Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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Diplomatie & Défense
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  M. / Mr. Juan Manuel Santos

Taking on a New Role on the International Stage

Long masked by the country’s internal conflict, Colombia’s assets are finally shining through. Bolstered by its vast natural, human and cultural resources, Colombia is expected to become Latin America’s third economy. It is also putting forward a brand-new face in the community of nations, serving as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, a key player in South American regional institutions, and the host country for the 6th Summit of the Americas. Two years after taking office, Colombian President  Juan Manuel Santos shares his thoughts on the strides his country has made, as well as the priorities it has set out to get the economy growing faster.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. President, You have been steering Colombia in a new political direction since taking office for a four-year term, after winning the 21 June 2010 election with 69% of the vote. Could you describe the concept of “democratic prosperity” for our readers, and give us an overview of the changes you are making in Colombia in order to speed up the development process?
Mr Juan Manuel Santos: During the presidential campaign, we put forward an agenda for moving forward on the path to democratic security, as laid out for us by President Alvaro Uribe, which won the support of more than nine million voters. We have set a goal that encompasses this security concern but goes even further, propelling us into a new era wherein we will also strive to attain democratic prosperity.
This prosperity will not be measured only in terms of material advances, but will be comprehensive prosperity that combines economic growth and social equality. This is because growth is useless if the wealth it produces does not generate more and better jobs, more accessible and higher quality education, and wider access to more satisfying health care. In short, it must give people a better quality of life.
It was in this spirit that our government laid out the objectives at the heart of its National Development Plan, focusing on three key areas: maintaining and heightening security, creating more high-quality jobs, and reducing our poverty indexes. The end goal of the task we have taken on is summed up in the name of our action plan: “Prosperity for All.”

T.D.L.: In June 2011, you signed into law a measure to compensate victims of Colombia’s internal conflict, making building peace a top priority. Has there been headway in compensating individuals and returning lands, per the terms of this law? Could you outline your strategy for ending the conflict, with both the FARC guerrillas and paramilitary organizations?  

J.M.S.: The inequitable distribution of land is an argument the guerillas are forever putting forward to justify their violence, but the rise of paramilitary forces is an outgrowth of their savagery, and has created a vicious circle that has brought even greater inequality. It has created more landless peasants who have been displaced and stripped of their lands, more families who have lost their murdered fathers, more children recruited by armed groups, more women assaulted in every way imaginable.
The Victims and Land Restitution Law, which we enacted and are implementing with help from the country’s various political forces, is an instrument that enables the State to support peasant families and help them recover their lands. Various studies indicate that nearly two million hectares were stolen, in a variety of ways, by violent and corrupt persons who took advantage of the conflict to usurp legal ownership of these lands. The stakes here are enormous: in the mere two and a half months the law has been in effect, we have already received restitution claims for more than 740,000 hectares.
This is, however, only half the challenge we are facing, as an estimated four million hectares of land were also abandoned by displaced persons, without legally changing hands. We are working on this problem as well, not only by supporting peasant families that are trying to return to their lands, but by transferring the title deeds to them, making them the formal owners. Since taking office, we have transferred title deeds for nearly 850,000 hectares of land, giving official ownership to peasant and indigenous families, as well as Colombian families of African descent. Let me emphasize that the corresponding title deeds were handed over directly to these families.
We are pushing forward with this “agrarian revolution” – this simple but necessary campaign for justice – with support from our institutions and operating strictly within the law, showing that violence has no place in our country. We are also continuing our battle against guerrilla fighters, offering them an opportunity to demobilize, which thousands have already done. We are fighting criminal gangs financed by narcotrafficking as well, throwing the full weight of the law at them and putting our police and armed forces into action in a determined and professional manner.   

T.D.L.: The 2011-2014 Development Plan drawn up by your administration is driven by five key “engines” and lays special focus on reducing poverty, for instance by setting aside 10% of mining industry royalties for measures that foster innovation. With Colombian GDP rising nearly 6% in 2011, have notable strides been made in this area? Could you summarize the key points of the National Innovation Strategy for our readers?

