Tuesday, 30 of June of 2015

Category » Colombia

Santos shows he’s no Uribe clone

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the Casa de Nariño in Bogotá Thursday. Photo by Felipe Pinzón, courtesy of SIG.

During his first two weeks in office, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has distinguished himself from his popular predecessor, Álvaro Uribe. While Uribe was bellicose in his dealings with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, Santos has been conciliatory toward the neighboring left-wing governments; while Uribe rejected any negotiations with the left-wing guerrilla organization known as the FARC, Santos has expressed an openness to dialogue; whereas Uribe focused exclusively on the military struggle against the FARC, Santos wishes to address the social and economic inequality that fuels the conflagrations in the countryside; and while Uribe often seemed willing to overlook human rights abuses by the military, Santos has pledged to make human rights a priority in his government.

In his inaugural address, Santos said, “One of my main goals as President will be to rebuild the foreign relations with Venezuela and Ecuador.”

Santos was true to his word to begin dialogue with Chavez “as soon as possible.” Three days after his inauguration, Santos met with Chavez in the coastal city of Santa Marta.

Chavez officially ended diplomatic relations with Colombia in July after Uribe reiterated the accusation that Chavez was providing aid and shelter to the FARC guerrillas, while relations with Ecuador have been cut off since 2008 when the Colombian military crossed the border to attack the guerrillas without the consent of the Ecuadoran government.

Global Post’s John Otis writes that Uribe’s July  “accusations were widely viewed as a parting diatribe.” The Economist alleges that Uribe’s diatribe against Chavez was intended to, “prevent Mr Santos from implementing a more conciliatory foreign policy.”

Whether or not it was Uribe’s intention to limit Santos’ foreign policy options, Santos, who served as Uribe’s minister of defense, has clearly rejected Uribe’s approach to Colombia’s neighbors and the change in administration has been welcomed by Chavez  who said he hopes to, “rebuild what was broken to pieces,” according to the Miami Herald. Colombia Reports quotes Chavez as saying to Santos, “From now on we welcome you, a good friend. We are different, but within the framework of respect we will do fine things.” Read more »

Colombian presidential race headed for runoff

Colombian presidential candidate and former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos Calderón during an April 8 session at the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2010 in Cartagena.

With just a week to go before Colombians vote on May 30, two recent polls show neither of the leading presidential candidates likely to receive more than 50 percent of the vote, the number needed to avoid a second-round vote on June 20.

Reuters reports that the Centro Nacional de Consultoria (CNC) predicted the candidate of current President Alvaro Uribe’s Partido de la U and former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos would receive 39 percent of the vote compared to 34 percent for Green Party candidate, and former Bogotá mayor, Antanas Mockus. The same poll showed a statistical tie in the June 20 runoff, with Santos winning 47 percent of the vote and Mockus 46 percent, in a poll with a margin of error of 1.8 percent.

A poll by Ipsos-Napoleon Franco shows Santos up 34 percent to 32 percent against Mockus in the first-round vote, with Mockus favored to win the second-round vote 45 percent to 40 percent, Bloomberg reports. That poll had a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

Finally, a Datexco poll shows Santos winning the first round 35 percent to 34 percent and Mockus winning the second round 45 percent to 44 percent. That poll had a margin of error of 2.89 percent.

According to Colombian law no further polls can be published until after the May 30 election.

Leading Colombian presidential candidate is not your typical politician

Colombian Green party presidential candidate Antanas Mockus is leading in the latest poll. Photo by Flickr user Gó Me Z, courtesy of Creative Commons

As mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus once hired hundreds of mimes to shame traffic violators on the city’s streets; to show Colombians how to conserve water he showered on television; to battle graffiti, he went on television dressed as a superhero, “Supercitizen”; as president of the National University he once dropped his pants and mooned a crowd of students; he rode an elephant during his wedding, which took place at a circus; and he once threw a glass of water on an opponent during a debate.

Today, in a turn of events that has surprised every expert, he is the leading contender in the race for Colombia’s presidency.

Eccentric doesn’t quite seem like a strong enough word to describe the former academic who holds postgraduate degrees in philosophy and mathematics. Yet, his unusual tenure as mayor of the capital was principally defined by its success. His mimes, and effective effort to battle corruption among the transit police, led to traffic fatalities being reduced by more than half. Within two months of his public shower, water usage was down 14 percent. Under his watch, overall homicides dropped from 80 per 100,000 to 22 per 100,000. He restored people’s faith in municipal government, as evidenced by the 63,000 people who paid a voluntary 10 percent additional tax at Mockus’ request.

As the candidate of the Green party, Mockus has surged from single digit ratings in polls taken just three weeks ago, to a strong lead over Juan Manuel Santos, the former defense minister for the immensely popular outgoing president, Álvaro Uribe.

A poll taken Monday by the television station RCN shows Mockus leading Santos 38-29 ahead of the May 30 election, El Tiemp reports. If neither candiate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a June 20 runoff election would be triggered. The same poll shows Mockus winning that election 50-37. Colombians don’t seem to believe a Mockus victory likely, however, as 40 percent of respondents said they expect Santos to be the next president, compared to 35 percent who answered Mockus. Read more »

Colombia’s new boss likely the same as the old boss

Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, listens to Ivan Duque, senior counselor for Colombia and Ecuador at the Inter-American Development Bank, discuss Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's legacy at an April 10 panel discussion at George Washington University. Photo by William W. Cummings.

Alvaro Uribe is ineligible to run for a third term as Colombia’s president, but the precedents and policies the popular leader has set will have a major influence on his successor, regardless of which party’s candidate wins the May election, a panel of experts at George Washington University unanimously agreed April 10.

Eric Farnsworth, the vice president of the Council of the Americas, said “The outgoing president of Colombia has astronomically high approval ratings so every leader, except for those who strongly disagree with his policies, is going to in some way try to say ‘Well I’m going to continue some of these policies that are so popular in Colombia. Why? Not because we idolize President Uribe but because we want to get ourselves elected.”

“When you have a predecessor who has been idealized if you make a sudden change in his style you would lose support very fast,” said Ivan Duque, a senior counselor for Colombia and Ecuador at the Inter-American Development Bank. “That’s why no anti-Uribe candidate today is gaining grounds in the polls.”

Farnsworth and Duque were joined on the panel by Jose Perales, senior associate in the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center and George Washington University Professor James Jones. The view of the panel organized by Por Colombia, an international Colombian student organization, is welcome news for the Obama administration and for business interests in the region, who viewed the Uribe administration as a pro-business ally against the leftist governments in Ecuador and Venezuela, leftist guerrillas in the Colombia countryside and narco-traffickers. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called Uribe a “great hero” after arriving in Bogotá Wednesday, according to Colombia reports. Since Uribe was elected in 2002, Colombia’s foreign investment has increased fives times to $10 billion and violence has plummeted from its earlier levels, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“You have to look at where Colombia is today versus where Colombia was when President Uribe became the president,” Farnsworth said. “It’s a totally different country. It’s been transformed economically, politically and on the security side.” Read more »