Tribute by the President of the Government at bestowal of an honorary doctorate from Camilo José Cela University on the President of the Republic of Colombia


Camilo José Cela University, Madrid

Mr President of the Republic of Colombia,

Madam President of the SEK Education Institute,

Vice-Chancellor of Camilo José Cela University,

Former Presidents of the Government of Spain,

Spanish and Colombian officials,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow my first words to be of congratulations and gratitude: congratulations to Camilo José Cela University on their initiative to bestow this honorary doctorate on the President of a great country, Colombia; and gratitude for giving me the opportunity to make this tribute to a good friend and a great ally of Spain, Juan Manuel Santos Calderón.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Colombia and its people make up a great nation, aware of who they are. Thanks to a firm commitment to the values of liberty and democracy, it has become a global benchmark in many aspects. This has not been an easy path; it has been a complicated path, full of suffering, and it is only right to highlight these efforts.

I would like this tribute to focus on Colombia, on its bi-centenary generation, on the Pacific Alliance and, of course, on the person of Juan Manuel Santos Calderón.

I would like to begin by recalling a great speech of an ethical and political ideologue of President Santos. In 1989, during the presidential campaign, Luis Carlos Galán exclaimed, "We are changing the conscience of the people of Colombia, as is needed and required to truly make progress. To acquire dignity, to be fully aware of their rights. In order not to be neither a marginal nor a secondary nation. In order for no Colombian to be ashamed of presenting the passport of his country ever again".

Luis Carlos Galán, murdered shortly after that speech, would be enormously proud of seeing that Colombia is nowadays an example of change, hope and success for the whole world to see. The people of Colombia feel very proud of their country and that is a worthy merit corresponding to the bi-centenary generation of Colombia; a generation that is the successor of the great democratic tradition of Colombia, which has shown it has strong and independent institutions. Terrorism, even linked to drug trafficking, has not been able to overcome the wishes of a brave society with resistant institutions.

We must also make mention of the contribution of other heroes of liberty such as Álvaro Gómez, Rodrigo Lara, Judge Tulio Manuel Castro Gil, Brigadier General Valdemar Franklin Quintero and Héctor Abad Gómez, who never renounced their ideals and gave their lives to achieve a peaceful Colombia. None of them has been, nor will be, as the great Colombian novel says, "the forgotten that we will become" ["el olvido que seremos"].

Juan Manuel Santos represents these Colombians, their efforts, their perseverance, their suffering, their triumph over adversity, their yearning for peace; a generation that has achieved sustained economic growth to convert Colombia into the second largest economy in South America, with unemployment at historically low levels, with extreme poverty in the process of shortly being eradicated and with the lowest level of inflation in Latin America.

Colombia of the 21st Century is among the new emerging powerhouses of reference and the only one of them that is still attracting foreign capital in a period of turbulence. Colombia is presently the confirmation of the emergence of medium-sized powers in international relations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The academic background of President Santos is a good basis for the bestowal of this honorary doctorate and explains the seriousness with which he has tackled the hard task of governing.

He studied Business Administration and Economics at the University of Kansas, and holds a postgraduate degree from the London School of Economics, thus enabling him to teach at the Los Andes University in Bogota. He was a beneficiary of a Fulbright Scholarship to further his studies at the no less prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and completed his studies at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. As a journalist he received the Rey de España Journalism Award in 1985 as deputy editor of "El Tiempo".

It should come as no surprise that he is said to be "the most Anglo-Saxon President of the most Anglo-Saxon country in Latin America". However, as he himself recalled at the lunch he offered me on my first visit to Colombia as President of the Government of Spain, Colombia's ties with Spain surpass any academic origin or political inclination.

President Santos then recalled an anecdote to explain the depth of the ties that bind us. Almost half a century ago, General Charles De Gaulle, then President of France, made an official visit to Colombia. The then-President of Colombia, delighted by the visit, wanted to add a nice touch at the end of his welcome speech, but made a mistake by not exclaiming "Vive La France". Betrayed by his unconscious and to a general sense of wonder, he shouted "Viva España!"

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to pause briefly to describe how President Santos took office at Casa de Nariño, since this is an example of a sense of State of a governor who knows which course to take and what he needs to follow it without being pushed off course by stormy weather.

During his first investiture speech, on that rainy afternoon of 7 August 2010, President Santos described very well what Colombia is, "a marvellous combination of culture, races, talent and natural wealth".

To acknowledge this cultural and ethnic diversity, before his investiture he visited Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta with his family. He met there with leaders and representatives of indigenous peoples, the descendants of the ancient Tayrona culture, a symbol of the 68 native languages spoken in Colombia. President Santos sent out a clear and exemplary message, that he conveyed to all the people of Colombia, exclaiming, "This is a message of life, of harmony and unity within diversity". That is what he conveyed when sworn in to office, defining Colombia as the fruit "of an indigenous heritage, a Spanish legacy, a rich African contribution and so many other influences that have made us what we are".

Spain and Colombia share messages and objectives: unity within diversity, harmony, good governance and integration.

