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Photograph by Vegard Wivestad Grott—AFP/Getty Images

Juan Manuel Santos

I first met Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in 1992 when he was Minister of Trade. Appointed as his adviser, I soon realized that he had set himself up to an impossible mission.

While Colombia was waging a dire war against the drug cartels, Santos was looking beyond. Amid death, corruption and political divisions, I remember him saying, “We need to add, not subtract.”

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Melinda Gates

This could well be the parable of his life. Throughout his career, he carefully avoided graduating his adversaries into enemies—and his enemies into bitter foes.

Years later, when then Defense Minister Santos greeted me back to freedom in 2008, he was not only inflicting major defeats on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) but also winning their respect.

Last year Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Colombian government’s 50-year war with FARC. And while I watched him accept it, I remembered the words he said to me back in 1992. Indeed he had been adding—bringing together friends and enemies to achieve what once seemed impossible: peace.

I pray that we in Colombia will live up to his legacy.

Betancourt is an author, activist and former presidential candidate held hostage by FARC for six years

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