After winning in a run-off vote, June 15th, the elections against right-wing candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga, editorials and political pundits have heralded Juan Manuel Santos’ second term as the closest opportunity Colombia has had in its 50 year long conflict of achieving a lasting peace, and one being hammered-out since 2012 with the largest of the nation’s guerrilla forces, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
As the country celebrates a national holiday dating back to when Liberator Simón Bolívar defeated the Spanish army at the Battle of Boyacá, in 1819; August 7th is also the official day of the inauguration of the country’s presidents.
Juan Manuel Santos took the oath of office before Congress this afternoon for a term which will end summer 2018. As the president elect received delegations from 105 invited nations, Colombia finds itself facing a severe drought, which since the end of the election campaign has impacted the coast, its farmers and cattle growers, and could lead to water rationing in Bogotá by the beginning of next year. On Thursday, forest fires were raging in several townships of the department of Cundinamarca. A new tax reform could be also be presented to Congress to simplify declarations for citizens and small business owners, and the end of the year could usher in important changes to the way the country’s health system operates.
Defining the roadmap for peace with FARC negotiators in Havana, Cuba, will remain the “key pillar” of Santos’ second term especially as Colombians have become increasingly restless (and skeptical) with delays and the often arrogant overtones from FARC commanders regarding the rights and reparations of victims. During the inauguration Thursday, a specially-composed hymn was be sung in the Plaza Nuñez of the Capitol “for peace” by school children dressed in white. The national anthem was interpreted by the Army Band and Baritone Valeriano Lanchas.
Overseeing a robust economy which has grown on average between 2010 and 2013 at 4.8 percent, and a macro economic model which had maintained unemployment steady at 9.2 percent – according to the state’s statistical agency DANE’s June report – Santos has boosted Colombia’s standing regionally as a solid trading partner, with other region’s other economic tigers: Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Peru.
Where Santos hasn’t fared well is on rural issues and the plight of Colombia’s farmers, who were hit hard during his first term by the wrath of La Niña, and which led to mass flooding and damage to the nation’s infrastructure.
The signing into effect of free trade agreements with the U.S and Canada also generated unrest among farmers who saw in these agreements a direct threat to their livelihoods and unfair competition from foreign-grown agricultural products, while they were subjected to high tariffs on essential pesticides and agro-industrial machinery. A prolonged and bitter strike last year by farmers forced the Santos government to make major concessions – and despite a temporary lull on the agrarian front – the plight of the nation’s farmers will most likely be another critical point in Santos’ inaugural speech.
Santos’ second term seems focused on expanding the social net and setting into motion much-needed reforms on wide ranging domestic issues close to Colombians, such as health and education. While his ministers will begin the task of drawing up agendas for a possible post-conflict scenario, Santos must convince his countrymen that he has their interests at heart, and not just those the peace whisperers in Cuba.
At 3:30 pm local time, Santos addressed the nation from the steps of Congress in the company his wife María Clemencia Rodrigúez de Santos, his children: Martin, Esteban and María Antonia. “With the words “Thank you God, Thank you Colombia!” I began my presidency four years ago, stated Santos. “Today, I reiterate them again. Colombia’s time has come.”
“Colombia needs a new social pact,” went on to proclaim Santos before the visiting heads of state and dignitaries including the presidents of Peru, Panama and Mexico.
After a speech by the head of Congress, Santos reaffirmed his desire to end the violence in his country. “We need a country in total peace.” He mentioned that the desired peace was the first “pillar” of his platform. With his tricolor presidential sash, Santos claimed that the talks in Havana were entering their final stage would require “sacrifices.” The President also mentioned the start of a pace process with the maoist National Liberation Army – ELN.
“FARC, you have been warned,” stated Santos regarding recent acts of violence in Colombia which has destroyed infrastructure and attacked civilians. “Gestures of peace, is what Colombians are demanding,”
After outlining his peace platform, Santos went on to address domestic issues, such as expanding the labour force in his second term with 2.5 million new jobs as well as offering more scholarships to young professionals.