UNGA Week: A Conversation with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia
UNGA Week: A Conversation with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia
The Colombian leader gave his perspective on his country's peace process, along with topics ranging from Venezuela to shale gas.
Interview: Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia
Interviewer: Carla A. Hills, Co-Chairman, Council on Foreign Relations
Location: New York, New York
Date: September 22, 2014
CARLA HILLS: Well, let me add my welcome to all of you. As Susan said, this program is being carried (ph) and so it's on the record. And being from the Council, let me suggest that anyone who has a telephone turn it off. And don't turn it to vibrate because that'll interfere with the communication devices. But we are so privileged to have the 32nd president of Colombia with us today. And we will engage in a discussion. The format of the program is I will ask a few questions and then I'm going to turn it over to all of you.
You -- I'm sorry if those in the back did not hear the beginning and I won't be redundant. I -- let me just say that you have the resume of President Santos. So, I will be undiplomatically brief so that we have maximum time with this extraordinary leader who has been so gracious as to share his time with us.
Last month, President Santos began his second term as president. And it would be hard to find an individual who was better trained to pick up the reins of running I would say any country.
He obtained his bachelor in economics and business from the University of Kansas, a masters in economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, a masters in public administration at the John F. Kennedy School up at Harvard University. He served as a Fulbright visiting fellow at the Fletcher School and he was a Nieman visiting scholar at the Harvard Business School.
He served as an executive in the news media and he is no stranger to government. I met him when he served as Colombia's first minister of trade in President Gaviria's administration. And at that time, he was also appointed to be president of the seventh U.N. Conference on Trade and Development. Subsequently, he served as President Pastrana's minister of finance and public credit. And then he served as President Uribe's minister of national defense before winning his first term as president in 2010.
Mr. President, your campaign for this second term focused on peace. And when your victory was announced, you said very emotionally, "This is the end of 50 years of conflict in this country." Now with FARC insisting on immunity and the victims of the conflict numbering some 7 million are insisting on justice.
Talk a little bit about -- assuming you get an agreement, and you've been trying for two years, but assuming you get an agreement, politically -- how will you be able to sell it politically if the members of the FARC do not serve some jail time? And how do you see incorporating the ELN into this process?
SANTOS: First of all, thank you very much, Council of the Americas and Council of Foreign Relations, for this opportunity. And I thank you all for attending and giving me this opportunity to speak to you.
Thank you, Carla. And do you have an easier question?
Well, the -- I was -- I was having a very interesting conversation with (inaudible) just before coming here. And we were saying how it is much more difficult to make peace than to make war. Making war is quite popular.
And I tell it because I was minister of defense. And when you make war and you show your trophies, people will clap -- will applaud you. And making peace is much more difficult.
When I decided to take this path, I had some red lines. I said these are the red lines that we will follow and I told the FARC, since the very beginning, there is some rules of the game in this negotiation. We will -- we will follow these rules of the game and we will see if we can finish or not.
And there were two conditions that I put since the very beginning. First, no cease-fire -- no cease-fire until we reach the end. I did that because we now have the military advantage on our side and a cease-fire will be a perverse incentive for the FARC to prolong negotiations eternally (ph) because that would be the best of both (ph) worlds -- armed with the dialogue and no military pressure.
The other condition, which goes to the point that you were asking, is nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And this condition -- I put it because studying the peace processes other -- in other parts of the world and throughout history, peace process in a way that -- and I use the analogy -- or two analogies.
Bismarck uses a making laws -- making the laws are very bad; but when you see the law already in writing, it's a good law, most of the time. I use another analogy -- is when a painter wants to sell a painting, he will not allow the buyer to see the painting when it's half done; only when it is finished. And that's what I think should -- we should do with the peace process. That's why nothing's agreed until everything's agreed.
And why is that? Because each element of a peace process in the case -- this case, the FARC, put to the Colombian people by itself, individually the elements, people will naturally reject it. They will say -- do you want the FARC to -- to participate in politics? They will immediately say no -- and the polls show that.