J.M.S.: Our biggest achievement to date has been the passage by Congress of the Royalties Reform Law, which went into effect in 2012. We are going to spread the wealth from our underground resources more
equitably, so that it benefits not only mining and petroleum regions but all Colombians, especially our poorest countrymen. 10% of these royalties will be put into a special Science, Technology and Innovation Fund, as stipulated in the reform law. This money will be available to any region requiring funding for major projects or programs aimed at making them more competitive. This year, we will have 350 million dollars at our disposal, culled from these royalties alone. It will be used to enhance our scientific and technological capacity and foster innovation. This is a historic wager for Colombians. While we have always stressed the importance of investing in knowledge, never before has this much funding been set aside for this sector.
The drawing up of a National Innovation Strategy is another key advance. It focuses on three main areas: human capital, science and technology, and, finally, promoting business innovation.
With regard to human capital, we would like more men and women to obtain doctoral degrees. We are working to that end, with the aim of having 3,000 new PhDs by the time I leave office. In the science and technology arena, we are going to invest more heavily in research, boosting investments in this area from 0.19% to 0.50% of GDP. Finally, in order to promote business innovation, our goal is to increase the percentage of businesses considered “innovative” to 45%, knowing that the most recent study shows that only 25% of the country’s businesses can currently be labeled as such.
We are, of course, eager to have the world’s greatest experts working with us, to help achieve these goals. We are thus taking steps to join the OECD’s Committee for Scientific and Technology Policy. We hope to receive technical assistance from this organization, so that we can craft and implement better public policies along with the good practices which go hand in hand with them.

T.D.L.: Colombia has a wealth of natural resources, including mining and petroleum industries that currently account for 1.5% of GDP, a figure it hopes to raise  to 6%. Given the significant investments the government has recently poured into these efforts, what kind of measures are you taking to enhance the country’s growth potential in these areas? How do you plan to handle the constraints imposed by the need to protect the environment?

J.M.S.: The mining and petroleum industry is indeed extremely dynamic. Not only has this given it considerable weight in overall GDP, it has also drawn a great deal of foreign investment to the sector, which doubled in 2011, climbing to nearly ten billion dollars. We are confident that these investments will spur an increase in  mineral and petroleum production as well as enhanced transport capacity, which will translate into greater well-being for our communities thanks to the revenue brought in by this sector.
Since I took office, we have been working hard to enhance conditions and thus ensure that Colombia remains attractive to investors. Our key macroeconomic indexes are on the rise. We have stable public policies that do not strain either the new capital flowing into our country, or the capital already invested there. What’s more, we are determined to maintain secure conditions, and are thus strengthening the factors that safeguard the sector’s infrastructures.
In 2012 we are going to invite tenders for zones that have strong hydrocarbon potential, convinced this will draw fresh capital to this sector. We have promising prospects in nontraditional hydrocarbons as well, and are trying to secure conditions that attract a strong influx of investments this coming year.
As you can see, Colombia is banking heavily on this sector, which is why we are determined to enhance it, without sacrificing our environmental resources. We have consequently created an institution that issues environmental permits, which will help us meet our objectives while inflicting as little damage as possible on the environment.

T.D.L.: Colombia would like to work more closely with other nations on the international stage, as evidenced by its bid to join the OECD. Have you laid out a timetable for implementing structural reforms with that goal in mind? Have you launched new measures to move toward ratification of the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention? Could you tell our readers about some of the opportunities a reinvigorated Colombia can offer foreign companies?

J.M.S.: The OECD is the most effective organization in the world for debating the quality of public policies practiced by different countries. That said, it does no provide “magic formulas” for reforms to be enacted when a country wishes to become an OECD member; to the contrary. Public policies that have proved successful in other developed or developing countries are, nevertheless, debated there. We are preparing to carry out technical studies designed by the OECD, to assess the quality of our own country’s public policies. These studies and discussions, conducted in committees and working groups, will help us pinpoint the kind of reforms we need to make.
As it moves forward with this process, the Colombian government would like to join the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. Not only is it one of the organization’s most important instruments, it is also vital to the admission process. The Convention is the first and only international instrument focused on fighting corruption in the form of bribes made during private sector transactions. The 38 countries that are party to the Convention accounted for two-thirds of global exports in 2009, and 90% of outward foreign direct investment.
In order to join the Convention, Colombia incorporated the OECD’s suggestions for fighting corruption into its own Anti-Bribery Statutes approved in 2011. Thanks to extensive technical efforts by both Colombia and the OECD, this past November our country was invited to become a Convention member. It accepted, and the Congress of the Republic is taking the necessary steps to ratify this accord, in full compliance with Colombian law.  It is clear that foreign companies that come to work in Colombia will find a climate that has zero tolerance for bribery or subornation.

