COLORADO LEADERSHIP FORUM
Yours is a new generation which live in a technology world but also in a dangerous environment, and your challenge is to put everything of you to build a better world.
How will you make it? In your families and in the American tradition you have learned the values that will guide you in this pledge: Responsibility, tolerance, charity, respect towards the other ones and towards the planet that we inhabit.
Back in 1998, I had the supreme honor of being elected President of the Republic of Colombia, through the highest number of votes in the history of my country. It was not an easy task. My nation was facing – and is still facing – a problem of huge complexity: In the midst of the honest and tough working life led by more than 40 million of Colombians, two illegal armed rival groups were growing and pervading every corner like an oil spill across the territory. Their membership does not even reach 0.1 per cent of Colombian population; but they have on their side the destabilizing power of violence.
There are the guerrilla’s – mainly represented by the FARC and the ELN – and there are also the illegal self defense groups. The worse thing is that both sides share a common denominator: they thrive mainly on the money produced by the drug traffic as well as by kidnapping and extortion. More than a fight for power, they are waging a war for the control of territories they can use to conduct their illegal activities.
It is a very old conflict whose origins go back further than four decades in the past, but that has been degrading day by day with the help of drug money and the use of terrorism against civilians. This is why I have always said to the world: In Colombia there is no civil war. What we have is a war waged by a few against civil society!
As soon as I won the elections, my first aim, in front of my conscience and in front of my fellow Colombians, was to do everything possible, and even go beyond what was possible, to reach peace through dialog and political negotiation.
I have always believed this is the way to do it. Gandhi was right when he said: “There are no roads to peace, peace is the way“. And he was right because we have to ask ourselves: How can we pretend to reach peace in a country over the corpses of the dead and the misery of the maimed? How can we build true peace over foundations of hate, resentment and humiliation? Dear friends, I do not believe in the peace of the victors and the vanquished. I do believe, nonetheless, in a peace built through dialog, because only the peace born of a peaceful instrument is destined to survive.
With these ideal riveted to my heart I confronted all the risks that were to be overcome in order to pursue this objective which is the greatest aspiration of my people. As President elected, but before I was inaugurated, I met the chief commander of the FARC, a man known by his nom de guerre Manuel Marulanda or “Tirofijo” in a remote place in the mountains of Colombia. I did it without being given any assurance, putting at risk my life and my freedom, but being convinced that it was necessary to talk face to face in order to set the right perspectives to open the road towards peace.
Seven years have elapsed since then. I met another two times the leader of the guerrillas – I was already President by then – but unfortunately, the objective was not reached. It was a profound, daring and sincere attempt. It was supported by the International Community as well as by the whole country. In this process we invested a lot in order to build-up confidence but we got back only actions of death and destruction.
I must say with sorrow that the warlords did not listen to the clamor of the people; they did not meet the offers made to incorporate them to the peaceful life of the nation; they still prefer the ways of the weapons to the ways of democracy.
Nevertheless, I haven’t lost my faith in the human being and in the means of peace as the sole alternative to set the foundations of a commonwealth. This faith is the most profound treasure I can share with you today.
Tolerance, as Victor Hugo said, “is the best religion”. In a world with more than six thousand million people the best advice you can give to anyone is: be tolerant, which means: learn from others, show respect to others and appreciate our differences. If we all just learned and practiced this little lesson, our life and life in the world would be peaceful and harmonic.
Personal dreams cannot be separated from collective dreams. You must not forget that you are members of a global community named Earth and that you have a special responsibility to fulfill towards her and towards your neighbors.
The future, dear friends, will be as good as the future we, ourselves, build. You have the power of youth and the tools to create the best possible tomorrow. Don’t miss your chance!