Today President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed newly-installed FARC Congress members in what was a historic milestone in the country’s path to peace with the former guerrilla group.
“Welcome to this temple of democracy,” the Colombian president said as FARC members took to their seats as co-participants in the country’s democratic system, rather than its militant opposition. “it fills me with satisfaction that those, who for more than half a century fought with arms against the state and its institutions, today submit to the Constitution and the laws of Colombia as we all do.”
After over half a century of war with the Colombian government, the Marxist group finally laid down their arms in 2016 in exchange for political representation. Eight former combatants will now be members of the Colombian Congress and, following years of war, will now register their opposition with words and not weapons.
President Santos’ address lasted a little less than an hour and, in addition to welcoming the FARC members of the Congress into the fold, it also covered his achievements during his 8-year term; including the peace process, the economy, education, healthcare, the environment, corruption and the security situation in Colombia.
The President also conceded that the peace process came at great political cost, as his favorabilty rating amongst the public remains low, and outlined the peace talks with ELN, the killings of social leaders, narcotrafficking and the deteriorating situation in Venezuela as some Colombia’s biggest challenges ahead.
Full video of President Santos’ address
Despite the President’s impassioned speech, the applause within the Congress was tepid in response, reflecting the President’s unpopularity within political circles.
The President’s detractors included Senator Álavaro Uribe who tweeted several ripostes to the President’s words, claiming that education, security, the economy and the environment, among others, all saw a marked deterioration during President Santos’ adminstration.
Speaking at a press conference today, former presidential candidate Gustavo Petro also spoke harshly of the newly-installed Congress claiming that it was “a product of a fraud.”
The Green Party began their tenure as the voice of the opposition by staging a protest over the government’s inaction on the multiple killings of social leaders within the country.
The historic address fell on Colombia’s Independence day, 208 years after Bogotá rebelled against the Spanish crown. The speech will be the President’s last address to Congress as the country awaits his successor Iván Duque, who will begin his term on August 7.