After Colombia Election Win, Juan Manuel Santos Seeks to Build on Uribe Era

By Brodzinsky, Silla | The Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2010 | Go to article overview

After Colombia Election Win, Juan Manuel Santos Seeks to Build on Uribe Era


Brodzinsky, Silla, The Christian Science Monitor


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 Alvaro Uribe. But he also inherits Uribe- era scandals.

In Colombia's presidential elections on Sunday, Juan Manuel Santos secured an overwhelming mandate to continue the strong security policies of his popular predecessor, Alvaro Uribe. "This is also your victory, President Uribe," said Mr. Santos, calling him one of the "best presidents" in Colombia's history.

But in order to lead effectively, Santos must quickly stamp his own mark on government, political analysts say. In particular, he must address the concerns of millions who voted for runner-up Antanas Mockus, a former mayor of Bogota promising change in Colombia's corrupt political culture that led to numerous scandals under Uribe.

"The time has come for national unity, the time has come for harmony, the time has come for us to work together for the prosperity of Colombia," Santos told a crowd of cheering supporters gathered in a sports stadium in Bogota. He won 69 percent of the vote, while Mr. Mockus, running on the Green Party ticket, won 27.5 percent.

In a preelection interview, Santos said his government would be different from Uribe's in priorities and style. Uribe's folksy manner won Colombians over in weekly town hall meetings throughout the country where he would micromanage even the smallest problems presented to him. Santos, from an elite Bogota family, prefers to delegate.

"I rely on teamwork," he said.

But just a new approach won't be enough, says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas.

"[Santos] is going to have to show that while he follows the general course that Uribe has set, he is not beholden to Uribe," he says.

Investigations into Uribe-era scandals

Though a proud heir to Uribe's successes on the security and investment fronts, Santos inherits the burden of scandals that tarnished Uribe's two terms as president.

Prosecutors are investigating more than 2,000 cases of extrajudicial executions by government forces accused of killing innocent civilians and presenting them as battlefield deaths, and the civilian intelligence agency known as DAS is under investigation for illegal wiretap and surveillance of opposition figures in a scandal that US human rights groups have labeled "worse than Watergate."

"Santos is not going to be able to escape the scandals that marred Uribe's rule," says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter- American Dialogue think tank in Washington. "He'll have to take them on and distance himself from them."

It was weariness with such scandals that boosted his rival, Mockus, a former university rector, whose campaign mantras referred to the "sanctity" oflife, legality, and public funds.

Shifter warns that Santos's overwhelming win should not mean he disregards Mockus's message of transparency, legitimacy, and legality that managed to capture the imagination of millions of scandal-weary Colombians.

"Even though the election [wasn't] close, he's got to take the Mockus phenomenon seriously because it shows there are a lot of people concerned about corruption and scandals," he says. "People voted for him because they are scared to go with Mockus but Santos has got to tackle these issues and make them his issues."

Apparently understanding that, Santos said on Sunday night that Mockus had gotten Colombia to "think about the value of life, the value of transparency and legality.

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After Colombia Election Win, Juan Manuel Santos Seeks to Build on Uribe Era
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