FP: You have recently sparred with President Santos about the inclusion of the terminology "armed conflict" in the Victims Law currently under consideration in Congress. Why is this distinction important?
AU: I will speak to you in political terms. In Latin America in the past, we used to speak about insurgency and domestic conflict. These two concepts had a heavy burden of political meaning. In some degree, these two concepts gave legitimacy to the fight of guerrillas against dictators. This has not been the case of Colombia. In Colombia, these criminal groups have a vendetta against the rule of law, against the [oldest] democracy in the continent. This is one reason we call them terrorists, not to recognize them with any legitimacy as political players.
The other reason [is if you] compare the [Colombian] groups with other Latin American guerrillas, the others never financed themselves with narcotrafficking. Ours did. And of course, when we have certain neighboring governments [that give] speeches of acknowledgment -- complimentary speeches to our violent groups -- if we recognize these groups as political players, to some degree, we authorize implicitly the neighboring governments to ask for the recognition of that status as legitimacy for these groups.
[Finally,] there are countries -- the United States, Europe, or Canada -- that have signaled these groups as terrorists. If we give these groups any political meaning, these countries could be disconcerted. Other countries could become mute.
FP: In the United States, some would consider it a bit out of place for a former president to be actively commenting on the administration of his predecessor. What role do you see yourself playing now in Colombian politics?
AU: We were in government with three main policies: democratic security, investment promotion, and social cohesion. All my life, I have always heard politicians speaking about social investment [after leaving office]. But they seldom spoke about democratic security or investment promotion. Therefore, these are two ideas that have been recently included in the main priorities of the Colombian political agenda.
I am thankful because my fellow Colombians allowed me to be president twice. Therefore, while I am healthy, I have to work for these ideas because I consider that these ideas to be very positive for my country as a whole.
FP: Is this also the motivation behind the talleres democráticos, the consultative meetings you have been holding throughout the country?
AU: Yes, but not only, because in October we are going to hold regional elections for governors and mayors, and it is very important to work the agenda of public policies with those wanting to become candidates. The more we involve the people in the agenda, the more people will go with much more consciousness to the ballots. And the more the consciousness at the ballots, the better the people [will be able] to follow up [on the performance of] the elected incumbent.
FP: By some measures, there has recently been an uptick in violence in urban parts of Colombia, associated with the emergence of the so-called Bacrim (bandas criminales emergentes). Do you believe this is the case? What's going on?
AU: This is one of the reasons for my permanent involvement in politics. I said to my fellow citizens that Colombia was going to take much longer time [than my presidency] to restore security. We have lived [through] many, many years of criminality. "Bacrims" are criminal gangs dedicated to narcotrafficking, blackmailing, extortion, killings, and kidnapping. What is their difference from the paramilitary groups? They have no political motivation. The paramilitary groups were established to fight guerrillas. In this case, we have seen that in many regions of the country, there is a coalition between Bacrim and guerrillas.
The Colombian police have said that 50 percent of Bacrim kingpins are people who were demobilized in the past. And 11 percent of the total organization is composed of those who were demobilized. During our administration, we had demobilization of 23,000 members of the terrorist groups, with between a 7 and 10 percent relapse. As a percentage, it is low. But as an absolute number, it is very high. I am concerned because we always said, we need to generously receive people wanting to desert criminal groups and reinsert into constitutional life. We have to be generous to them as [we are] strong to fight those who are reoccurring in crimes. For I have said that our armed forces, the police and the military forces, have to fight Bacrims with all the initiative, with all the strength.