MIAMI Dec 2 Colombian President Juan Manuel
Santos, bound for Washington on an official visit, said on
Monday he remains cautiously optimistic about peace talks with
Marxist FARC rebels taking place in Cuba.
"I think the conditions are there" for a successful
conclusion to the talks, Santos told an audience of academics,
students and diplomats at the University of Miami. "Things are
moving hopefully in the correct direction."
But he quoted a Colombian proverb as a cautionary note,
saying, "The bread can very well burn right at the door of the
Santos, a Harvard-educated journalist, spoke eloquently in
English about his hopes for peace and economic growth in
Colombia during a 30-minute speech at the invitation of
University of Miami President Donna Shalala, who awarded him the
school's President's Medal for service to society.
Santos, on his second official visit to the United States
since taking office in 2010, hailed both the year-old peace
talks as well as economic progress at home.
"It's a different scenario" when the president of Colombia
visits the United States these days, he said, comparing
conditions at home to a decade ago when a guerrilla insurgency
was raging on the outskirts of the capital Bogota and Washington
was pouring in military aid to back the government.
Since then the war had dramatically turned in the
government's favor. "We are now being respected
internationally," Santos said, noting that his meeting Tuesday
with Obama would not be focused on military aid but rather on
education and technology, as well as regional security.
"Usually when the president came to the United States he
would have gone to the Southern Command," he said referring to
the U.S. regional military headquarters based in Miami. "Now he
will come to the University of Miami. In a way this shows how
things have changed."
While the United States and Colombia enjoy close ties,
Santos said things could be better between Washington and the
rest of Latin America, where left-wing governments led by
Venezuela have shunned the United States.
Half a century after President John F. Kennedy started the
Alliance for Progress to forge better ties between the United
States and Latin America, Santos said he planned to ask Obama to
launch something similar to help rebuild frayed relations with
"Maybe it's time to launch another Alliance for Progress,"
he said, suggesting it be called an Alliance for Progress and
"The United States should look more south. We are strategic
to the United States. In Colombia we are very proud to be such
good allies of the United States, but I think the whole region
can have much better and closer relations with the United
Santos, 62, is making his first foreign trip since he
announced Nov. 20 that he plans to seek a second term in next
May's presidential election. He will face opposition candidate
Oscar Ivan Zuluaga in a campaign likely to focus on the FARC
peace process and the future of the country after five decades
Zuluaga, a one-time senator and provincial mayor, accuses
Santos of offering the rebels too many concessions.
Meeting in Havana this week, government mediators are
working through a five-point agenda with some three dozen rebel
leaders, seeking to stop bloodshed that has killed more than
200,000 people since it began in 1964.
Earlier this month the two sides reached agreement on one of
the toughest items on the agenda: FARC political participation.
While details of the accord have not yet been revealed, the
rebels are expected to be allowed to hold some sort of public
office and possibly gain access to Congress.
Both sides are now working on resolving the third leg of the
process: drug trafficking. Santos said he hoped the peace
process would turn Colombia, once the world's largest producer
of cocaine, into a "coca-free country."
(Additional reporting by Helen Murphy in Bogota; Editing by