T.D.L.: The Colombian market lies at a strategic location at the heart of Latin America. You have opened up the country’s economy even further, first by helping create the Pacific Alliance, in April 2011, then by announcing Colombia would make a bid to join APEC. What kinds of advances are you hoping these initiatives will spur, in terms of making the economy more competitive? Conversely, what do think about the fears voiced in the Colombian agricultural sector that ratifying free trade agreements with the EU and the United States could lead to unfair and imbalanced competition?

J.M.S.: We need groups such as Latin America’s Pacific Alliance, as well as closer ties with Asian economies in a variety of forums, such as APEC and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in order to become better integrated globally. We have set the goal of tripling Colombian exports over the coming decade, along with increasing the flow of foreign direct investment. The advances made over the past decade have bolstered our conviction, prompting us to place these bets on our future. Agreements have the advantage of guaranteeing legal certainty and laying down stable laws for exporters and investors, Colombian and foreign alike. Colombia is the only country in South America with coastlines on both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, which affords it a natural calling as a common denominator and bridge between European, North American, Asian, and Latin American markets.
Every treaty covers sectors that benefit from free trade, as well others which, to the contrary, are hindered by it. The important thing is ensuring that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, for all parties. The treaty we signed with the United States, like the one we signed with the European Union, was supported by the wide majority of Colombia’s farming industries. Certain industries will, however, need to  adapt, given their specific conditions. We are trying to take full advantage of the extra time allotted to us, thanks to various tax exemptions, to heighten productivity in industries still lagging far behind. Moreover, treaties enable us to control export subsidies, which is a vital step forward on the way to reducing imbalances in agricultural prices.
We believe our treaties with the United States and the EU will allow us to increase Colombian farming exports and, above all, diversify them. We believe the implementation of these treaties will open up considerable new potential, particularly in the fruit and vegetable sector, as both the European and North American markets already import a substantial amount of produce. In fact, we have identified agriculture as one of the sectors that should benefit the most from these treaties. It is clear that both the public and private sectors will have to make significant efforts in this arena, but we are convinced that we are headed in the right direction.

T.D.L.: Your country has been a member of UNASUR since February 2011 and is currently at the head of its Secretariat-General. Has the Union given the South American integration process fresh momentum? Now that UNASUR is a recognized international legal entity, what can Colombia do to advance its cooperation programs in the economic and security arenas and help it overcome the challenges facing the region, such as narcotrafficking and organized crime?

J.M.S.: The selection of former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Maria Emma Mejia, to head the UNASUR Secretariat-General is a vote of confidence in Colombia on the part of the other countries in the region. It is also an acknowledgment of our desire to make a constructive contribution to the processes being carried out at the regional level. This choice, coupled with the reestablishment of full ties with Ecuador and Venezuela, has strengthened our position in South America. Colombia’s continued contributions have been fundamental in establishing UNASUR’s international structure, founded on flexibility and effectiveness.
We have worked on issues at the forefront of the UNASUR agenda, such as strengthening infrastructures and setting up an alert and coordination system, in the face of the global financial crisis. In the security arena, we have adopted a Protocol comprised of trust-building measures and have created a register to track military spending in the region.
At our prompting, studies are now underway to identify the best way to work together to overcome the regional and transnational threats raised by organized crime and narcotrafficking. Our Foreign Affairs, Defense, Interior, and Justice Ministers will meet in Cartagena in May 2012, to determine which of the organization’s bodies is best equipped to tackle these problems.
With regard to cooperation, it is extremely important that Colombia strengthen its institutions and their powers, by implementing programs and projects that foster sectoral integration and have long-range indexes that can be measured.
On a broader level, we are cooperating with the countries of Central America and the Caribbean to heighten overall security, in a desire to share our experiences and  advances made with the member countries of the South American Community.

