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Belisario Betancur

Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation 1983

President of the Republic of Colombia from 1982 to 1986, Belisario Betancur (Amagá, Antioquía, Colombia, 1923 - Bogotá, Colombia, 2018) went to the rural primary school in his home-town, alternating his school-work with coffee-picking and working the land. Shortly after, he went to the Ecclesiastic Seminary of Yarumal for his high-school studies, which he was to complete in the Bolivian University of Medellín at the age of 19. In this same institution he began to study architecture, and later a law degree, specialising in economics and finishing his doctorate in 1947.

It was in these university years that he began his political career, being elected deputy in the Departmental Assembly of Antioquía. Later, he would occupy seats in the Chamber of Representatives and in the Senate of the Republic of Colombia. As a parliamentarian, Betancur showed his social sensitivity promoting the agrarians reform projects, which sought to bring Colombia out of rigid models belonging to an archaic, pastoral economy.

In 1963, he was appointed Minister for Labour in the government of Guillermo León Valencia. Upon leaving this portfolio, he left the political scene for a time, concentrating on studying and analyzing the economic problems of Colombia. Betancur, in this period, wrote numerous books, gave lectures and participated in seminars all over the American continent.

Candidate to the Presidency of the Republic in 1970 and 1978, he was elected in 1982 by the Conservative Party and a National Movement which rallied various sectors of opinion. During his mandate he proposed various long-reaching political measures, such as housing without initial deposits, open university by correspondence, the stimulation of the creation of jobs, the design of a new industrialization process, etc. He was also one of the promoters of the Contadora Group.

From the start of his long political life, Betancur had rigorously developed the concept of economic, social and cultural cooperation among the community of Spanish- speaking countries, including Spain, where he was ambassador from 1975 to 1977. According to this criterion, which he stated on many occasions, Latin America and Spain form a common cultural universe which is called to play a major role in the future of the community of nations.

Alongside his political career, he  worked intensely as a journalist, editing various daily papers and magazines, among which La Defensa of Medellín, El Siglo of Bogotá, the weekly newspaper La Unidad and the magazines Semana and Prometeo are outstanding. He was also a columnist and contributor for numerous Colombian and foreign publications, and is an active member of the Journalists´ Circle of Bogotá. He is likewise the author of a number of sociological, economic, political and literary studies, and of various books, among which one could especially mention: Colombia cara a cara, El viajero sobre la tierra, En el cruce de todos los caminos, El rostro anhelante, A pesar de la pobreza, Desde el alma del abedul, El homo sapiens se extravió en América Latina or El lenguaje como expresión de la historia de Antioquia.

After leaving the political arena, he acted as advisor to Pope John Paul II on issues of justice and peace and collaborated with several cultural institutions. He was granted Spanish citizenship in 2012, in addition to his Colombian nationality. He was a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Colombian Academy of the Spanish Language, the Colombian Academy of Jurisprudence and the Colombian Academy of History. He was elected a corresponding member of the Mexican Academy of the Spanish Language in 2011. He was also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Vice-president of the Club of Rome for Latin America and of the Board of Trustees of the Carolina Foundation and president of the Carolina Colombia Foundation, he was awarded honorary degrees by the Universities of Georgetown and Colorado (United States), the Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain) and National University of Trujillo (Peru). He received the 21st Menéndez Pelayo International Award in 2007.

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