"No, no, how do you dare tell me that these people are going to participate in politics? With what right? (inaudible) kidnapped, murdered and have done all kinds of terrorism." Do you want the FARC to have any kind of leniency or do -- the justice system to be lenient with the FARC? Will they say by all means? No.
But when you put to the people the whole package and tell them this is peace and this is the cost to peace and these are the benefits of peace, people will say yes.
So, during the negotiation, this is another difficult -- that's why I say it's very difficult to -- to -- the process is difficult. Because no cease-fire -- people say, "Well, why are you talking about peace if you're killing -- if you're killing each -- each other in Colombia? We're talking (inaudible) and -- and talking and -- and war in Colombia." It's difficult for people to understand.
And again, the other part which is difficult is each element by itself is unpopular. So, we have to finish the process and then take it to the people.
I am convinced because when you have -- when you explain we've been doing this thoroughly (ph) in the recent past to people who are very reluctant or very negative to the peace process and explain to them the dividends of peace and they understand, they will say, you know, if that's the case, yes.
So, and I am sure that if we reach an agreement, we will be able -- and that's part of my responsibility to sell the agreement to the Colombian people because one of the also conditions that I've put to the FARC and -- and to myself is I will negotiate a process that will be put to the people for the people to decide. So, they will decide if what I negotiate is acceptable or not, which is in a way safeguard for the whole people. And when you explain that also, then people will say yes.
What has happened? Well, there's a lot of enemies of peace. Always enemies of peace appear because they have an economic interest. I am sure that the drug traffickers in Mexico don't want peace in Colombia because they will run out of their supplies, the raw material we send to them, or people who have been living out of fear in politics, they don't want peace because they know how to manipulate fear.
So there are different pockets of resistance, if I might call them, that you have to confront. And they have been trying to feed bad information about the process, which I am glad that I took the opportunity to tell all foreign investors in Colombia there's nothing to worry about. I'm not giving the country to the FARC or (inaudible). That's not going to happen.
There's nothing that I'm negotiating that should worry a foreign investor or a Colombian investor. We're not negotiating our political institutions. We're not even negotiating our economic model. We're not negotiating private property. Nobody is going to be expropriated. Nobody is going to suffer.
On the contrary, the dividends for Colombia - just last week the university of (inaudible) made thorough study of what would - what would be the positive implications of peace, and they're very, very attractive. The growth rate of the country will - will go up at least 2 percent per year forever. And we are growing now at 6 percent. We will be growing at 8 percent.
This is one of the very - very many positive implications of peace. So I am quite confident. The answer to your question is that the Colombian people when they have package - because I know where I want to take the peace process - when we have finished the process, they will accept.
HILLS: And how will you work in the other - the ELN group?
SANTOS: The ELN has - has demonstrated - or has said they want to be - to go into the process. We had a secret period of negotiations with the FARC. They respected the secrecy and the confidentiality. And we might do something with ELN, and please don't ask any more.
HILLS: Well let me go to another topic that you had in your inaugural address which was very eloquent, and that was greater equality in Colombia. And some commentators have mentioned that equality is - inequality is extreme in your country. So talk a little bit about what your administration can do, and in particular how you will address the really difficult problems facing the Afro Colombian population.
SANTOS: Well part of the - of the big challenge that we have is to make our country a more equal country. You are quite right. When I arrived four years ago to the presidency, Colombia had the second highest inequality index in the whole of Latin America after Haiti, which is very - very worrisome for us and shameful.
So this part of my economic policy and social policy has been a priority since the very first day of my government. And thank god we've been able to - to be successful in starting to reduce this inequality and especially starting to reduce poverty.
We reduced in the first four years of my government almost 10 percentage points of the poverty, from 39 to 29.5 percent. I don't see - I don't know of any other country who has reduced poverty as much in four years, and extreme poverty. Two million Colombians went out of extreme poverty. 3.6 million Colombians went out of poverty (inaudible).
