Juan Manuel Santos

Nobel Lecture

“Peace in Colombia: From the Impossible to the Possible”

Juan Manuel Santos delivered his Nobel Lecture on 10 December 2016 at the Oslo City Hall, Norway.


Nobel Lecture by Juan Manuel Santos, Oslo, 10 December 2016.

Your Majesties; Your Royal Highnesses; distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee; dear fellow citizens of Colombia; citizens of the world; ladies and gentlemen,

Six years ago, it was hard for we Colombians to imagine an end to a war that had lasted half a century. To the great majority of us, peace seemed an impossible dream – and for good reason.  Very few of us – hardly anybody – could recall a memory of a country at peace.

Today, after six years of serious and often intense, difficult negotiations, I stand before you and the world and announce with deep humility and gratitude that the Colombian people, with assistance from our friends around the world, are turning the impossible into the possible.

A war that has brought so much suffering and despair to communities all across our beautiful land has finally come to an end.

Like life itself, peace is a process with many surprises. Just two months ago, people in Colombia and indeed in the whole world, were shocked to learn that, in a plebiscite called to ratify the peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas, there were slightly more “No” votes than “Yes” votes.

This outcome was completely unexpected.

A flame of hope had been lit in Cartagena a week earlier, when we signed the agreement in the presence of world leaders, and now that flame appeared to be suddenly snuffed out.

Many of us in Colombia recalled a passage from One Hundred Years of Solitude, the great masterpiece of our Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel García Márquez, which seemed to illustrate the moment we were living:

“It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alteration between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay.”

We felt that we ourselves were inhabitants of Macondo, a place that was not only magical but also contradictory.

As Head of State, I sought to understand the significance of this unexpected setback and called at once for a broad national dialogue to seek unity and reconciliation.

I was determined to turn this setback into a chance to develop the widest possible consensus for reaching a new agreement.

I devoted myself to listening to the concerns and recommendations of those who had voted “No”, of those who had voted “Yes”, and of the majority who did not vote at all – with the aim of achieving a new and improved agreement, an agreement that all of Colombia could stand behind.

Not even four days had passed after the surprising plebiscite when the Norwegian Committee announced an equally surprising award of the Nobel Peace Prize.

I must confess to you that this news came as if it were a gift from heaven. At a time when our ship felt adrift, the Nobel Prize was the tailwind that helped us to reach our destination: the port of peace!

Thank you; thank you very much for this vote of confidence and faith in the future of my country.

Today, distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, I come to tell you – and, through you, the international community – that we achieved our goal. We reached our port.

Today, we have a new agreement for ending the armed conflict with the FARC, which incorporates the majority of the proposals we received.

This new agreement was signed two weeks ago, and it was endorsed last week by our Congress, by an overwhelming majority, so that it can be incorporated into our laws. The long-awaited process of implementation has begun, with the invaluable support of the United Nations.

With this new agreement, the oldest and last armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere has ended.

This agreement – as set forth by Alfred Nobel in his will – marks the beginning of the dismantling of an army – this time, an irregular army – and its conversion into a legal political movement.

With this agreement, we can say that the American continent – from Alaska to Patagonia – is a land in peace.

And we can now ask the bold question: if war can come to an end in one hemisphere, why not one day in both hemispheres?  Perhaps more than ever before, we can now dare to imagine a world without war.

The impossible is becoming possible.


Alfred Nobel, the great visionary whose legacy gathers us here today on the 120th anniversary of his death, once wrote that war is “the horror of horrors, the greatest of all crimes.”

War must never be considered, under any circumstance, an end in itself. It is merely a means, but a means that we must always strive to avert.

I have served as a leader in times of war – to defend the freedom and the rights of the Colombian people – and I have served as a leader in times of making peace.

Allow me to tell you, from my own experience, that it is much harder to make peace than to wage war.

When it is absolutely necessary, we must be prepared to fight, and it was my duty – as Defence Minister and as President – to fight illegal armed groups in my country.

When the roads to peace were closed, I fought these groups with effectiveness and determination

But it is foolish to believe that the end of any conflict must be the elimination of the enemy.

A final victory through force, when nonviolent alternatives exist, is none other than the defeat of the human spirit.

Seeking victory through force alone, pursuing the utter destruction of the enemy, waging war to the last breath, means failing to recognize your opponent as a human being like yourself, someone with whom you can hold a dialogue with.

Dialogue…based on respect for the dignity of all. That was our recourse in Colombia. And that is why I have the honour to be here today, sharing what we have learned through our hard-won experience.

Our first and most vital step was to cease thinking of the guerrillas as our bitter enemies, and to see them instead simply as adversaries.

General Álvaro Valencia Tovar – a former Commander of the Colombian Army, a historian and humanist – taught me this distinction.

He said that the word “enemy” gives a sense of a passionate struggle and a connotation of hate, unfit for military honour.

Humanizing war does not just mean limiting its cruelty but also recognizing your opponent as an equal, as a human being.

Historians estimate that up to 187 million people died during the 20th century alone because of war. 187 million!  Each one of them a precious human life, loved by their families and dear ones. Tragically, the death toll keeps climbing in this new century.

