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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos delivers annual Hesburgh Lecture

Juan Manuel Santos, the former president of Colombia and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, delivered the annual Hesburgh Lecture in Ethics and Public Policy on Tuesday evening, discussing unconventional methods of peacebuilding in the world today. Santos is a distinguished policy fellow with the Keough School of Global Affairs, where he is co-teaching a master level course.

Santos was the sole recipient of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his key participation in ending the oldest ongoing armed conflict of the Western Hemisphere with the Colombian Peace Agreement on November 24, 2016. He has additionally received the Lamp of Peace from the Sacred Convent of Assisi in Italy and the Tipperary International Peace Award in Ireland for his work in promoting harmony in his country and region.

“Building peace is much harder than making war,” Santos proclaimed in his acceptance speech in Oslo, only a few weeks after signing the agreement. “It takes a great deal of patience, the stamina to suffer multiple setbacks along the way and the readiness to settle in for the long haul.”

In his lecture, Santos spoke on the importance of changing his methods and opinions to bring forth a more peaceful world. He reflected on the evolution of his stances on the war on drugs and the environment: from violence and indifference into peace building and advocacy. 

“You will always find unexpected obstacles and you must be willing to change your course,” Santos remarked. “Change your views without sacrificing your values or your principles.”

He also emphasized that this is no easy feat. Santos commented that every peacemaker is called a traitor when push comes to shove. The peacemaker loses political capital and must nevertheless keep on going, for the peacemaker’s role is not one of conflict but one of persuasion, he said.

 “Instead of giving orders, you have to persuade. You have to convince the people who have suffered to forgive the perpetrators and that is much more difficult,” he told the audience.

Regardless of the issue at hand, he insisted that every problem has a reachable solution.

“But don’t get discouraged. History has taught us again and again that even in the midst of darkness [...], there is always a light,” he said. “A light that allows us to see a better future.”

Santos closed the 29th Annual Hesburgh Lecture with a challenge for every Notre Dame student while reinforcing the idea that anyone can make the impossible possible.

“I challenge you to lead with hope, not fear; to build bridges instead of walls; to foster solidarity and respect for diversity,” Santos said.

He followed by insisting to always place humanity first, not one’s country, religion or race. He encouraged leading with empathy, seeking opportunities in every difficulty and embracing change. Above all, he told students and future leaders to be optimistic in a world flooded with pessimism.

“If you lead with a positive mind and with the truth, you will make the world a better place,” Santos said. “And let it be said about you that one life has breathed easier because you have lived.”

Contact Carlos Basurto at