But the - the good news is that our - what they call the - economists call the Gini index has started to come down for the first time and we are now not the second. We are more less on average for Latin America. Still we have a long way to go. We still have 30 percent, 29.5 percent of population in poverty and roughly over 9 percent in extreme poverty.
One of my goals is to eradicate extreme poverty in Colombia in the next 10 years. If we were able to bring down extreme poverty by 6 percentage points - almost 6 percentage points, then we can bring it down to zero if we - if we are able to sustain our economic growth.
This is - the two go together. You have to have strong economy and the resources to focalize (ph) your investment in social investment that will take people out of poverty, and that's what we've been doing with a high degree of success so far.
We need to maintain a high rate of growth in order to have the resources to - it's like a virtuous circle. And we are now in the virtuous cycle. The big challenge is to maintain it there. And of course to maintain the economy where it is, you have to have a fiscal responsibility policy that will allow you to have credibility in the international markets.
We introduced in our constitution the concept of fiscal responsibility. We now have a fiscal rule. People said two years ago when we approved it in Congress that I would be sorry about that. In a way, I've been sorry because I can't spend anymore, but I know that's a good investment for the future.
And we now have the first rate of growth of the whole of Latin America. We have the highest investment of the whole of Latin America. We have the lowest inflation, so we're doing quite well in the economic indicators. The big challenge is to maintain the economy growing at that rate and to maintain the social policies because they to go together.
I am what Mack McLarty would call a third way man. And I think the third way for Colombia is the correct way. Grow, but redistribute also. I know that in some areas redistribution is not a popular world. In Colombia it's a must. It's a must if we want to maintain our economy healthy.
HILLS: Well you mentioned social programs and you talked about education in your inaugural address. I just see Anhell Gariya (ph) here. Well the OECD has a program called the Program for International Student Assessment. And students in Colombia fall at the bottom of that assessment. So why do you think that is a fact and what can you do about it?
SANTOS: First of all, I say hello to Anhell Gariya (ph). We've been friends for many times, and we decided to become members of the - or tried to become members of the OECD because we wanted to compare ourselves with the best. I say this is not a club of rich countries but a club of countries with best practices, and that's why we want to be members of the OECD.
And why did - we were at the very bottom of the exam that the OECD made on their members because exactly that's what I want to compare with. I don't want to compare Colombia with - I don't want to mention countries, but - in the region, but I want to compare Colombia with Finland, with Korea, with Japan because it's a global world. So we want to compare ourselves with the best.
And the index or the exam that the OECD made was - was made in 2011, 2012 for the last 10 years. Also, they were measuring - I don't want to look backwards, but they were measuring past governments. And what the OECD said between 2012 and 2014 is that we have been putting in place the correct changes in order to start improving the quality of our education because education - and you're quite correct.
I said peace, inequality and education. Those are three concepts that are - that have a lot to do with each other. You cannot have peace with a country so unequal as the one we had. So we need to achieve more and more equality if we want to have a sustainable peace. And the best way to reach a more equal country, the most effective way is through education because that's probably the most effective way of social mobility - to achieve social mobility. So they are dependent one with the other.
We have - we were able to - to make public education completely free for every single boy and girl in Colombia from kindergarten to 11th grade. Now they're completely free for public education. We now have to improve the quality. We're doing a tremendous effort in early childhood where we were way behind.
And that's the most profitable social investment that you can make in any country, early childhood. And we're making a tremendous effort to give more access to the people - the kids that go out of school - high school in order to go to university. We are improving the budget on access to what we call high education, universities and technological schools.
And our dream - the dream I put to the Colombian people is to be - and it's a bit presumptuous, but I think we have to have high goals - to be the best educated country in the whole of Latin America by 2025.
HILLS: Very impressive. This Friday the foreign ministers of Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance will meet in Chile and they'll discuss ways that the two economic groups could work more closely together. Well Mercosur represents some of the most restricted trade nations and the Pacific Alliance some of the most liberal.
