BOGOTA – Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, who is beginning the final year of his second four-year term, said he hoped to reconcile with his predecessor and harshest critic, Alvaro Uribe, before leaving office.
“I would like to leave the country much less polarized than what it is. I would be delighted to do that. I think the best thing for the country would be for me to reconcile with my predecessor, former President Uribe,” Santos said in an interview with EFE in Bogota.
Santos served as Uribe’s defense minister and was elected for the first time in 2010 with his support, but their political differences led the latter to break away from the ruling Partido de la U and found a new party, the Democratic Center.
Uribe, who enjoyed strong support as president from 2002-2010 because of his hard-line stance against the guerrillas, has relentlessly slammed Santos on social media since peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group began in 2012 and now is his most vehement critic in the Senate.
At present, the Andean nation is essentially split in half between supporters and opponents of the peace process, which has now entered the phase in which former FARC rebels are transitioning to civilian and political life after handing in their weapons.
Santos said he had tried on numerous occasions to reach out to Uribe, but received no response.
“The country needs reconciliation. If we could reconcile with the FARC, how can we not reconcile as Colombians, who unfortunately over 200 years of republican life have had more wars than other Latin American countries,” the president said.
“The time has come to change and live in peace and together,” Santos said.
The head of state noted that Pope Francis will visit Colombia in September under the slogan “Demos el primer paso” (Let’s Take the First Step), saying it was an invitation to reconciliation.
Referring to the Nobel Peace Prize he received in December 2016 for his efforts to bring an end to his country’s more than five-decade civil war, Santos said the award helped him greatly in terms of “being more tolerant and much more understanding.”
He said he had learned, “for example, not to treat (the members of) the guerrilla group as enemies, but rather as adversaries, because enemy is a word that denotes someone to be exterminated ... an adversary is someone to be defeated.”
Those are attitudes that have helped him a great deal “in seeing interpersonal relations in a different light,” Santos said.