Adios, Santos: An Appreciative Send-Off As Colombia's Peace President Steps Down

The peace process he helped guide in Colombia isn't perfect. Nor is it complete. But by ending the decades-old war with the FARC, outgoing President Manuel Santos definitely made his mark.

President Santos posing with soldiers in August 2017
President Santos posing with soldiers in August 2017
Daniel García-Peña


BOGOTA After eight years in office, Juan Manuel Santos Calderón officially completed his tenure today as president of Colombia, and though it may be early to discuss his legacy, a preliminary assessment is pertinent.

Foreigners often ask how Santos, who signed an historic peace deal with the FARC guerilla army and won the Nobel Peace Prize as a result, could nevertheless have such dismally low approval ratings at home. The answer, I would say, stems from just that: the peace process.

For the political right that chose him as their president in 2010, Santos, with the peace deal, betrayed his immediate predecessor, Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010). They accuse him of surrendering Colombia to the FARC and to castrochavismo — socialism as espoused by the late Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.

For the left, which was decisive in his reelection in 2014, Santos came up short with regards to how the peace deal was implemented. He failed, for example, to deliver a comprehensive rural reform program. Nor did he follow through on certain political reforms, plans to develop special peace constituencies, and voluntary crop substitution (of coca and other plants used to make drugs). In other words, he's a traitor to some and inadequate to others.

This is significant progress.

Still, there's no denying that peace with the FARC is a huge turning point in Colombia's history. It closed a long chapter and sets the stage for the next, and it was President Santos and the FARC — with their resolve, leadership and persistence — who made it possible.

Sadly, community organizers are still being killed, and the ELN rebels remain active. Peace is not yet complete. But one need only observe the absence of mutilated soldiers in the Military Hospital, or the fact that FARC commanders are now debating in parliament rather than planning attacks in the mountains, to conclude that this is significant progress.

There's no denying that peace with the FARC is a huge turning point in Colombia's history.

And rather than cede the country to castrochavismo or the FARC, Santos is in fact handing power over to a conservative, Iván Duque of the Centro Democrático (Democratic Center, CD) party.

Colombia's President-elect Ivan Duque — Photo: Centro Democratico

The accord has had some very important, and often overlooked, effects, starting with the 2018 elections. For the first time in a long while, the elections played out calmly and peacefully thanks to FARC disarmament and a unilateral ceasefire with the ELN. That allowed for broad, serious debate on things like education and healthcare, and on Colombia's oil- and mining-based development model — issues that had formerly been overshadowed by the war.

Once again, the public arena became the preeminent venue for selling arguments, something unthinkable in all the years when candidates were confined to their headquarters for security reasons. Voter participation, as result, rose to its highest level in the past 20 years.

We are seeing the opening of new spaces for democratic competition and social struggle.

But the most significant impact of the peace process is the reconfiguration of political forces at the national level. The CD, led by former president Uribe, established itself, in a very short time, as a new and dynamic party. It was the biggest winner in the elections, but now faces challenges due to Uribe's serious legal troubles. At the same time, the 51% of all votes cast that together, candidates Gustavo Petro, Sergio Fajardo and Humberto de la Calle won in the first round of the presidential election, is evidence that the political map changed for good in 2018. That Petro, a leftist and former Bogota mayor, won 8 million votes in the June runoff makes that even more apparent.

In these last eight years, Colombia has begun to move and shake off years of restrictive ties, immobility and violence. And that is very good. Social movements, peaceful protests and public consultations to defend local territories are all clear signs that citizens are increasingly demanding and conscious of their rights.

Some of these have happened because of things Santos has done; others in spite of them, or because of the things he failed to do. But ultimately, we are seeing the opening of new spaces for democratic competition and social struggle. For those of us dreaming of real transformations, there is no doubt that things have begun to change these last years. Yes, I started off by saying it's too early to weigh Santos's legacy, but let me venture to say that his years in power will be valued as important and positive.

*The author was Colombia's consul-general in Paris in 2012-15, appointed by President Santos.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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