the conflict are children, and since 1985, 8,000 minors have disappeared. Since the peace talks with the FARC began four years ago, some 1,000 children have been forcibly recruited by some of the myriad armed groups in the country, 75 have been killed, and 65 schools have been damaged by fighting.
The loss of human life, and the cost to future generations and economic growth is not lost on Santos, who has a Masters of Science in Economic Development from the London School of Economics and a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University. The 52-year Colombian war has cost the country USD152 billion, according to conflict monitoring NGO Indepaz. Within the last five years the daily cost of the war has escalated to USD9.3 million per day – enough to feed 3 million people in Colombia and wipe out extreme poverty in that country. The impending 10-year peace plan is estimated to cost another $31 billion, resources that might otherwise be used on health, education and infrastructure.
Santos acknowledges that ending the world’s oldest armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere has not been easy and is still a work in progress.
“Allow me to tell you, from my own experience, that it’s much harder to make peace than to wage war. I was once given a wise piece of advice from a professor at Harvard: ‘Whenever you feel discouraged, tired, pessimistic, talk with the victims. They will give you the push and strength to keep you going.’ Whenever I had the chance, I listened to the victims of this war and heard their heartbreaking stories. I found a great paradox: while many who have not suffered the conflict in their own flesh are reluctant to accept peace, the victims are the ones who are most willing to forgive, to reconcile, and to face the future with a heart free of hate.”