How do you see them coming to an agreement? What do you see them doing together, and how will it affect this hemisphere?
SANTOS: When - when you were special trade representative and I was minister of trade and we started to - to think about a future aid agreement between the U.S. and Colombia and we were also promoting integration in Latin America, there was a concept called open integration.
What did this concept mean? That you could go at different speeds. And the - the alliance in a way has this concept in mind. We decided to - to get together, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia, because we said we have a lot in common. We have similar visions, similar values and principles, and our economies are all - the four economies are performing better than the average of Latin America.
Let's get together, but not as a competition as some people have, with the others, with Mercosur or with Brazil, but as a effort to - let's unite. Let's start accelerating our integration. And if anybody wants to join in, they're welcome. We don't want to compete. We want to expand if people want to join in.
And that's exactly what has been happening in the last two years. We have been able to speed up our integration, which is much more than a free trade agreement. We now have free movement of people. No visas for tourism. No visas for business men. The financial markets are integrated.
We are now having exchanges in the education area. People from Colombia are going to study in Mexico o Chile or Peru and vice versa. And we want to continue as fast as we can. And (inaudible) want to join, they're more - more than welcome. But if they want to maintain their policies, that's up to them.
HILLS: Well, I think this is time to go to the audience. Is there a question that -- do I see a hand? Would you stand and say your name?
QUESTION: Hello, Mr. -- Mr. President, can you hear me? Yes. Hello, my name Devry Boughner Vorwerk and I'm with Cargill. And first of all, I want to congratulate you on your reelection and all that you're trying to achieve. You're undertaking some -- some great issues. And one that was not mentioned but I know that you've shown leadership on is land reform. And I was wondering if you could provide some insight into the progress on land reform and a pathway forward for that?
SANTOS: The -- the land reform is -- is not the traditional land reform of the '60s and '70s. We're not expropriating anybody. Fortunately, we have land for everybody; there's plenty of room.
What we have agreed with the FARC -- and this is something that I -- I tell everybody -- what we agreed with the FARC is something which we should do with or without the FARC, which is bring more investment to the rural areas where poverty and inequality is concentrated.
There's -- we are like in the U.S. in the -- the 19th century, no? The West was yet to be conquered. We have half of the country to be conquered. Most of that areas are without owners; they're owned by the state. And what we have to do is try to put in place ventures that will allow us to give land to the peasants and at the same time bring investment that will make the -- that terrain productive. Because most of it is without any production.
We have -- we have 4.5 million hectares in production, a very low -- with very low productivity. We're going to increase that tremendously. But we have more than 11 million hectares that are completely unproductive. That's we -- where we can have a -- a tremendous potential.
Colombia, according to the world -- to the food -- to the food -- how do you call that in -- in English? They say that there are only seven or eight countries with a very high potential to increase the production of food. One of them is Colombia and we want to do that.
And we are putting in place legislation at this next few weeks that will allow the big businessmen and small peasants to have the joint -- have joint ventures that will give everybody a chance -- and I think this is the best way to go. And many of the -- of -- of the land that is now in the property of the state, we will lease that land. We will use the English system -- 60 year or 50 years or 40 years lease. You produce land, the land is government owned but you will rent it for a long time, exploit it and then give it back in whatever years are necessary.
And so, this is the type of -- of reform that we are making. It's -- it's creative, it's ambitious and I think will allow us to -- to make a major development in that half of Colombia which is still completely unconquered or unexploited.
QUESTION: You've done a great job in increasing oil and gas production. Can you talk about the role of shale if -- if there are significant deposits and the role of shale in the growth of -- of Colombia?
SANTOS: Well, according to the chairman of the commission that President Obama created, he's now professor at MIT, former CIA -- what's his name, Deutch?
(UNKNOWN): (OFF-MIKE) John Deutch, Professor John Deutch.