T.D.L.: With Colombia’s relations with Venezuela apparently on the mend, you attended the founding summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) on 2-3 December 2011. Do you see the creation of this new dialogue forum as a confirmation of a new geopolitical order on the continent? Given Bogota’s close ties with Washington, what role do you hope to see the United States play in Latin America?

J.M.S.: The creation of CELAC is, without doubt, a remarkable move for our region. It is the convergence of two processes: the Rio Group and Latin American and Caribbean Summit. CELAC hopes to serves as key forum for cooperating and for expanding the region’s influence on the international stage. It is the fulfillment of the political will, shared by thirty-three States, to build a unique space where issues of special importance to the region as a whole can be discussed. These include inequality, poverty, and unemployment, as well as issues on which Latin American and the Caribbean could be of help to the rest of the world, in terms of supplying energy and environmental resources.
It is clear that the United States plays a crucial role in the region. We are seeing that role evolve as the continent itself evolves. Our region can offer the United States strategic partners and allies determined to develop their societies by making them more prosperous, Colombia among them. The United States can find vast opportunities for its companies in Latin America and the Caribbean, as it is a stable and steadily developing region. Moreover, challenges such as eradicating poverty, achieving physical integration, strengthening economies, and shoring up democracy are key issues that allow us to identify shared interests as well as shared ways to work together to advance them..

T.D.L.: After being elected to serve as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Colombia took over the presidency of the Council in April 2011. Could you tell us which issues were given top priority during Colombia’s term?

J.M.S.: Colombia did indeed take over the presidency of the Security Council, in April 2011. Our presidency put the seizing opportunity to debate the situation in Haiti at the heart of its agenda. This issue is of particular importance to Colombia and the Americas. The election process that brought President Martelly to power was drawing to an end at the time, as well.  
The debate we launched also gave us an opportunity to reaffirm the UN Security Council’s commitment to strengthening the democratic process in this country, and to assess the work done to rebuild it since the earthquake of January 2010. Lastly, and most of all, it allowed us to discuss the role of MINUSTAH (UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti) in coordinating cooperation efforts aimed at creating conditions that foster long-term peace and stability in Haiti.

T.D.L.: During Colombia’s presidency, the debate in the Security Council was dominated by the problem of the popular uprising in Libya. Has the experience you gained there carried over, helping Colombia advance its own foreign policy goals more effectively?

J.M.S.: Colombia believes in multilateralism and consequently seeks to participate actively in the various international theaters. We are, accordingly, taking part in the Security Council’s work for the seventh time. As we examine the issues on the agenda, we try to bear in mind that the Council represents all UN member countries, to help maintain peace and security on a global level. Nonpermanent members of the Security Council do, admittedly, contribute to this in a limited way. We nonetheless advocate doing our utmost to reach a consensus and find peaceful solutions, in accordance with chapter VI of the United Nations Charter, and fostering cooperation with regional organizations. Decisions based on Chapter VII, while at times necessary, should be the last resort, as I said when I spoke before the Council itself.
As concerns Libya, the Council has moved forward step by step, issuing first a warning to Qadhafi’s regime, in the form of a resolution, then imposing sanctions, and, finally, authorizing the use of force. Protecting civilians was the main concern behind these decisions, most notably against counter-attacks launched by the then Libyan government to suppress demonstrations. Another key factor in the Council’s decisions was the position taken by the regional group known as the Arab League. Unfortunately, the consensus subsequently fell apart. We believe that consensus is vital for guaranteeing the Security Council’s legitimacy and validating its decisions. In the case of Libya, the Council took legitimate actions, fulfilling not only the wishes of the international community but also the wishes of the Arab League, by defending Libyan civilians from the atrocities being perpetuated by their own government.

T.D.L.: In light of the crisis unfolding in Syria and the problems raised by Iran’s nuclear program, are you looking forward to taking over the Security Council presidency once again, in July 2012?