It is time to remember the haunting question sung by my fellow Nobel laureate Bob Dylan that touched so many youthful hearts in the Sixties, including mine:

“How many deaths will it take ’till he knows that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind”.


When people asked me whether I aspired to win the Nobel Peace Prize, I always answered that, for me, the actual prize was peace in Colombia. Because that is the real prize: peace for my country!

And that peace does not belong to a president or a government, but to all the Colombian people, because we must build it together.

That is why I receive this prize on behalf of nearly 50 million Colombians – my fellow countrymen and women – who finally see the end of more than a half-century nightmare that has only brought pain, misery and backwardness to our country.

And I receive this prize – above all – on behalf of the victims, the more than 8 million victims and displaced people whose lives have been devastated by the armed conflict, and the more than 220,000 women, men and children who, to our shame, have been killed in this war.

I am told by scholars that the Colombian peace process is the first in the world that has placed the victims and their rights at the center of the solution.

This negotiation has been conducted with a heavy emphasis on human rights. And that is something that makes us feel truly proud.

Victims want justice, but most of all they want to know the truth, and they – in a spirit of generosity – desire that no new victims should suffer as they did.

Professor Ronald Heifetz, founder of the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, from which I graduated, once gave me a wise piece of advice:

“Whenever you feel discouraged, tired, pessimistic, talk with the victims. They will give you the push and strength to keep you going.”

And it has been just this way. Whenever I had the chance, I listened to the victims of this war and heard their heartbreaking stories. Some of them are here with us today, reminding us why it is so important to build a stable and lasting peace.

Leyner Palacios is one of them. On May 2, 2002, a homemade mortar launched by the FARC, in the middle of a combat with the paramilitaries, landed on the church in his town, Bojayá, where its inhabitants had sought refuge.

Nearly eighty women, men and children – most of the victims were children! – died. In a matter of seconds, Leyner lost 32 relatives, including his parents and three younger brothers.

The FARC has asked for forgiveness for this atrocity, and Leyner, who is now a community leader, has forgiven them.

That is the great paradox I have found: while many who have not suffered the conflict in their own flesh are reluctant to accept peace, the victims are the ones who are most willing to forgive, to reconcile, and to face the future with a heart free of hate.

This peace prize belongs as well to those men and women who, with enormous patience and endurance, negotiated during all these years in Havana. They have reached an agreement that can be offered today as a model for the resolution of armed conflicts that have yet to be resolved around the world.

And here I am referring not only to the Government negotiators but also to the FARC negotiators – my adversaries –, who have demonstrated a great will for peace. I want to praise their willingness to embrace peace, to reach peace, because without it, the process would have failed.

In the same spirit, I dedicate this prize to the heroes of the Colombian Armed Forces, who have never ceased to protect the Colombian people, and who truly understood that the actual victory of any soldier or any police officer is peace itself.

And I wish to include a special acknowledgment – with all the gratitude in my heart – for my family: for my wife and my children, whose support and love throughout this task helped lessen the burden.

Finally, I also share this prize with the international community who, with generosity and unanimous enthusiasm, backed this peace process from the very beginning.

Let me also take this opportunity to convey my very special thanks to the people of Norway for your peaceful character and your extraordinary spirit of solidarity. It was because of these virtues that you were entrusted by Alfred Nobel to promote peace in the world. I must say you have done your job with great effectiveness for my country.

Norway and Cuba, in their role as guarantors; Chile and Venezuela, as witnesses; the United States and the European Union, with their special envoys; all the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean; even China and Russia… they all have reasons to take pride in this achievement.

The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame in the United States has concluded, based on careful studies of the 34 agreements signed in the world to end armed conflicts in the past three decades, that this peace agreement in Colombia is the most complete and comprehensive ever reached.

As such, the Colombian peace agreement is a ray of hope in a world troubled by so many conflicts and so much intolerance.

It proves that what, at first, seems impossible, through perseverance may become possible even in Syria or Yemen or South Sudan.

The key, in the words of the English poet Tennyson, is “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”


A few lessons can be learned from Colombia’s peace process and I would like to share them with the world:

You must properly prepare yourself and seek advice, studying the failures of peace attempts in your own country and learning from other peace processes, their successes and their problems.

The agenda for the negotiation should be focussed and specific, aimed at solving the issues directly related to the armed conflict, rather than attempting to address all the problems faced by the nation.

Negotiations should be carried out with discretion and confidentiality in order to prevent them from turning into a media circus.

Sometimes it is necessary to both fight and talk at the same time if you want to arrive at peace – a lesson I took from another Nobel laureate, Yitzhak Rabin.

You must also be willing to make difficult, bold and oftentimes unpopular decisions in order to reach your final goal.

In my case, this meant reaching out to the governments of neighbouring countries with whom I had and continue to have deep ideological differences.

Regional support is indispensable in the political resolution of any asymmetric war. Fortunately, today all the countries in the region are allies in the search for peace, the noblest purpose any society can have.

We also achieved a very important objective: agreement on a model of transitional justice that enables us to secure a maximum of justice without sacrificing peace.

