Nobel laureate Juan Manuel Santos talks 'changing bullets for votes' in Colombia

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos sat down with CBC News on Monday to talk about the challenges his country faces in a unique moment in its history - an upcoming election that will include the political representation of FARC after a landmark peace deal with the longtime guerrilla group.

Santos, who struck landmark deal with FARC in 2016, was in Ottawa on Monday meeting with PM Trudeau

President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos

5 years ago
Duration 11:18
The 2016 Nobel Peace laureate discusses his country's peace deal, the war against drugs, and cooperating with Canada in trade and global issues.

Colombia is in the midst of a dramatic evolution after decades of violence and instability that will be put to the test in the spring of 2018 as the country goes to the polls.

Over the past two years, the government has struck a deal with FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), with an ensuing disarmament process.

FARC, to some, was a guerrilla group that sprung up from the repression of left-leaning rural inhabitants. But the group's campaigns of violence over five decades included bombings and assassinations, and the conflict between FARC and the government saw thousands of civilians, including children, killed.

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos was in Ottawa on Monday to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who pledged Canadian support towards "post-conflict policing efforts in Colombia." 

Santos spoke to CBC Power and Politics guest host Rob Brown about the unique moment in his country's history, as FARC transitions to political party status – a party to be known as the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force.

Santos admitted it's a process that, for many, "is hard to digest," but ultimately, it was "the cost of peace."

"That's what peace processes are about – changing bullets for votes. Instead of killing, going to congress and making your arguments," he said.

"You have to, in a way, accept those issues if you want peace. Otherwise, those issues will go on forever."

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

For striking the peace deal, Santos was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prizebut referendums in Colombia revealed a bitter split in the electorate over the wisdom of striking a deal with FARC and granting amnesty to many of its members. Santos's U Party is polling poorly just months away from the election.

The peace deal included provisions for weaning local farmers to other crops and away from the production of coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived. But many farmers ramped up their coca production to cash in on the expected incentive plans to switch crops.

Santos characterized the boost in product that can exported to other continents as a "right now" challenge, believing that deals it has struck with over 100,000 families in a "cumbersome process" to stop growing coca plants will see the issue lessen over time.

Santos also tackled questions on how $80 million of Canadian aid is being spent in Colombia, and the challenges his country is facing due economic hardship and the move to one-party rule seen in one of the four countries it borders — Venezuela.

You can watch the full interview above.