K-State has the privilege this week of hosting Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos for a Landon Lecture. His appearance here has been in the works for 10 years.
President Santos accepted our invitation to speak shortly after he was elected in 2010. At the time, he wrote me he was honored to do so but didn’t think he could come until the following year.
Turns out there was a problem. Santos is a 1972 graduate of the University of Kansas. KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little apparently got wind of our invitation and clearly out-flanked us. She took an airplane to Bogota and personally delivered an invitation to speak at KU. She offered him an Alumni Distinguished Service Award. After all, he was KU’s first head of state.
He combined his visit to KU in 2012 with a speech at the United Nations in New York, which left no time for coming to Manhattan. By then he also was deeply involved in negotiating peace with the leftist FARC guerillas. Those negotiations lasted six years, which made his commitment for the Landon Lecture difficult. He and I have exchanged e-mails about it periodically. He left office in 2018.
I had known Juan Manuel Santos by then for more than 30 years. When I was president of the Inter American Press Association in 1989, I appointed him IAPA’s regional vice president for Colombia. Just a month before, the drug cartel headed by Pablo Escobar had set off a powerful car bomb at El Espectador, the main competitor to the Santos family daily, El Tiempo, where Juan Manuel was editorial page editor. Damage exceeded $2.5 million.
Despite the competition, he joined three other Colombian editors with me to tour the United States seeking aid for El Espectador. Included was a meeting with President George H.W. Bush, who assisted along with others in the fundraising. Ultimately, more than $2.7 million was pledged.
With the help of Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, we also met with a dozen key senators, including Bob Dole and Joe Biden.
One anecdote from that trip is that I bought all the Colombians’ airline tickets in the last name “Seaton.” They were Juan Manuel Seaton, Luis Seaton, etc. We had no problem until we were flying from Dallas to Los Angeles, where an American Airlines agent questioned the names.
I explained to her who they were and my fears of Pablo Escobar, whose violence was intended to force Colombia to eliminate extradition to the United States. Earlier that year Escobar’s cartel had blown up an Avianca airliner killing more than 100 passengers including the husband of Santo’s cousin. The agent said she had heard of Escobar and let us board the plane. Today, that would be impossible and unthinkable.
President Santos lecture will be 10 a.m. Tuesday in Forum Hall at the K-State Union.
Edward Seaton is the chairman of Seaton Publishing Company. He was chairman of the patrons of the Landon Lecture Series for 30 years.