I have no doubt this model will be one of the greatest legacies of the Colombian peace process.


Ladies and gentlemen: there is one less war in the world, and it is the war in Colombia!

This is, precisely, what we are celebrating today in Oslo, the same city that hosted the launch of the public phase of the negotiations with the FARC in October 2012.

And I must say that I feel honoured and humbled to join the line of the brave and inspiring men and women who, ever since 1901, have received this most prestigious of prizes.

The peace process in Colombia – I say this with deep gratitude – is a fortunate synthesis of all what we have learned from them.

Peace efforts in the Middle East, in Central America, in South Africa, in Northern Ireland, whose architects have all received this award, showed us the way to move forward in a process specially designed for Colombia.

We also took up the legacy of Nobel laureates Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

After Afghanistan, Colombia holds the shameful record of having the most mines and the most victims of mines in the world. We are resolutely committed to have our territory free of mines by 2021.

We have received the support of other Nobel laureates such as the European Union and President Barack Obama, who have also committed their countries to support the critical process of the implementation phase in Colombia.


And I feel that I must take this opportunity to reiterate the call I have been making to the world since the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena in 2012, which led to a special session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in April this year.

I am referring to the urgent need to rethink the world War on Drugs, a war where Colombia has been the country that has paid the highest cost in deaths and sacrifices.

We have moral authority to state that, after decades of fighting against drug trafficking, the world has still been unable to control this scourge that fuels violence and corruption throughout our global community.

The peace agreement with the FARC includes their commitment to cut all ties with the drug business, and to actively contribute to fighting it.

But drug trafficking is a global problem that demands a global solution resulting from an undeniable reality: The War on Drugs has not been won, and is not being won.

It makes no sense to imprison a peasant who grows marijuana, when nowadays, for example, its cultivation and use are legal in eight states of the United States.

The manner in which this war against drugs is being waged is equally or perhaps even more harmful than all the wars the world is fighting today, combined. It is time to change our strategy.


In Colombia, we have also been inspired by the initiatives of Malala, the youngest Nobel Laureate, because we know that only by developing minds, through education, can we transform reality.

We are the result of our thoughts; the thoughts that create our words; the words that shape our actions.

That is why we must change from within. We must replace the culture of violence with a culture of peace and coexistence; we must change the culture of exclusion into a culture of inclusion and tolerance.

And in that vein of coexistence, we have also learned from former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and their determination to preserve the planet.

It is quite comforting to be able to say that the end of the conflict in Colombia, the most biodiverse country per square kilometre in the world, will yield high environmental dividends.

By replacing illicit crops with legal ones, deforestation spurred by coca leaf growing will certainly diminish. And millions of barrels of oil will no longer be spilled in our rivers and seas because of attacks against our oil infrastructure.

We can say, in summary, that the Colombian peace process that you are recognising today in Oslo is the synthesis and result of many positive efforts made throughout history and all over the world, efforts that have been valued and distinguished by this Nobel Committee.

Dear friends,

In a world where citizens are making the most crucial decisions – for themselves and for their nations – out of fear and despair, we must make the certainty of hope possible.

In a world where wars and conflicts are fuelled by hatred and prejudice, we must find the path of forgiveness and reconciliation.

In a world where borders are increasingly closed to immigrants, where minorities are attacked and people deemed different are excluded, we must be able to coexist with diversity and appreciate the way it can enrich our societies.

We are human beings after all. For those of us who are believers, we are all God’s children. We are part of this magnificent adventure of being alive and populating this planet.

At our core, there are no inherent differences: not the colour of our skin; nor our religious beliefs; nor our political ideologies, nor our sexual preferences. All these are simply facets of humanity’s diversity.

Let’s awaken the creative capacity for goodness, for building peace, that live within each soul.

In the end, we are one people and one race; of every colour, of every belief, of every preference.

The name of this one people is the world. The name of this one race is humanity.

If we truly understand this, if we make it part of our individual and collective awareness, then we will cut the very root of conflicts and wars.

In 1982 – 34 years ago – the efforts to find peace through dialogue began in Colombia.

That same year, in Stockholm, Gabriel García Márquez, who was my ally in the pursuit of peace, received the Nobel Prize in Literature, and spoke about “a new and sweeping utopia of life, (…) where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”

Today, Colombia – my beloved country – is living that second opportunity; and I thank you, members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, because, on this occasion, you have not only awarded a prize to peace:  you helped make it possible!

The sun of peace finally shines in the heavens of Colombia.

May its light shine upon the whole world!

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2016

To cite this section
MLA style: Juan Manuel Santos – Nobel Lecture. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2024. Fri. 19 Jul 2024. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2016/santos/lecture/>

Back to top Back To Top Takes users back to the top of the page

Nobel Prizes and laureates

Eleven laureates were awarded a Nobel Prize in 2023, for achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. Their work and discoveries range from effective mRNA vaccines and attosecond physics to fighting against the oppression of women.

See them all presented here.

Explore prizes and laureates

Look for popular awards and laureates in different fields, and discover the history of the Nobel Prize.