BY JUAN MANUEL SANTOS
It is now the time for the natural assets that were granted to us in abundance and that we Colombians have multiplied with ingenuity and wisdom, not to be the privilege of few, but to be within the reach of many hands.
This is the essence of Democratic Prosperity.
A dignifying home, a stable job with fair wages and benefits, access to education and health.
Basic well-being, financial peace of mind, in every Colombian home.
It is only this way, when no Colombian gets up in the morning with the uncertainty of his or her daily livelihood, that the existence of a strong collective society, capable of dreaming a common future will be made possible.
If we overcome the challenge of poverty, the intellectual and economic potential of Colombia will take off with unstoppable force. (…)
We will work to diminish poverty with the same intensity and the same commitment with which we have fought -and will continue to fight- terrorism and other enemies of Colombia.
Today I speak to over two and a half million fellow countrymen who are suffering unemployment, and to their families.
OBSESSED WITH JOB CREATION
My words were not in vain when during my campaign I said that my government would be built upon Work, Work and more Work!
Our goal is to reduce unemployment to a single digit, as well as to support entrepreneurship for more profitable companies to be created, and more companies to generate job opportunities.
With the creation of the Ministry of Work and Labor Development; with shock policies for the immediate generation of work; with laws such as the First Job -a proposal by the Liberal party to provide incentives to those who hire young adults who are just entering the job market-, and with our economic engine at full throttle, we will achieve our goals.
I want to emphasize on this: The priority, the obsession of my Government, will be the generation of social prosperity by way of job creation.
I am engaged with those who have nothing and with those who are tired of waiting.
All of our efforts, our sleeplessness, up to the very last minute of every day, will be devoted to fighting poverty and unemployment; there is no reason whatsoever for these to be eternal conditions for Colombians!
I also speak to the children and teenagers of Colombia:
Our efforts will be to provide everyone -without exception, and from early childhood- with full nutrition and quality education in every step of the way, thus enabling them to grow as integral human beings.
We want every student to have access to a personal computer and bilingual education.
We will deploy a broad scholarship and credit program for the lack of financial resources to no longer be the reason for secondary school students not to enter technical or university education programs.
We will promote integration and cooperation between universities and companies for pertinent education to be imparted and to contribute to development and employment.
We will reform the general royalty system for, among others, ten percent of them to be destined to science and technology throughout the whole country.
All of this for you, children and teenagers of Colombia, to be active players in the global society of the 21st century!
We also owe our children our commitment to oversee, with responsibility, the preservation of our environment and to engage with the future of our planet.
We are one of the nations with the most biological diversity in the world, and with the most Hydro resources, and we are called upon to preserve them for the benefit of ourselves and all of mankind.
We will create the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, and the National Water Agency, to guarantee further protection of our water and other natural resources.
As a naturalist wise man once said, "Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children."
That is why we will work for the environment, to pay our new generations that debt that cannot be postponed.
To the families in Colombia; those who are living in everyday battle with health problems, with rent or mortgage payments, with the challenges posed by everyday life, I wish to send them a message of hope:
We will work for them to have quality health services, further rights to a dignifying home, for them to be able to walk the streets without fear for their safety.
President Uribe's government made great efforts to increase health coverage, but we still have a long way to go.
We will develop of court reform -beginning from the creation of the new Ministry of Health- emphasizing on prevention, unifying the Mandatory Health Plan for all systems, and promoting good governance in the sector.
BOOSTING HOME OWNERSHIP
Another priority of my Government will be to make every Colombian's dream possible of having a dignifying home for their family.
We set the goal of doubling subsidies and of building at least 1 million new homes during the next four years; homes that are dignifying and that live up to the humane conditions of their inhabitants.
From the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development will articulate the policies for all Colombians to be able to say that they leave work -because they have work! - and that they are going home.
And when they say "home", it is because it is their own!
We will work hard in our cities, to increase security and mobility, and to bridge the social and opportunities gaps between their inhabitants.
We will begin a comprehensive citizen security strategy for the urban centers to be social spaces of coexistence where children, women and the elderly, can play, walk and live their lives with peace of mind, without fear or uneasiness!
I want to be heard out in the fields –in the mountains, on the plains, the jungles, and the coasts of our territory- the peasants of Colombia.
We will advocate for the Colombian peasants, we will turn them into entrepreneurs, supporting them with technology and credit to make each and every peasant a prosperous Juan Valdez.
Because that peasant is an individual capable of nourishing Colombia and helping sustain a world in need of food.
Colombia can be a productive pantry to the world, and we will work hard to that end.
We will also work for the peasants to be the owners of the most productive lands of Colombia and to exploit them.
The scourges of drug dealing, terrorism and violence that our country has suffered for so long, were the cause for part of the best lands in the country to end up in the hands of the agents of violence.
We are going to turn that around!
We will submit a draft legislation before Congress entitled the Act of Lands, and we will speed up the mechanisms for asset forfeiture, for the lands that the State has seized from criminal hands, and those that we will seize, to return to the hands of the peasants, those who really work them with dedication and sweat.
