Colombia’s Santos says support of Venezuela, Cuba key to peace talks

CAMBRIDGE, Mass (Reuters) – The support of Venezuela and Cuba will play a key role in Colombia’s efforts to reach a negotiated end to Latin America’s last major guerilla war, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said yesterday. Santos, who 10 months ago launched a round of talks with the left-wing FARC rebels, said he believed talks in Havana could bring an end to a 50-year conflict that has taken the lives of more than 220,000 people, mostly civilians.

“Venezuela and Cuba are helping us, they are saying, ‘Get rid of warfare; today it’s an anachronism,’” Santos told an academic audience at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, outside Boston. “They know that through armed struggle they will not achieve anything. They will not achieve power.” Even if the talks, due to resume on Oct 3, succeed, Colombia will face challenges in re-integrating members of the resistance into mainstream society, rather than allowing people accustomed to violence to slide into lives of crime, Santos said.

“You have to stimulate the businessmen to accept the people who were in arms as a normal person, part of society … This is a big challenge,” said Santos, a 1981 graduate of Harvard’s John F Kennedy School of Government.

Eradicating the illegal cocaine trade could help towards that end, Santos said, adding that ending the war could help to stimulate investment in Latin America’s fifth-largest economy.

“More investment and effective social investment, more equality, more social justice, that’s a way of building peace,” said Santos, 62, whose great-uncle Eduardo Santos once held the office he now occupies. “I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement and that my kids and my grandkids will see a country and enjoy a country in peace. I have not been able to enjoy one day of peace.”

Early in his administration, which began in 2010, Santos oversaw a major offensive against FARC groups that he said changed the balance of power and convinced the insurgency’s leaders to participate in negotiations.

Colombia’s government has said any peace deal would be subject to a popular referendum, and to allow the leaders of the FARC group to face criminal prosecution.

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