Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has once again come to the prime focus by winning the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. The 65-year-old leader has been conferred with the prestigious award for his selfless efforts to end the five-decades-long civil war in his country.
A couple of days back, he was the cynosure of all eyes after his countrymen said “No” to a peace deal, he proposed, with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the nation's largest rebel group.
This Nobel Peace Prize is believed to be an appreciation for his will power to fight against all odds until peace is restored in his country.
Despite his referendum that was defeated by the narrowest of the margins, The Norwegian Nobel Committee says, he was awarded it to “encourage all those who are striving to achieve peace, reconciliation and justice in Colombia”.
The committee also observed that even though the referendum was defeated, that “does not necessarily mean that the peace process is dead”.
Santos: Transition from a hard hitter to a peace maker
An economist by profession, Santos, one of the founding leaders of the Social Party of National Unity (Party of the U), had emerged as a power politician in 1991 after he was appointed as the country's first minister of Foreign Trade by the then Colombian President Cesar Gaviria Trujilo.
Santos, hailing from a wealthy and influential family, caught global attention only after the former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe chose him as a defence minister in 2006, one of the major portfolios in conflict-prone Columbia.
The media baron, who was very close to the then President Alvaro Uribe later emerged as one of the most influential person in the ministry in a short span of time.
Back then, fighting FARC rebels was an election promise of Uribe. As a defence minister, the main duty of Santos was to make it faster and heavier. Colombia's military with the consent of Santos started multiple attacks at the epicentres of the rebels.
In a move to kill FARC commander Raul Reyes, Colombia even unleashed an unprecedented attack on FARC camp in northern Ecuador in 2008, which resulted in creating bilateral tension between the both countries.
Since the attack was with the support of US, this “grave violation”, however, failed to grab international attention.
It was during his tenure as defence minister, the infamous “false positives” scandal took place in Colombia in which military allegedly killed numerous civilians and passed them off as rebels.
According to the reports, the military, after getting the consent of the President and Defence Minister, killed several civilians and dressed as guerrillas so that they would gain promotions. However, this never stopped Colombia people from accepting him as their next president.
In 2009 he resigned as Defence Minister and in March 2010 won the presidential election.
After becoming president, Colombia witnessed to a complete transition of Santos from a big shot to peace lover. Taking a U-turn from the policies of his political mentor Uribe, Santos normalised Colombia’s relation with Venezuelan government led by Hugo Chavez.
When former government’s war crimes and abuses were started being prosecuted by Santos, the former allies turned foes.
In 2012, Santos made it public that he has embarked on a peace deal with the FARC rebels.
The FARC which was founded in 1964 as an armed wing of the Communist party in Colombia had been a primary headache before all governments. The group which deep rooted in rural Colombia had huge followers since they fought against the atrocities meted out to farmers and lower class in the country.
The start of a peace deal with the group which was believed to had around 6,000 to 7,000 active fighters, was a landmark decision in the history of Colombia.
This fueled the rivalry of former president Uribe with Santos who was openly against all sorts of reconciliation discussion with FARC and led him to support the opponent of Santos when he sought a second term as the President.
Signing of peace agreement with FARC
On 27 September 2016, Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, who is also known as Timochenko, signed the landmark peace deal.
Interestingly, they used a pen made from a bullet for signing the agreement, marking the end of half a century long fight which killed people between 200,000 and 300,000.
As head of state of the fatherland we all love, I want to welcome you to democracy turnSantos
In the event, he addressed FARC militants and world leaders including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
A confident Santos, who was very much sure that the peace deal will win the referendum that was needed to implement it, went ahead with that.
Today we have reasons for hope, there is one less war on the planetSantos in the United Nations General Assembly
But for slightly more than half of the Colombians “he was wrong”. People rejected the peace deal with 50.2% voting against it.
By awarding this year's Peace Prize to him , the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it loud and clear that he was right, and the truth will emerge victorious, though it may take its time.