SANTOS: Professor Deutch? He was in Colombia and he went to say hi for five minutes and we stayed three and a half hours; marvelous man. Very well-informed of shale gas. And I asked him a lot about potential (ph) of Colombia. Well, apparently Argentina and Colombia are the two countries that have the highest potential there.
What are we doing at this very moment? We -- since then -- that was more than a year and a half ago. I told my people, "Go to all the countries that are thinking about this issue. Come to the U.S., go to France where it's prohibited, go to everywhere. And try to use the best practices and to learn about the best regulation possible."
We have this regulation in place the -- how -- how -- how many weeks ago? When -- when would this be -- a week ago. So, and we have already given some areas to start making an experiment on this -- to start seeing how we can, with a very strict regulation, to start exploiting this -- this type of -- of shale -- gas and shale oil. So, we are going carefully but we want, of course, to be able to exploit this resource that apparently we have a lot of them.
QUESTION: Rather than a question, it's simply a commentary. Colombia is now in -- kind of in a roll (ph), in terms of its process to join the OECD.
And I simply would like to say that if we had every single member of the OECD with the same degree of commitment with the same degree of enthusiasm and with the same degree of professionalism, in terms of the (inaudible) are interacting and then with the conviction and the decision that, you know, when -- when things like the PISA study that you referred to which showed that Colombia's lagging, instead of feeling that it's a criticism or feeling, you know, aggravated by -- by -- these are facts, then this is taken by the government, by the president himself and his ministers and his teams as leverage in order to promote the reforms -- to change the laws, to change the regulations, to change the curriculum, to change.
And you know, on -- on productivity, the question of education, yes, but also innovation; also competition laws; also the flexibility of the labor markets; the flexibility in the product markets; the -- the R&D (inaudible). As a -- as an unbiased, you know, totally evidenced-based observer, that -- that we think they're doing a great job. And it's not just because they want to join the OECD. But every one of these reforms is because they think it's a good idea and we certainly believe that -- that Colombia's going to be better off with them.
SANTOS: Thank you, Angel (ph). I -- I am sorry I didn't hear that before the campaign. I would -- I would've used that in my campaign.
QUESTION: Thank you. Jonathan Chanis, New Tide Asset Management.
Could you share with -- with us your assessment of what's going on in Venezuela? And how do you see the state of Colombia Venezuelan relations and its future?
SANTOS: Venezuela...Venezuela's a country that is near Colombia.
And -- no, I have to be very, very prudent on what I say about Venezuela. Whatever happens in Venezuela has tremendous impact in Colombia. We are been -- we've been trying to help in Venezuela to see (ph) dialogue between government in (ph) opposition can -- can take place and can have concrete results.
We are interested in the stability of Venezuela. Anything that happens there will affect us dramatically. And so, anything we can do to help the Venezuelans -- Venezuelans -- and by Venezuelans, I -- I tell all Venezuelans we will be there. We -- in my case, as many of you know, I was very -- very critical of former President Chavez but I decided when I was elected president, I decided to convert that criticism in -- in a good relation with Venezuela respecting our differences.
There's -- and this we have been able to work with since the 10th of August of 19 -- of 2010 until today. President Chavez died; Maduro replaced him. And we have been following the same -- the same approach.
There's tremendous differences between their way of thinking and my way of thinking, but we respect those differences. We -- we respect each other. They respect our way of thinking, we respect their way of thinking.
And we have any problem, we will solve them not through the media, but through diplomatic channels. And that has, so far, worked very well. And I would like to continue to work in that way because I think it's better for the Venezuelan people, better for the Colombian people, better for the region. And -- but -- but feel sure that our interest is very much the well-being of Venezuela and stability of Venezuela because for us, it's a priority.
QUESTION: Thank you, Carla. Mr. President, thank you for coming. I'm Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas. The OAS has announced the next Summit of the Americas for April in Panama. You were the host of the past Summit of the Americas. Could you give a sense of what you think the agenda for the summit should be in April, having gone through it most recently yourself as host?
SANTOS: They have already an agenda, minister (ph) -- help me with this one.
