Colombia leader sworn in vowing peace
August 9, 2014, 12:01 am TWN
BOGOTA, Colombia--Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos warned leftist rebels their attacks were threatening peace talks as he was sworn in Thursday for a second term dedicated to ending the country's 50-year-old conflict.
The center-right leader won a new four-year term in a June 15 runoff election widely viewed as a referendum on his pursuit of peace deals with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
"I'm going to employ all my energy to fulfill this mandate of peace," said Santos, who wore a dove pin on his lapel, an emblem of the peace pledge on which he staked his reelection campaign.
But he warned the FARC that recent attacks risked scuttling ongoing talks in Havana.
"The violent acts of recent weeks are an unacceptable contradiction that put the (peace) process at risk," said Santos.
Listing a string of recent attacks, he accused the FARC of targeting the very infrastructure they have agreed to at the negotiations in Cuba, which opened in November 2012.
"Who can understand that while we're in Havana agreeing to build piped water systems, in Colombia the FARC is destroying those same water systems, as happened in Granada, or seriously damaging the water supply, as happened in Putumayo?" he asked.
"It's even harder to understand how they can keep causing civilian victims, as happened in Miranda."
In July, a girl was killed and three other people wounded in a bomb attack in the western town.
Recent attacks also cut off the water supply to the central town of Granada and spilled thousands of barrels of oil into the water supply for the southwestern department of Putumayo.
"Colombians' patience and that of the international community is not infinite," Santos said.
"Gentlemen of the FARC, you have been warned," he added to applause from hundreds of guests at the ceremony in Bogota.
From Hawk to Dove
The conflict between the government, the two rebel movements and various right wing paramilitaries and drug gangs has killed more than 220,000 people and caused more than five million to flee their homes since the FARC and ELN were formed in the 1960s.
Santos, 62, led an aggressive campaign against the guerrilla groups when he served as defense minister under his former mentor Alvaro Uribe, Colombia's president from 2002 to 2010.
But he changed course after taking office, launching peace talks with the FARC in November 2012 over Uribe's bitter opposition.
After losing a first-round election last May to top rival Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, a fierce critic of the talks with the FARC, Santos doubled down on the peace process by announcing his government had entered initial talks with the ELN as well.
The strategy worked, and he reversed his three-percentage-point deficit from the first round to win the runoff with 50.6 percent of the vote.
But with no cease-fire in place — Santos has argued it would strengthen the rebels — attacks have continued even as peace talks move ahead.
An economist by training, Santos also faces the challenge of reducing inequality.
More than 30 percent of Colombia's 47.7 million people live in poverty. But the country is in the middle of a boom that saw its economy grow 4.7 percent last year.