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Colombia: Santos, the Strike and the Peace Accord

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

21 May 2021

Peasant farmers protesting against Santos in 2013

Some people were asking themselves where was Juan Manuel Santos during the strike, as he hadn't said anything about it.  These same people awaited the statements from Santos as if he were some type of saviour that could fix the country, ignoring his own role in the rise in misery and poverty and his own record in relation to protests at various times during his career.

Santos put an end to their misery and gave interviews where he said that the implementation of the Havana Accord with the FARC and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals would resolve the issues of the strike.  Santos in an interview with Caracol said that:

I have been analysing the situation now for a while and I am very worried about what is happening, and also about the day after and what we are laying the ground for: greater hatred, fear, more resentment and we have to avoid that.  Colombia cannot continue to be so polarised and divided.  That is why we have to reach out, we have the means to do so.(1)
Santos speaks as if had never been president of the country.  He served two terms as president (2010-2018), Minister of Finance (2000-2002) and Minister of Foreign Trade (1991-1994).  This last post he fulfilled during the great opening of the economy that impoverished further still the peasants and workers, destroyed agricultural production and also hit national industry hard.  Now he comes along to say that the country can't continue to the be so polarised.  A little too late.  He speaks as if he was not the person as Minister of Defence who bears responsibility for the 6,402 False Positives that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace has acknowledged.  He also forgets that as president he deployed the ESMAD (specialised riot squad) time and again and his phrase "The strike does not exist" became infamous, which was his own answer to the demands of the people.  He smiles and puts on an innocent face.  But aside from his cynicism and hypocrisy, is there anything to his statements that the SDG and the Havana Accord are the solution to the strike?

To Santos the SDG deal with issues like increasing coverage in education and poverty reduction etc.  And it is true that they deal with them, but it doesn't mean they solve these issues or even try to.

The goals themselves read like a wish list or like part of an electoral programme that we all know will not be implemented.  It is presumed that no one is opposed to ending poverty (SDG No.1), hunger (SDG No2) guaranteeing access to health care (SDG No.3) or drinking water for all (SDG No.6), but this is not the case.  Santos opposed more than one of these, to say nothing of all 17 goals.  He has, throughout his political career, supported initiatives such as health reform, the infamous Law 100 which has the health system in crisis, the privatisation of services, such as health, education and also water.  So I am not sure what the supposed sustainable development goals that he wants to implement in order to resolve the issues of the strike are, when he is one of the historic architects of the situation we find ourselves in, and he only left the presidency three years ago.

The concept of sustainable development is not new and neither are the goals, as they are in reality just an extension of the Millennium Development Goals.  In 2015 the governments of the world, by way of a resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations agreed to adopt 17 goals and stated "We resolve, between now and 2030, to end poverty and hunger everywhere".(2)  Not even the UN with its grandiose empty statements promised to end hunger and poverty by 2021, but Santos would like us to think so.  But that is not the only problem with the SDG, it is rather the case that they are not really sustainable and don't aim to end poverty itself, but rather to improve the indicators regarding extreme poverty i.e. those who live on less than 1.25 dollars per day.

The SDG proposal is openly neoliberal i.e. its solution is based on continuing the policies that create poverty.  Through the SDG the governments agreed to:

17.10 Promote a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization, including through the conclusion of negotiations under its Doha Development Agenda...

68. International trade is an engine for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction, and contributes to the promotion of sustainable development. We will continue to promote a universal, rules-based, open, transparent, predictable, inclusive, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization, as well as meaningful trade liberalization. We call upon all members of the World Trade Organization to redouble their efforts to promptly conclude the negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda.

