University News

Q&A with President Santos P’12

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 6, 2011

President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos P’12 gave the 84th Stephen A. Ogden ’60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs yesterday. Before the lecture, he sat down with The Herald.


The Herald: What made you decide to come to Brown to give a talk?

Santos: I was invited. I was invited and I felt very honored and the fact that my daughter studies here had something to do with that also.


Why do you feel it is important to talk to college students at Brown about this country’s relationship with Latin America?

President Obama was in Latin America just a few days ago and I think it is an important moment for the American people, especially the American students who are at this moment thinking in the future, to say to them, “Listen: You have in a way suffered what I call the hyperopia syndrome. The U.S. sees far away, but you don’t see very much what you have here. What you have here is a region that has a potential for prosperity — for both that region and the U.S. if we come closer together.” This is the warning that I want to give — don’t disregard it anymore, for your own sake. Not really for our sake, because China, Europe and the rest of the world is coming to Latin America. It would be a bit of a sad story that having had such good relations with the U.S., the U.S. would not realize how important it is for the U.S. to have good and productive relations with Latin America.


How do people in Colombia view the United States?

Colombia is probably the most pro-American Latin American country there is. All the polls show that there is a great appreciation for the U.S. and for the American people. We are very proud to be a strategic partner of the U.S. and we hope we can continue that partnership and, as in every relationship, we can improve it.


What issues are important in the relations between the United States and Colombia?

We are trying to change the agenda. The agenda has been dominated by issues like drug trafficking, the war on terror, human rights. But now that in Colombia we have managed to make great progress on those issues, we are changing the agenda to things like the environment, education, transfer of technology and biodiversity. These are the issues that I will talk about with President Obama.


Why did you enter politics?

I come from a newspaper family. Newspapers in a way have a relation with politics. Since I was very young I started reading biographies, getting interested in lives of statesmen and I decided that public service was a good way to spend my life.

You were a college student in the United States. How would you describe that experience?

It was a great experience and I learned a lot. I went to two very different universities. University of Kansas, which is in the middle of the U.S., some people say it’s in the middle of nowhere. I had a great time there. I learned to value the American way of life. And then I was twice at Harvard and I learned very much in my experiences as a student at both Kansas and Harvard. That is one more reason why I appreciate so much the U.S. and what it stands for.


What do you hope to accomplish during your visit?

Tomorrow I’m going to chair the (United Nations) Security Council. From here I fly tomorrow to New York and the issue I want to discuss there is Haiti. The international community cannot allow a country like Haiti to continue suffering like they’re suffering right now. The UN has a moral obligation and the international community has a moral obligation — we all have a moral obligation to help that country in a much more effective way. So if I leave at least a doubt here at Brown — why we should look South — and (leave) the UN more worried about helping Haiti, I’ll go back to my country very happy.