March 9, 2014
Colombian president 'optimistic' about FARC peace settlement
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, bound for Washington on an official visit, said today that he remains cautiously optimistic about peace talks with Marxist FARC rebels taking place in Cuba.
"I think the conditions are there" for a successful conclusion to the talks, Santos told an audience of academics, students and diplomats at the University of Miami. "Things are moving hopefully in the correct direction."
But he quoted a Colombian proverb as a cautionary note, saying, "The bread can very well burn right at the door of the oven."
Santos, a Harvard-educated journalist, spoke eloquently in English about his hopes for peace and economic growth in Colombia during a 30-minute speech at the invitation of University of Miami President Donna Shalala, who awarded him the school's President's Medal for service to society.
Santos, on his second official visit to the United States since taking office in 2010, hailed both the year-old peace talks as well as economic progress at home.
"It's a different scenario" when the president of Colombia visits the United States these days, he said, comparing conditions at home to a decade ago when a guerrilla insurgency was raging on the outskirts of the capital Bogota and Washington was pouring in military aid to back the government.
Since then the war had dramatically turned in the government's favor. "We are now being respected internationally," Santos said, noting that his meeting with Obama scheduled for Tuesday would not be focused on military aid but rather on education and technology, as well as regional security.
"Usually when the president came to the United States he would have gone to the Southern Command," he said referring to the US regional military headquarters based in Miami. "Now he will come to the University of Miami. In a way this shows how things have changed."
While the United States and Colombia enjoy close ties, Santos said things could be better between Washington and the rest of Latin America, where left-wing governments led by Venezuela have shunned the United States.