After Colombia election win, Juan Manuel Santos seeks to build on Uribe era
Juan Manuel Santos won the Colombia election yesterday with 69 percent of the vote – a clear mandate to continue the security policies of his predecessor Álvaro Uribe. But he also inherits Uribe-era scandals.
(Page 2 of 2)
Santos will also have to try to mend fences broken by Uribe both at home and internationally. Uribe has been in constant confrontation with the country’s Supreme Court for years since the magistrates began investigating and convicting dozens of lawmakers – most of them members of the government coalition – for collusion with right-wing paramilitaries.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Beyond Colombia’s borders, relations are strained with neighbors Venezuela and Ecuador. Venezuela “froze” relations with Colombia last year after sending troops to the border and has vowed to cut imports from its neighbor. Ecuador severed ties with Colombia after the 2008 cross-border raid on a FARC base and while there has been a tentative rapprochement, tensions remain high.
Shifter says Santos is likely to be more accommodating than Uribe. “Santos is more sensitive to public opinion both domestic and international; Uribe just does what he wants,” he said.
Indeed, in his victory speech Santos said “diplomacy and respect” would guide international relations in his government.
While a thaw in relations with Venezuela may be on the horizon, Shifter said no one should expect “a lot of warm abrazos” between the two.
Santos a scion of powerful clan
Santos, an economist educated at the University of Kansas, Harvard, and the London School of Economics is a member of the powerful clan that long controlled the leading newspaper El Tiempo. He has been minister in three administrations, holding the key posts of trade, finance, and defense.
As head of trade, he created the trade ministry and an export promotion agency and increased commerce with Venezuela; as finance minister he managed the nation’s recovery after a 1999 recession; and as Uribe’s defense minister he oversaw some of the most paralyzing blows against leftist rebels for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
“That experience makes him uniquely positioned to address the major issues facing Colombia,” says Farnsworth.
And while beating back leftist rebels and fighting powerful drug trafficking mafias will remain central to his policies, Santos identified the country’s high unemployment – Latin America’s highest, at 12 percent – as a main concern for his government.
“My priority is employment and I want to push unemployment down to one digit,” he said. Key to making that goal will likely be Angelino Garzon, a former labor minister and union leader, whom Santos chose as his vice president.
Uribe hands over power Aug. 7
Uribe will hand over the government to Santos on Aug. 7 though he is unlikely to shrink away from public life. “Uribe is not going to go back to the ranch ride horses and forget politics,” says Shifter of Inter-American Dialogue. “He’s a political animal and wants to be a player.”
Uribe was required to step down after serving two terms – a limit he tried, but failed, to remove.
Santos said he would welcome Uribe as a close adviser. “It would be a huge help for me to have him as a counselor,” he said. “No one knows the country like he does.”
- Colombia election: Juan Manual Santos win is a victory for tough security
- Colombia election ends reign of 'savior' Álvaro Uribe
- Philosopher Antanas Mockus rattles Colombia election