COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: Seventy-five days of President Santos
CPTnet 29 November 2010 COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: Seventy-five days of President Santos
by Pierre Shantz
On 7 August, Juan Manuel Santos replaced Alvaro Uribe Velez as president of Colombia. From 2006 to 2009 Santos held the position of Minister of Defense in Uribe's government. He is seen by some as a brilliant strategist, because he was at the helm when the army killed one of the highest-ranking commanders of the FARC (Colombia's largest insurgency group) and rescued fifteen high-profile hostages. He is seen by others as a gruesome killer. While defense minister, media networks broke the story of the "False Positives" scandal in which Colombia's armed forces killed more than 2000 civilians and claimed they were enemies killed in combat to get financial and other rewards.
Now Santos is president. His actions have taken many by surprise and have caused suspicion. Three days after he took office he invited Uribe's worst political enemy, neighboring Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Colombia to repair the broken relationship. He has personally asked Congress to pass the "Victims Law" and "Land Restitution Law," two laws Uribe had prevented from passing. Santos has recently announced that he will not push Colombia's Congress to ratify the military agreement signed between the U.S.A. and Colombia, an agreement that Uribe defended at the risk of isolating Colombia from the rest of Latin America. But is Santos really that much different?
Both men come from a background of wealth and privilege. Uribe grew up as the son of wealthy cattle ranchers. He studied at Harvard and Oxford and held, among other offices, that of Governor, Senator and President. Santos' family is one of Colombia's media mogul families who own the largest distributed newspaper and publishing house. The Santos family name goes back to Colombia's independence from Spain and has been part of its elite ever since.
One can begin to understand the difference in governing styles between Uribe and Santos when one looks at the source of their power and money. As Francisco Campo, partner and adviser to CPT Colombia, says, "Uribe and Santos are equally intelligent and perverse, only different in that Uribe wanted a feudal bourgeois state and Santos is looking for a modern bourgeois state. Uribe's cabinet was filled with people from his party who were not necessarily were right for the job, but who bowed to him as King. Santos, on the other hand, has people from diverse political sectors and who have merit to be in these positions."
One cannot forget that the socio-economic-political class that Santos comes from has ruled Colombia since it's declared independence 200 years ago, and has very successfully created a wide power and wealth gap between the rich and the poor. Is Santos really looking to change all that? Or is he trying to clean up Colombia's image tarnished by so many scandals left from his predecessor?
A recent human rights report published by Coordination of Europe, Colombia and the United States, entitled, "The Words and the Deeds â€œThe first 75 days of the Santos' Government and the Situation in Defense of Human Rights, claims that during the first three months of the Juan Manuel Santos government, twenty-two activists have been killed (six human rights activists, seven indigenous leaders, five trade unionists, two community educators, and two members of the LGBTQ community). According to the report there has been an apparent "change in style" from the last presidential regime but that the situation on the ground is still much the same as it was under Uribe.