Colombian President Santos Receives AJC Diplomatic Statesman Award

September 28, 2012 – New York – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was honored at an American Jewish Committee (AJC) luncheon in New York, and received the global advocacy organization’s prestigious Diplomatic Statesman Award.

“This AJC award is an injection of enthusiasm and inspiration to go forward, to keep going,” said President Santos. The award was presented for pursuing peace, and for strengthening ties among Colombia, the U.S. and Israel.

“My government, like the AJC, is fully committed to combating all forms of bigotry and discrimination and to promoting human rights, pluralism and democratic values. We will continue to fight the battle in defense of these values together,” Santos said.

AJC Executive Director David Harris, presenting the award, praised the Colombian president for his “acute vision to pursue policy goals to create a brighter future for his country, conviction to uphold core values of democracy and pluralism, and courage to sit down with enemies in Colombia and to stand up to the automatic majority at the UN in defense of Israel.”

More than 100 people, including diplomatic representatives of other Latin American countries, leaders of the Jewish community in Bogota and Israel’s ambassador to Colombia, who flew specially to New York for the event, attended the luncheon at AJC headquarters. Santos was in New York to address the UN General Assembly.

Thanking AJC for the award, Santos spoke extensively about his own family’s long-term relationship with the Colombian Jewish community, his admiration for Israel and for the close ties fostered between Colombia and Israel, his current initiative to negotiate an end to decades of strife with the FARC rebels in his own country, and his appreciation for AJC’s help in achieving the landmark U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

“To defend Israel’s right to have a state is no act of courage. It simply is common sense,” said Santos. “We share principles of freedom, liberty and justice. That makes it easy for Colombia to stand up against the current” of nations opposing Israel.

Santos reaffirmed Colombia’s support for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Any agreement must include the recognition of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” said Santos in his prepared text. “This has been and continues to be the position of my government.”

Harris pointed out that “President Santos has laudably rejected the Palestinian gambit to recognize a state without a negotiated peace agreement with Israel, whether on the UN Security Council, where Colombia currently sits, or in other UN bodies.”

Empathizing with Israel’s security challenges, Santos said that Colombia, too, always is searching for peace. Colombia has endured 50 years of internal strife.

“Very few families in Colombia have not suffered from this conflict,” said Santos. “In search for peace I took a risky decision,” referring to the recent announcement to negotiate with the FARC. “After 50 years of war conditions are present to give peace a chance, to try to negotiate. Making war is much easier than making peace."

The luncheon was organized by AJC’s Latino and Latin American Institute. Founded in 2005, the institute maintains extensive ties across the region. The director is Dina Siegel Vann.
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