J.M.S.: The events that unfolded in Libya, after the adoption of Resolution 1973, have shattered the consensus that was initially forged and have had a clear effect on the work carried out by the Security Council, as part of its duties. This situation raised problems not only for Colombia, as it carried out its presidency, but for all the Council’s other members as well. What’s more, the Council has not been as effective in Syria as it was in Libya. Our hopes for finding a solution to the crisis in Syria now rest upon the mediation efforts of Mr. Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, working as the Special Envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League. We believe that the statement issued by the Council President, and recently approved by the Security Council, is a step in the right direction, because all of the permanent members reached a consensus, which is essential if this body is to achieve the hoped-for results.
With regard to the problems arising from the Iranian nuclear program, we believe the lack of openness on this issue, coupled with the eventual reaction from other countries, is currently the biggest threat to peace and security. Political efforts to resolve this situation are being led by the group known as the E3+3, which is comprised of the permanent Security Council members and Germany. We hope the participating parties will be able to reach an agreement and, above all, succeed in rebuilding the trust that has been lost.

T.D.L.: On a broader level, what are your thoughts on the drive to make United Nations bodies and  multilateral organizations more representative?

J.M.S.: In Colombia’s case, our ability to steer international policies – with leadership and effectiveness, as a visionary country – has been specifically acknowledged by a multitude of countries that have given Colombia a vote of confidence by tapping it for leadership positions in various multilateral organizations, at the global, regional, and sub-regional level. We are currently leading the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), as well as presiding the UNASUR Secretariat-General and holding the Presidency pro tempore of the Andean Community of Nations (ACN).
I would like to underscore the steadily improving quality of our human resources, as evidenced by our involvement in work being carried out at the multilateral level. In this spirit, we have decided to put forward Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon as a candidate for the post of Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

T.D.L.: After winning election, you honored France with your first European visit. During this trip, on 26 January 2011, you and French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy signed a joint declaration designed to reinvigorate relations between the two countries. In what areas would you like to see bilateral political cooperation  expanded? France creates more jobs in Colombia than any other foreign country. Which activity sectors hold the greatest promise for forging new bilateral economic synergies? Has Franco-Colombian cooperation in the education and cultural arenas led to any positive changes?

J.M.S.: We are working with France to strengthen our bilateral ties, by laying out a positive and comprehensive agenda. When we voiced our desire to join the OECD, we were able to count on the support of France, which became our ally in working toward that objective. We also received strong support from the French government in the approval and implementation of the multiparty trade agreement that Colombia and Peru signed with the European Union. This accord has a wide application scope, and will lay out a new framework for trade ties as well as investments between our two countries.
In your question you mentioned education and culture, both priority areas for diversifying and broadening our bilateral agenda. We have signed agreements that set up training programs for young engineers, working through our respective Education Ministries. We have also expanded our university ties, student exchanges, and joint research projects, by virtue of an inter-university accord. We have a mechanism for exchanging language teachers, giving France a chance every year to welcome teaching assistants who help teach Spanish, while Colombia welcomes assistants who help teach French. In addition, we have admitted nearly 40 French students to our public and private universities. 200 Colombians with Bachelor’s degrees have also come to France to teach in French public schools.
In November 2011, more than 3,100 Colombian students were enrolled in France, including 2,300 who were attending universities. Our fellow citizens constitute the third largest Latin American student group pursuing studies in France, behind Mexico and Brazil. This is a good reflection of the strong bilateral cooperation in this arena.
Colombia has also begun to receive assistance from France’s agriculture schools. Within a few years’ time, we hope to have similar models up and running in our countryside. Our rural areas are key development engines for Colombia, as it should step forward to become an agricultural leader in the coming years. We are also working to expand cooperation in technology transfers and in the training of medical personnel, especially in areas such as treating and preventing chronic non-communicable diseases, overcoming tobacco addiction, and improving nutrition.
As I already mentioned, we have identified innovation as a driving force in our development. France is a key partner for Colombia, as it carries out projects that foster research and skill acquisition, in order to reduce poverty and inequalities. We are laying out lines of action that will enable us to expand technology transfers and heighten innovation, especially in highly marginalized sectors.
We, of course, continue to invite and foster French investments that would create a substantial number of jobs in our country. French companies can count on a stable business climate, on both the legal and social levels, as well as a government and laws favorable to foreign investors. It is no accident that the World Bank’s Doing Business Report has ranked Colombia first in Latin America when it comes to protecting investors.     

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