- In-Country Power
- International Power
- Military Strength
- Special Skill:
- Official Title: President
- Government: Well-established democracy
- Years Left in Office: To 2014; re-election possible
- Political Classification: Center-right
- Education: BA, MS, in business and law
- Age: 66 (born August 10, 1951)
Juan Manuel Santos Facts and Information
- Santos is conservative right, pro-military, pro-police, pro-security
- Santos is essentially continuing all of the policies of his successful predecessor Alvaro Uribe
- Santos is overseeing a period of stability and prosperity for Colombia
- Santos is pro-US, and trade/aid ties will likely expand in his tenure
- Santos does not get along well with the leftist leaders of his neighborhood; Venezuela and Ecuador
Buenos Dias! Welcome to the wonderful state of Colombia. Home of the 4th prettiest beach in the world in Cartagena, the beautiful dancing Shakira, and massive cocaine production and distribution. What? Wait! That’s Mexico now!!! So we’ll leave the drug issue to Felipe Calderon and move on to the coffee-capital’s new leader, el Presidente Juan Manuel Santos. Stepping into the enormous shoes of his popular and successful predecessor Alvaro Uribe, and also being handed the enormous burden of a country at the most important turning point in its history, Santos has his work cut out for him. First, some background on the cocaine and coffee capital of South American state of Colombia…
Colombia’s politicians had to deal with a number of internal struggles in the past two hundred years. Much like in the US, they have two long-standing political parties, Liberal and Conservative, and this entrenched dichotomy caused frequent tension and outright violence within the country…most noteworthy conflicts: the Thousand Days War and La Violencia. Following these gruesome political conflicts were some even gruesome-er leftist insurgents (FARC & ELN) versus right-wing paramilitary groups (AUC) that have created the continent’s longest armed internal conflict.
And all sides of this decades-long ‘civil war’ were financed and fueled by the infamous Colombian cocaine cartels…and the druggies, the corrupt government, the right-wing nuts and the lefty insurgents all-together created a climate of terror and fear and death and destruction for the entire country. However, the violence has dramatically decreased in the last decade due to financial help from the US (look up Plan Colombia), de-mobilization of right-wing paramilitary organizations, and successful campaign to destroy the leftist guerrilla forces, who have at this point lost their highest ranking leaders and funding sources..
A primer on the Predecessor:
Santos’ predecessor, former President Alvaro Uribe, made huge strides in the rehabilitation of Colombia, however there is still much to do. Uribe, now a key player the UN, spent 8 years as Colombia’s president and during those two-terms he had enormous success and popularity for his efforts to aid his country. With huge support and guidance from the US, his campaigns against the FARC and the ELN, and his demobilization of the paramilitaries, increased his popularity rating as well as the overall happiness of his constituents. He was so popular in his first term that his political supporters amended the constitution so that he could run for a second term, he was the first president to be consecutively re-elected in Colombia in over a century. How did he do it? Ideologically right, conservative policies and practices: strong central government, beefed-up military/police, and aligning his administration with US policies.
From the beginning of his presidential election through his two-terms, Uribe’s numero uno priority was to contain or defeat the three main armed groups, the AUC, ELN, and FARC. He began to chip away at the strength of these groups by integrating the armed forces services, reinstating control over national roads, and increasing the intelligence capacity of the government. By 2004, he has established a permanent police presence in every Colombian municipality for the first time in decades. In 2005, the AUC disbandment began and prosecution of AUC’s highest leaders began (they are still underway to this day), just as the FARC began to show signs that their previous passiveness was over, they had a renewed vigor to fight the country’s governing body.