One of the issues here is Cuba and the U.S. And I will tell you, quite frankly, if Cuba doesn't go, then probably -- then probably no summit. And so, we have to work and we're more than willing and I think every country is willing to try to help things in order to have a summit with the U.S. And so, we're working on that.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Alan Fleischmann from Laurel Strategies. Medellin has become known now as the innovation -- or one of the innovation entrepreneurial capitals in the world. And I'm just curious why is that happening, what's happening? And for those who are interested in bringing investors and entrepreneurs to Colombia, what do we need to know?
SANTOS: Well, Medellin -- you're talking about Medellin. You all read about Medellin for any years -- decades about being hell, no? The -- the -- the Medellin cartel and the -- the -- the capital of drugs of -- of kidnapping, of violence. And there's a saying that adversity helps character. Well, I think adversity has helped Medellin to -- to have the character to change.
And the people from Medellin and Antioquia are natural entrepreneurs. There -- they are historically the -- the most entrepreneurial of all Colombians -- are the people from Medellin. Our ambassador from -- is from Medellin; she's very entrepreneurial.
And -- and they -- I think they -- they have been able to use that adversity to their advantage and now they're flourishing. And still -- we still have problems, of course. But Medellin's an example of how you can change. Medellin is an example of what has happened in Colombia -- of a country that was -- when Mac McCarthy (ph) and President Clinton went to Cartagena to -- to sign Plan Colombia, we were on the verge of being declared a failed state -- Colombia, all of it -- but all of the academics in the world.
Failed state was a state where the state cannot control; there's no justice. And we were on the verge of that. That was 1991, '92?
SANTOS: '93 or...
(UNKNOWN): (OFF-MIKE) '96, '97 (ph)...
SANTOS: No, no, no.
SANTOS: Plan Colombia -- when President Clinton went to -- to Cartagena was -- he went with -- Joe Biden was the chairman of the foreign relations. Madeleine Albright was secretary. Speaker Hastert from the Republicans went -- he was speaker. It was 1992. And look at Colombia now. And I think if -- if we are able to achieve peace, Plan Colombia would've been -- or should be the most successful foreign policy bipartisan initiative of the U.S. in the whole history.
You go -- you go and it's -- it's really -- the whole -- the whole circle if we are able to achieve peace. Because remember, where -- where we were -- or not of the whole history, but at least in the last 50 years.
SANTOS: No (ph). Yes, so -- so, I -- we -- we are very grateful for -- for the help that the U.S. has given us. But going back to your question, the country itself is going out of -- of that adversity with -- with special force because we have suffered a lot. And so, we want to be successful.
QUESTION: Thank you. President Santos, I'm Peggy Hicks with Human Rights Watch. There a bill in Congress now that will greatly expand the scope of military tribunals to take on cases that are now handled in the civilian courts, including human rights violations and arms trafficking and other offenses. It could even open the door for so-called false positive civilian killings to be handled by the military courts. Does your administration support that legislation or will it work to change that language?
SANTOS: We have a very respectful differences with the approach that the Human Rights Watch is giving to this special bill. There's no possibility of false positive or human right violations being addressed by military courts. And this is something that we have said since the beginning. We have talked to you many times. We have explained many times why this is not possible. And rest assured that we will not support any legislation that will allow false positives or human right violations to be judged by military tribunals.
That is something that we have said you to many times and we continue to have that position. So, that's -- that's the position we have.
QUESTION: Claude Erbsen. It gives me enormous pleasure, Mr. President, to address you as such. As a 9-year-old kid, I used to know (ph) in the newsroom of El Tiempo on weekends when your father brought you in to play.
My question, Mr. President, is you mentioned all the land that is now unproductive or marginally productive. The Chinese have been buying up land in various places to safeguard their food supplies. Have you noticed -- have you seen any indication that they are beginning to look at some of that land in Colombia?