With safer fields we will promote the return of the displaced people and the victims of violence -as it has already been occurring through integral assistance from the State- to their land plots.
Most of all, we are going to educate them and support them in recovering their productive lives, in their lands of origin or wherever they may be today.
FIVE ENGINES OF GROWTH
Of course, in order to accomplish social advancements, a healthy and prosperous economy is required.
Our country's economy has to grow every day, because the expectations and needs of our people also grow every day.
Together, the government and the private sector, entrepreneurs and employees, will promote the five engines that will ignite our economy, leading it to a known destination: That of peace and prosperity; that of peace and the creation of jobs.
With [agriculture], infrastructure, housing, mining and innovation we will start the train of progress and prosperity, for it to pull the wagons of industry, trade and services, the major employment generators.
In overcoming the laggard trail of decades, we will be compelling in the planning and execution of major works of infrastructure that the country so needs, and we will demand order and compliance in the contracting and development processes.
We will manage public finances with fiscal and monetary responsibility, not only in the present, but also thinking of the generations to come.
In abidance by the appropriate fiscal rules, we will save resources during the good times to be able to manage times of crisis with solvency.
And I want both local and international investors to hear this:
In Colombia you will always find confidence and a friendly [reception].
I am convinced of the need to invest in order to create development and employment, thus my administration - and following the guidelines of investor trust in President Uribe’s government - shall endorse investment with clear and stable rules. (…)
RULE OF LAW
However, amidst the will and tenacity of over 45 million good Colombians, remains a minute minority which persists on terrorism and drug dealing activities and hindering our path towards prosperity.
We will advocate for all legal organizations and we will continue to fight against illegal organizations without truce or quarter.
We will not rest until the Rule of Law prevails entirely in each and every one of the townships of our country.
Thanks to the consolidation of democratic security we have made significant progress in this direction like never before, but there is still a long way to go. (…)
To those illegal armed groups who call upon political reasons and now speak again of dialogue and negotiation, I say that my government will be open to any conversation seeking the eradication of violence, and the construction of a more prosperous, equitable and fair society.
Mind you -I insist- on unchangeable premises: The surrendering of arms, abductions, drug trafficking, extortion, and intimidation.
It is not the whimsical demands of the new government leader.
It is the clamor of a Nation!
But as long as kidnapped citizens are not freed, as long as terrorist acts continue, as long as the children recruited by force are not returned, as long as Colombian fields continue to be land-mined and contaminated, we will continue fighting against violence, without exceptions, with all the means within our reach.
And those of you who are hearing me now, know how effective we are!
I've said it before and I'll say it again:
It is possible to have a peaceful Colombia, a Colombia without guerrilla, and we are going to prove that!
Either by reason or by force. (…)
TRIBUTE TO ALVARO URIBE
I would like to pay special tribute, homage from the bottom of my heart, to a man who will shine in history as the one who brought back hope for the future to all Colombians and the possibility to travel within our beautiful country without fear. President Alvaro Uribe Velez.
The following generations of Colombians will look back and discover, in awe, that it was President Uribe’s leadership, a brilliant, [one-of-a-kind] Colombian, who set the bases for the prosperous and peaceful country they will live in. (…)
Thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you, President Uribe, to you and your entire family, for leaving us a country where talking about progress and prosperity is possible, where talking about the future is possible, where talking about peace, is possible.
I receive this legacy today with humility and respect, and proclaim that I will fight to consolidate and increase your immense government task.
We will not take even one step back in the path you have run, just as I promised during my campaign, and we will advance towards democratic security and towards Democratic Prosperity.
Because if this country has achieved so many goals in two centuries in developing amidst the siege of violence, the world will see what we Colombians are capable of doing upon our consolidation of peace!
As in every nation and society, there is another sector in Colombia, just as ambitious and inhumane, that has ambushed and attached from the shadows.
It is the scourge of corruption.
Therefore, just as terrorist heads became high-value targets to be located and neutralized, we will pursue and fight corrupt individuals and organizations who steal Colombian's assets and resources.
We will fight public and private corruption with the same degree of determination, and all communicating vessels between them.
To be more effective in these undertakings, we will present a comprehensive statute before Congress on the fight against corruption, which consolidates, coordinates and strengthens preventive and punitive actions of the state against corrupt individuals.
We will also undertake to adhere to the Anti-Bribery Convention by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -an association of countries engaged with economic responsibility and best practices, which we aspire to become members of- as a fundamental step in our commitment against corruption.
And may this be very clear: If anyone in its interior shelters the obscure intentions of profiting from public assets, I warn you from now, do not try to be part of the government that begins today. (…)
THE TIME FOR COLOMBIA IS NOW
Many countries throughout history have overcome difficult times of violence, under development, conflict, and today have set an example of progress and social justice. (…)
Tomorrow is knocking on our door, and together we will open it and walk on the path of prosperity. (…)
The time for Colombia is now!
This column is based an excerpt of the speech by Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, during his inaugural ceremony as Colombia’s president on August 7, 2010 in Bogota. Words in brackets were translated from the original Spanish speech by Latin Business Chronicle. For the full speech, please see this link.