Since the start of his first term of office, and given the magnitude of the challenges he faced, President Santos has had the merit of integrating into his government a large number of political forces despite having been the president to receive the largest majority in the history of Colombia. Inspired by the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, he called on his political adversaries to form part of his government in a commitment to union, thereby dispelling confrontation.

The courage of Juan Manuel Santos Calderón should be acknowledged. He was the finest Minister for Defence in the history of Colombia. He found a way to combat terrorism better than anyone else, and he is now making an unprecedented commitment to peace. A statesman who knows how to take the right path; a statesman of a great nation at a major crossroads. Great politicians are those that put ideologies to one side to govern according to a greater good according to the demands of the moment in time. And great initiatives are those that are not based on the risk of failure but rather on the chance of success and on the opportunities that they can offer future generations.

Spain supports Colombia and President Santos. The Spanish people have also supported the people of Colombia because we have also suffered from terrorism; now we also want to support their efforts towards peace, by bringing to an end the final conflict in the Western hemisphere.

I hope that the FARC and the ELN know how to make the most of the historic opportunity being offered to them by President Santos, and by the majority of the people of Colombia by having re-elected him. If they once again disappoint the people of Colombia, they will end up being mere dust on the wayside of history.

Madam President of the SEK Education Institute,

Vice-Chancellor of the Camilo José Cela University,

Faculty members,

Juan Manuel Santos Calderón also deserves our recognition for Colombia's new place in the world. He has found a way to take up a wonderful legacy and improve on it. In addition to the free trade agreements already being negotiated with the European Union, the United States, Canada and Switzerland, he has added the Pacific Alliance.

Colombian trade no longer depends on unilateral preferences or on extensions. It has adapted to globalisation in an exemplary fashion. As if inspired by "The weaver of crowns" ["La tejedora de coronas"], another of its literary masterpieces, Colombia has started the 21st Century by cleverly weaving, with vision, a complete network of treaties reaching the four corners of the world, giving it access, without paying customs duties, to a potential market of more than 1.4 billion consumers. Colombia is becoming a distribution platform for trade and an investment attraction between South America and North America, as well as between Europe and Asia, offering political stability and legal certainty that the great nations require.

I would like to particularly highlight the leading role played by Juan Manuel Santos in Latin American integration through the Pacific Alliance which comprises, from north to south, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile. Costa Rica is terminating its membership process and Panama is a candidate for Observer State. Like the European Union, the Pacific Alliance generates more requests for membership than unfounded misgivings, because it is based on the constructive opening up of markets and not on useless rivalries.

This is the most dynamic integration process with the greatest projection in the history of Latin America. It could be said that it is the most similar process to European integration that exists in Latin America, with one single difference - it is going quicker. The Pacific Alliance shares the same fundamental principles as the European Union: the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. Its Member States already enjoy free trade among themselves, they have set up the largest stock market in Latin America in terms of capitalisation and number of companies, and among other things they have removed visa requirements for their citizens.

The Pacific Alliance is everything that we believe in the European Union: opening up trade, legal certainty, democracy, and strong and independent institutions. Juan Manuel Santos knows how to combine these formulas for success, which explain, as has been shown, why some nations triumph while others fail.

The Asian vocation of the Pacific Alliance does not mean that it is turning its back on the Atlantic, quite the opposite; this is a unique opportunity for economic triangulation to reach Asia through Latin America, where our companies are better established. Spanish companies can, hence, take advantage of the increase in trade and investment flows between Asia and Latin America, which are among the most intense in the world.

The Pacific Alliance is also an opportunity to extend the so-called transatlantic bond between the European Union, the United States and Canada. The Atlantic is not just the North Atlantic, nor is it a closed space.

By extending the Atlantic as understood in Northern Europe, western economies can be revitalised, incorporating the emerging Latin American and African markets. This is the vision of Juan Manuel Santos, a Latin American president with a natural European inclination.

Under the mandate of President Santos, definitive steps are also being taken for Colombia to join the OECD. What is most important is not simply its membership, but why President Santos is striving so hard to achieve this, the reason being that he does not see the OECD as a club of rich nations, but rather as a club of good governmental practices.

Juan Manuel Santos has dedicated his time in office to spreading and implementing the concept of good governance, firstly through the Good Governance Foundation, and now, from the Presidency of the Republic, after having held three different ministerial portfolios under three different presidents. The concept of good governance is based on the application of certain fundamental principles: transparency, effectiveness, efficiency and accountability. Juan Manuel Santos represents the desire of great statesmen to dignify political work and strengthen democracy and its institutions in Colombia.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, today we pay tribute to a great reformist thinker who has rekindled the political debate in an ongoing yet constructive manner so that the State and its institutions are renewed as required by their citizens. President Santos will go down in the history books for this attitude in times in which political decadence is conformism and reforms are the best guarantee of maintaining the quality of institutions and western democracy as a global benchmark.

For all these reasons, and for many more, I consider that Juan Manuel Santos Calderón fully deserves receiving this honorary doctorate from Camilo José Cela University.

Thank you all very much for your attention and my sincere congratulations to President Juan Manuel Santos and to all the people of Colombia.