The Nobel Peace Prize for 2016: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos


Press release by the Nobel Prize

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end, a war that has cost the lives of at least 220 000 Colombians and displaced close to six million people. The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process. This tribute is paid, not least, to the representatives of the countless victims of the civil war.


President Santos initiated the negotiations that culminated in the peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, and he has consistently sought to move the peace process forward. Well knowing that the accord was controversial, he was instrumental in ensuring that Colombian voters were able to voice their opinion concerning the peace accord in a referendum. The outcome of the vote was not what President Santos wanted: a narrow majority of the over 13 million Colombians who cast their ballots said no to the accord. This result has created great uncertainty as to the future of Colombia. There is a real danger that the peace process will come to a halt and that civil war will flare up again. This makes it even more important that the parties, headed by President Santos and FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londoño, continue to respect the ceasefire.

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Question(s) related to this article:

What is happening in Colombia, Is peace possible?

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The fact that a majority of the voters said no to the peace accord does not necessarily mean that the peace process is dead. The referendum was not a vote for or against peace. What the “No” side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement. The Norwegian Nobel Committee emphasizes the importance of the fact that President Santos is now inviting all parties to participate in a broad-based national dialogue aimed at advancing the peace process. Even those who opposed the peace accord have welcomed such a dialogue. The Nobel Committee hopes that all parties will take their share of responsibility and participate constructively in the upcoming peace talks.

Striking a balance between the need for national reconciliation and ensuring justice for the victims will be a particularly difficult challenge. There are no simple answers to how this should be accomplished. An important feature of the Colombian peace process so far has been the participation of representatives of civil war victims. Witnessing the courage and will of the victims’ representatives to testify about atrocities, and to confront the perpetrators from every side of the conflict, has made a profound impression.

By awarding this year’s Peace Prize to President Juan Manuel Santos, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to encourage all those who are striving to achieve peace, reconciliation and justice in Colombia. The president himself has made it clear that he will continue to work for peace right up until his very last day in office. The Committee hopes that the Peace Prize will give him strength to succeed in this demanding task. Furthermore, it is the Committee’s hope that in the years to come the Colombian people will reap the fruits of the ongoing peace and reconciliation process. Only then will the country be able to address effectively major challenges such as poverty, social injustice and drug-related crime.

The civil war in Colombia is one of the longest civil wars in modern times and the sole remaining armed conflict in the Americas. It is the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s firm belief that President Santos, despite the “No” majority vote in the referendum, has brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution, and that much of the groundwork has been laid for both the verifiable disarmament of the FARC guerrillas and a historic process of national fraternity and reconciliation. His endeavors to promote peace thus fulfil the criteria and spirit of Alfred Nobel’s will.

One thought on “The Nobel Peace Prize for 2016: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos

  1. Here is a friendly critique of the Nobel Peace Award this year, coming from the Peace Research Institute of Oslo :

    The FARC and the Colombian government deserved to share this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately, however, the prize was awarded to only one party. In general we are idiots if we let political correctness govern our views about how the world works. We confuse facts with latent sympathies – a widespread form of intellectual dishonesty, disguised as good manners. Political correctness also influences our thinking about the current and past state of the conflict in Colombia – and about who deserves to share the Nobel prize.

    As is well known, the FARC rebels and the government are not the only parties active in the conflict in Colombia. Other guerrilla movements, such as the ELN, are also involved, as well as various paramilitary groups and drugs gangs. Accordingly, achieving peace requires striking a difficult balance between what may be consistent and fair and what may result in a lasting settlement. Insisting on complete justice today, as former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe did, may create an obstacle to peace in the future. At the same time, lasting peace may depend on reducing the grotesque inequalities in Colombia with regard to income, wealth and political influence – inequalities that in the past led to the conflict.

    Even in Colombia, however, many people believe that the FARC started the fighting. But the FARC was founded in 1964, long after the fighting commenced. Between 1948 and 1958 alone – a period known as “La Violencia” – more than 200,000 people lost their lives in violent confrontations between the Conservative and Liberal parties in Colombia. Subsequently these two parties formed a coalition in order to prevent other, more radical, parties from gaining influence. So the FARC did not start the war – it was the war that started the FARC. The organization was founded by poor farmers as a self-defence initiative. The farmers were under attack by government forces, backed by the United States, targeting rural communities with Communist sympathies. Of course, this does not alter the fact that FARC rebels have committed many atrocities.

    But which side has really been responsible for the most violence? Long ago the United Nations calculated that the FARC and the ELN were responsible for 12 per cent of civilian killings. The rest were caused by government forces and paramilitary militias acting in concert with criminal gangs. Finally, it is politically correct to believe that people from all parts of Colombian society voted against the peace deal last weekend (50.2 per cent voted “no”, with a turnout of 38 per cent). The figures suggest otherwise. With the good help of economist and political scientist James Robinson, it is easy to see that the percentage of “yes” votes was high in provinces with many poor voters, while the percentage of “no” votes was high in provinces with few poor voters. The division between urban and rural areas was equally clear. The largest cities (with the exception of Bogota) had a majority of “no” votes, while most rural provinces had a clear majority of “yes” votes. Since nearly three-quarters of Colombia’s population live in urban areas, the preponderance of “yes” votes in rural areas was much higher than the preponderance of “no” votes in cities. The proportion of “yes” votes was also highest in the areas most directly affected by the civil war – such as Choco Province in north-west Colombia, where 80 per cent of voters voted “yes”.

    All in all, the distribution of “yes” and “no” votes is a frightening reflection of the same conditions that previously led to the violent conflict between the government and the FARC. For over 100 years, urban elites have shown little interest in conditions in rural areas. They have ceded power to the largest landowners, who together with paramilitary militias, have acted as de facto governing authorities locally.

    Most people who have been directly exposed to this bad governance voted “yes”, while those who have been little affected were slightly more likely to vote “no”.

    Another factor was Hurricane Matthew, now causing a state of emergency in the United States, which passed through parts of Colombia during the referendum. The figures show that the hurricane prevented many people in rural provinces – where support was greatest for President Santos in the 2014 general election and where most people were likely to vote “yes” – from voting. Without the hurricane, there would probably have been a clear majority in favour of the peace agreement.

    In any event – and as suggested by Jon Elster many years ago – it is no doubt true that the maximum punishment that the FARC is prepared to accept for its atrocities is lower than the minimum punishment demanded by the urban elites in order to gain the acceptance of a peace agreement. But one must consider these attitudes in light of Colombia’s extreme inequalities in income and political influence, and in light of those who will bear the burden of any continuation of the conflict.

    Although the best solution would have been for the FARC and the Colombian government to have shared the Nobel Peace Prize, the award of the prize may nevertheless put the peace process rapidly back on track.

    This text was first published in Dagens Næringsliv 8 October 2016: “Den umulige freden”
    Translation from Norwegian: Fidotext

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