Kansas University has many distinguished graduates who are tackling difficult challenges in a variety of fields.
It seems that few of those challenges, however, would be as great as the one faced by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as he works to bring peace to his country.
Santos stopped at KU Monday on his way to the United Nations. It was gratifying to hear the 1973 graduate talk about the positive influence KU had been in his life, helping him form his political ideals, along with a commitment to freedom and democracy.
It also was interesting to hear him talk about his approach to peace talks that start in two weeks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The rebel group has been fighting the government for decades, Santos said. “We’ve been killing each other for 50 years.”
Trying to end such a long dispute presents special problems, and Santos clearly had given his approach considerable thought. He viewed the negotiations as a balancing act.
“The most difficult decision,” he said, “is where do you put the limit between justice and peace. If you ask the victim that question, they will always answer, ‘We want more justice,’ because he has been the victim. If you ask the same question to a future victim, they will always say, ‘We want more peace.’ … Where do you draw the line?”
If Santos can find the right place to draw that line, his skills could be put to good use in dozens of hotspots around the globe.
The challenge, Santos explained, is to convince victims to give up some of their desire for punishment and revenge and be willing to say simply, “I forgive you.”
Again, that’s a tall task. Santos said that he is confident that even if peace talks are successful, there will be people on both ends of the peace and justice spectrum who aren’t satisfied with the result.
Nonetheless, his assessment of the situation seems profound: Victims want the satisfaction of justice, but the only thing that will prevent more victims in the future is peace. We wish Santos and other world leaders Godspeed in finding the sweet spot that provides enough justice but also a path to peace.