Leadership, Peace and the Media in Colombia – meeting President Juan Manuel Santos.
I had the pleasure of attending a screening recently in Trinity College about Colombia, which was followed by a Q&A with Juan Manual Santos, former President of Colombia and Nobel Peace Prize Winner. What an incredible man!
The man himself is very affable, very ‘normal’ (no airs and graces), very dedicated to peace in his country. He is a deep thinker who has amazing nerve and courage.
Leadership? The man has it in spades. Here are just two examples.
Initially, at the start of his ministerial career, he wanted to strike a blow against the FARC. He wanted to show that they were not invincible. He wanted to show his own people. He wanted to start to change attitudes. He asked his own people to give him ideas – outside the box ideas, no matter how crazy! Two women who had been listening to FARC communications suggested that the Colombian army might be able to dress as rebels and fool FARC into handing over the hostages, who included Ingrid Betancourt, the former presidential candidate. He gave the idea the green light and the rest is history. The hostages were freed, and attitudes began to change.
Early in his presidency, he was secretly negotiating with FARC. Both sides had agreed that there would be nothing said publicly until everything had been agreed. During the process, the army informed him that they had identified where the head of FARC was, and could ‘take him out’ on his orders. The negotiations were undoubtedly at a delicate stage, but he decided to approve the order. It must have been an incredibly difficult decision but one that he felt was necessary, to establish the supremacy of the Colombian army.
In the Q&A afterwards, I asked him about the role of media in the peace process. He is a former editor of El Tiempo newspaper – the largest circulation daily newspaper in Colombia. I wanted to know what role the media played in the peace process and find out how important they were to the success or failure of the process. I found his response fascinating.
While the peace negotiations were ongoing, the media were kept in the dark entirely. They were not briefed – even off-the-record. This created a vacuum on the government side. The media wrote some incredible stories about the future of Colombia and the government could not comment. He said that the way he handled media had been a big mistake.
Later, chatting privately, I asked if he had considered using a PR person to brief media on behalf of the government. “No” he said. When I asked why, he said that it was because he never thought of it, probably because as a journalist he was too arrogant and believed he didn’t need one. I thought it was an incredibly honest answer.
If you haven’t seen the documentary have a look HERE