In addition to improving his internal turmoil, Uribe wanted to focus on international relations, as they had been tarnished by the cloud of the guerrilla forces that had hung over the country for years. He actively supported the US “War on Drugs” and “War on Terror”, as well as maintaining positive relations with Spain and other Latin American nations…even the left-wing radical-types in Latin America. His bilateral summits with Hugo Chavez, Martin Torrijos, Lula da Silva, and meetings with the Castro brothers in Cuba, caused some waves yet somehow he kept his continued high-percentage support throughout these somewhat controversial rendezvous. So he fought dirty against the drug cartels, the lefty guerrillas, the right-wing military nuts, all while keeping his popularity rankings in the 70-80% range! Wow these are REALLY big pants to fill!! The weary Colombian population loves him for finally bringing stability to this troubled land, even if it was at the expense of a few civil liberties and alignment with the US. But let’s get to the current Colombian cat…
The Santos story
The reason I ranted so long on Uribe is that Santos is essentially his shadow, and all policies and practices of the Colombian government of the last 8 years are certainly going to be perpetuated by the Santos crew. Starting fast from day one, the current president has already begun to create enormous waves in the strength of the government against the remaining guerilla groups. The Colombian central government is now at a peak point of power AND popularity which facilitates it to finally resolve its civil unrest that has plagued it for decades. Santos certainly wants to be the guy in charge that gets to claim the end of that bad chapter of its history….speaking of history, what’s the Santos story?
Well, he does come from money, and a conservative, almost-aristocratic upbringing. The Santos name is very influential in Colombia’s history, with numerous Santos namesakes serving as President and Vice-President of Colombia, and several as Director of the country’s leading newspaper, El Tiempo. This is the world Juan was born into.Even growing up in the sheltered, upper class neighborhoods of Bogota (Colombia’s capital) still allowed Santos to see the political turmoil of this state first hand…there was really no escaping the suffering and violence, even for the rich.
But he did stay out of the fray for most of his schooling: after attending a private high school followed by the naval academy of Cartagena, he traveled to the US to attend the University of Kansas for his bachelor’s degrees in economics and business administration. Santos is a Jayhawk! He later acquired master’s degrees in economics, economic development, and public administration from the London School of Economics, M.S. in business and journalism from Harvard, and PhD law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. DANG!! That’s a lot of degrees!
And then he went to work in business, eventually migrating into politics. Just a few of his ‘minor’ job titles: Chief Executive of the Colombian Coffee Delegation to the International Coffee Organization, Sub-Director of El Tiempo, Minister of Foreign Trade, President of the VII UN Conference on Trade and Development, President of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Director of the Corporacion Andina de Fomento. Politically, he also served as Foreign Trade Minister, Minister of the Treasury and Public Credit, and in 2006 became Colombia’s Defence Minister.
Juan Santos also led effective efforts to counter country’s corruption problems. In 1994, he founded the Good Government foundation, which was an effort to help and improve the governability and efficiency of the country’s government. In its first two years, the foundation created a proposal for a demilitarized zone and peace talks with the FARC guerrilla. Some of the more influential results that Santos and this organization were credited with: several rescues of hostages in the FARC ridden jungles, the death of several highly positioned guerilla leaders, and the non-violent rescue of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. But, Santos has also been controversial: one attack on the FARC under his direction (“Operation Fenix”) went amuck and crossed the Ecuadorian border, killing an Ecuadorian citizen, which caused a diplomatic row between the two countries.
There is a lot left to do to keep Colombia moving forward in a positive direction. As a fresh leader of the Republic of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos has a platform of even further strengthening the police and military, completely finishing off the FARC, and continuing the American-backed war on drugs. And it appears that war-weary Colombians approve of this approach whole-heartedly, even at the possible expense of loss of some individual rights ad liberties. Can’t say I blame them at this point.
“Not one step back in diplomatic security, five steps forward in democratic prosperity” is the catchphrase Santos uses to describe his policies. Given his conservative stance, look for future friction between Santos and avowed enemy President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela…which means all of Colombia’s neighbors (Ecuador too!) currently have qualms about the Santos leadership, and friction could turn into fracture. But never fear! The US loves him, as they did Uribe! So look for increased economic trade and secutiry partnerships with Uncle Sam in the future too.
And that is the Santos sketch: conservative, pro-military, pro-security, pro-US, President of a recovering Colombia who hopes to continue his country’s current streak of stability and prosperity. All while sipping on some dark-roasted Colombian coffee, I assume.
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