Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos arrived in Oslo Friday morning to begin three whirlwind days packed with events tied to his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. Santos heaped praise on Norway for its support for the peace process in Colombia, and called the prize itself “a gift from heaven.”
It came just four days after Colombian voters narrowly defeated acceptance of the original peace pact agreed by Santos’ government and Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) guerrilla group. Santos said that he already had started trying to find a way to reshape the agreement, to address voters’ concerns, when he received a call from Oslo with the surprise announcement that he’d still won the Nobel Peace Price for 2016, even without an agreement in hand.
“It was like a gift from heaven,” Santos said at a press conference Friday afternoon. “It gave us an enormous push. It helped very, very much.”
That was exactly the intention of the Norwegian Nobel Committee when it announced in October that Santos had been awarded the Peace Prize on his own. Committee leader Kaci Kullmann Five, who was absent from Friday’s press conference because of illness, had said that “our aim is to honour the work that has been done … and encourage all those who are striving to achieve peace, reconciliation and justice in Colombia.”
Norway itself has played a major role in the Colombian peace process for years, and the agreement’s defeat at the polls was a huge disappointment also for the Norwegian government. Now that a new agreement is in place, the Norwegians have promised to continue to help follow up on all its points.
Santos repeatedly made it clear that he and FARC leaders appreciated the Norwegians’ support in facilitating the process. “Norway is known for its willingness around the world to help achieve peace,” Santos said. “In this particular case, when they saw something being created, they said ‘anything you need, we’ll be here to help,’ even in the secret phases,” he added, before the actual peace process was announced and formally began “here in Oslo in 2012.”
Santos also thanked Cuba and “the international community” for supporting the talks. He noted that Norway “became the official guarantor,” helping “discreetly, confidentially” with logistics and many other aspects during the last four years. “There’s no country that has helped more in this process to achieve peace than Norway,” Santos claimed.
Now he’ll have three days in Norway, during which he’ll meet King Harald V and other members of the royal family, be guest of honour at a private dinner with the Nobel Committee Friday evening, be received at the Royal Palace and Parliament and be cheered by hundreds of school children outside the Nobel Peace Center before he formally receives the prize inside the Oslo City Hall on Saturday afternoon. That will be followed by a traditional torchlight parade in the prize winner’s honour and the awards banquet at the Grand Hotel Saturday evening, before more meetings and appearances on Sunday that will be climaxed by the Nobel Concert Sunday evening.
Explaining FARC’s absence
Santos landed in Oslo with around 40 guests and family members but no FARC members are among them, nor did the Nobel Committee include them in sharing the prize. Five wouldn’t comment on why only Santos was honoured but said in October that “there are many partners” in the process and it was Santos “who took the initiative” and prodded the talks along. Santos said on Friday that he “didn’t want to create any problems with the Norwegian government” by inviting FARC members who, because of “legal proceedings” still face limitations on their travel.
“We thought it would not be appropriate,” Santos said, but added that he did invite one of FARC’s chief negotiators and that FARC officials “will be here in heart and soul.” So will some of FARC’s most celebrated hostages over the years including Colombian-French politician Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by FARC and held for six years before being rescued by Colombian security forces. Santos also said he now will ask other countries to no longer consider FARC a terrorist organization.
Santos stressed that he feels the prize was not just awarded to him but also to “nearly 50 million Colombians” and, not least, 8 million victims of the guerrilla war and violence that lasted for more than 50 years. Asked how he feels, Santos replied “very honoured, very happy,” adding that he would receive the prize” in the names of the 8 million victims.” The Peace Prize, he said, shows that “nothing is impossible,” as the work towards implementing the terms of peace pact begins.