We shouldn't be surprised and Santos himself has implemented various policies in Colombia that increased poverty.  It is to the Santos that we owe the phrase Mining-Economic Engine.  In his 2010 inaugural ceremony he announced five economic engines for the economy, amongst them mining.  Santos promoted mining left, right and centre.  Whilst the state's push for mining dates from at least the Samper government (1994-1998) and the Pastrana (1998-2002) and Uribe (2002-2010) governments did everything possible to create a legal setting favourable to large scale mining, it is under the Santos administrations that the fruits of their efforts combined with those of Santos came to fruition.  The expansion of mining brought with it greater levels of social conflict, displacement, threats against leaders and the impoverishment of communities.  Santos is in no position to talk of polarisation and conflict.  Under his administration Law 1448, more popularly known as the Land Restitution Law was passed.  However, Santos initially tried to limit the rights of peasants to recover their land, where there were palm plantations and other projects, as he would also later try to do in his second Development Plan where National Interest Projects concerned.  It was the Constitutional Court that put a leash on him.  The greed of Santos and his people knows no limits.  Many NGOs and some politicians would like to remember his two terms as president as golden years, but they were not, at least not for the people who are currently protesting in the streets.

Santos also says that the implementation of the Havana Accord would solve the strike.  There are many who prefer not to read the said accord and at the same time declare that it contains proposals and solutions that are not in it.  Many ignore the fact that the accord explicitly promotes agroindustry, commercial large scale agriculture and investment in the countryside with a corporate vision (page 12) and the association between peasants and multinationals (page 33).  It is not the great accord in favour of peasants, that some would like to believe.  It is to be presumed that Santos as a signatory to the accord has actually read it and is aware of its contents.  So when he talks of the accord as something that resolves the strike, he is not making a mistake, but rather brazenly lying.

The accord does not talk of taxes, except for land taxes in rural areas and nowhere does it deal with VAT.  The issue of health is dealt with as a problem of drug consumption and some assistance for displaced people.  Nowhere does it talk of health as a right, although in point 1.3.2 it does talk in general terms of a National Rural Health Plan and access to health services in rural areas and access for demobilised guerrillas.  None of this happened, but it is not entirely due to the non implementation of the accord but rather state policies for the countryside and the health sector.  There was no need for Santos to sign a peace agreement to build and equip clinics.  He didn't do so because neither the countryside nor the health system was a priority for any of the governments in which he participated as a minister or president.

Neither were the FARC very interested in the issue of the health system for the mass of the population.  It was not negotiated in Havana and later they limited themselves to demanding a special health system for themselves.

Faced with the demobilisation of their members the guerrillas of the FARC demanded of the government a special health regime that meant care and treatment for all types of pathologies without any restrictions or minimum periods of affiliation.
'Pastor Alape' member of the FARC in the Reintegration Commission which was set up following the coming into force of the peace accord, disclosed that members of this organisation require a special regime that covers the range of illnesses that many of them suffer from.  At the end of last year, the government announced that the guerrillas would be included in the subsidised health system.(3)
Whilst it is true that the guerrillas are a group that suffer very specific health problems, there are not any different from those of rural populations in the country, on the one hand, and neither are they very different from those problems faced by young victims of violence in poor neighbourhoods of the large cities.  Instead of seeking a solution to the problems of the health system, the FARC tried to obtain privileges for themselves in relation to the rest of the population.  Nowhere does the accord propose a reform or improvement of the system, the revoking of Law 100 or in increase in hospital capacity, something which in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic would have been of great service, but they weren't interested.

Protestor against Santos government being treated for injuries at the hands of the police.

As for the police and the armed forces, it hasn't got a lot to say about the police violence that we are witnessing in the streets of Colombia now, rather it talks of the role of the police in the areas where the demobilised where gathered.  It has nothing to say on police violence.  There is not a single word dealing with reform of the police and although it talks of guarantees for the guerrillas it does not deal with the safeguards for the right of protest in Colombia.
Santos, his acolytes, fans in the NGOs, the congressional benches of the Polo and Colombia Humana know this.  In the midst of the largest popular uprising since the Civic Strike in 1977, they want to rewrite history, their own role and thus distort how we view the reality of this strike.  They all did their bit in bringing us to this point, with their policies, complicity or silence.  Now, as it would be put in popular jargon, would they do us the favour of shutting their traps and letting the people get on with it and undo all the harm they have done, as much one group as the other, and both Uribe and Santos.


(1) El Espectador (18/05/2021) Santos dice que la solución al paro está en Acuerdo de Paz y en Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible

(2) The Resolution can be consulted at

(3) Miguel Barrios (01/02/2017) Farc exigen sistema especial de salud. El Heraldo.

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