SANTOS: They have been interested but we are not interested. We -- we have a legislation that doesn't allow that. And we are very careful on who -- who buys land in Colombia and who doesn't. And the legislation that we are passing will allow foreigners to have to purchase or they will be filtered. And we don't want anybody to buy half (ph) Colombia. So, that's what we -- that's our policy so far.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Wendy Luers from the Foundation for a Civil Society. I'd like to return to Venezuela where my husband was the American ambassador at one point. Right now, there's a show trial going on with Leopoldo Lopez, the -- as I'm sure you're very well aware. And I am hoping that Colombia will be able to send observers to the trial which is basically a show trial because they will not allow their hundred witnesses for the prosecution in two for the defense. So, it would be extremely important if a neighboring country would do that.
Secondly, in the New York Times yesterday and in the Washington Post, there were lead editorials about Venezuela trying to be on -- get their seat on the Security Council as a nominee of the Latin American block. So, in -- in your private capacity or your public capacity but in a private way, is there a way that you and Colombia, which have a very different view of the world, can say to the voting, which is in private and anonymous, that this seat -- giving this seat to a country with those kind of violations would be a travesty?
SANTOS: We may -- we have a small group of countries -- Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia. With the help of the pope, we're trying to facilitate dialogue between government and the opposition.
And we would like to have -- to -- to have that leverage to be able to be effective. That's why -- and please understand, I cannot address the type of questions that you are putting to me because then we would lose that leverage and we want to be helpful -- helpful to both sides. So, forgive my diplomacy, but this is the way the cookie crumbles.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) For the country that has been at war for the last 50 years, how do you see the skills required to work in peace and to prosper in peace for Colombia? And how can the...
SANTOS: Well (ph)...
QUESTION: How do you see the skills required for our country to prosper under peace and what gaps do we have and how can the private sector help?
SANTOS: First of all, we need to work on the culture of reconciliation. A country that has been at war for 50 years -- opens many wounds. And that's why we have to start healing those wounds. And we've been starting -- we're probably the first country in the history of the world that started repairing before the conflict is over. And I've been -- we have so far repaired more than 400,000 victims -- repaired directly.
We have more than 6 million victims. And so, we have a long way to go. But this is a process that takes time and needs a lot of help.
The private sector just started a campaign called I Am Able -- Soy Capaz. For the people who say I am able to forgive, I am able to reconcile, I am able to help. And all this is geared towards changing mentality of the country in order to make peace easier. I -- I was very much impressed. We -- we are also the first country in the history of the world -- and I took that decision cautiously -- that are allowing the victims of the conflict to go to Cuba and speak to the two parts that are negotiating -- to the government and to the FARC.
And why did I do that? Why did I allow that? Why did I encourage that? Because also for the first time, the victims are the center of the solution of this process -- and their rights -- their rights to truth, to -- to reparations and to justice. And by allowing the victims to go there and say what -- how they would consider the -- what they would feel that is done to -- to -- to feel repaired or how they would -- would imagine the solution of a conflict where they would be happy with.
This is a -- a must. Because who -- who else can -- can tell you how the victim should be repaired than the victims themselves? So, this is a very -- a very unprecedented process. But the beautiful thing about it is that the victims are -- I've discovered or -- or we are discovering are more generous in -- in terms of what they are able to accept than the average population.
The victims are -- are more willing to forgive. They're more willing to be generous. And this is a beautiful thing because this will facilitate the process of reconciliation.
Now, what skills we -- we need -- the reintegration process is a cumbersome process. We just -- it's not just a -- you lay down your arms and you come here and work for Coca-Cola; no. You have to go through a process. And that is a cumbersome process -- a difficult process. Fortunately, we have had some experience because we have been -- we have demobilized so far more than 50,000 people in arms; 50,000. And we're learning every day. And the private sector can help a lot by opening their doors to -- to reintegrated people, giving them jobs and helping in the process of reintegration.
HILLS: I received a note that the president's time is limited. He's very busy during this U.N. week. But please join me in thanking him for his very candid and open statements.