One week after a historic agreement in the peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, best known as the FARC, President Juan Manuel Santos sat down for an interview with CNBC’s Michelle Caruso-Cabrera in the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel in New York.
The peace process “is the best thing that’s happened to Colombia for many years,” said Santos, addressing the room in English. Moreover, he said, it’s good for business: experts estimate that a peace accord could raise the country’s economic growth by 1.5 percent in perpetuity. He cited agribusiness in particular as having a “huge potential” to take off with a peace deal since rural areas, typically where the conflict plays out, can be developed and production will expand. Santos noted that the country currently has one of the highest growth rates among medium- and large-sized countries in Latin America, despite the ongoing 50-year conflict. “Colombia already is good for investment—can you imagine what we can do without the cost of the war?”
Santos defended the September 23 agreement on transitional justice, saying that, contrary to reports, it offers no impunity for crimes committed, and that only some 50 to 60 people will receive reduced sentences. He said the agreement exceeds the requirements of international human rights agreements to which Colombia subscribes, thanks to the legal expertise of University of Notre Dame professor Douglass Cassel, who advised Santos on the agreement.
Caruso-Cabrera asked about what Colombian society might look like with ex-fighters reintegrated into society. For example, would they be able to participate politically? “Of course,” said Santos. “That’s the whole purpose of this peace process: for them to lay down their arms and continue their ideological struggle through legal means.” So could FARC head Timochenko be able to run for president one day? She asked. “Why not?” Santos replied. “But I don’t think he’ll get many votes...[The FARC] are not very popular.”