My term as mayor of Manizales was ending (1994). I received a call from Juan Manuel Santos, whom I did not know personally. Fundaprogreso had honored me by designating me as the best mayor of Colombia, and that motivated him to invite me to participate in the creation of the Good Government Foundation, an entity that was born after leaving the Ministry of Foreign Trade.
The project seemed excellent to me and after attending some meetings I became part of the Foundation, where, in addition, I met a group of young university students of the time, including the current president of the Republic.
For a time I assumed the leadership of the entity, and together we toured many parts of our country, accompanying him in his first presidential bid as a liberal candidate in the 1998 elections, which Horacio Serpa easily won.
In one of those raids he told me, with astonishing tranquility, that regardless of that first electoral failure, he would fight to be president of Colombia.
I decided, despite the terrible results we obtained in the polls, to accompany him in his political career, which many considered failed.
I could write a book to tell anecdotes of the electoral failures we had, but also to describe his character as a ponderous and firm man when the situation requires it. He accompanied Andrés Pastrana as Minister of Finance in the worst period of the economy (before the COVID) and promoted the alliance of the nascent party of ‘the U’ with the re-election campaign of Álvaro Uribe in 2006. As Minister of Defense, he raffled off the worst period of public order that the country had. His political future would be full of obstacles, but with his incredible calm, he told us, parodying Churchill, that in difficult moments we had precisely to take on those challenges.
The results were obvious with the operation that terminated ‘Raúl Reyes’ and then the Jaque operation (2008). In 2010 he became president of Colombia, and thus a government began for the country that sowed hope in the future for the most vulnerable population. He promoted the most ambitious infrastructure project in history (4G concessions, creation of the ANI, strengthening of the Invías, La Línea tunnel, etc.), negotiated Colombia’s entry into the OECD, strengthened education, raffled (once again ) a global economic crisis, improved the country’s competitiveness indicators, reduced poverty, built an international agenda based on respect for the international community and the protection of national interests, put the country on the path of economic growth and, in absolute secrecy, he foresaw an unnecessary referendum, he worked on the peace agreement that changed our political history, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Retired from politics and dedicated to his family and academia, he has written two excellent books: The Battle for Peace and An Optimistic Message for a World in Crisis. It is worth reading them, and the second one, especially to enjoy the Colombia of the last 30 years, which, as he says, you have to look at it with a glass half full – everything that has been done – and a glass half empty – what we still have to do. Particularly interesting is his analysis of the environment, his reflections on defeating pessimism, which is a brake on progress, and his suggestions to strengthen leadership with character and empathy, the most important virtues of any leader, in his words.
That is Juan Manuel Santos, who will go down in history as the unforgettable Gabo, because they left their mark and raised the name of Colombia before the world. In addition to all the above, he has had the nobility to observe politics from a distance, as great statesmen tend to do.
GERMÁN CARDONA G.