Colombia has a New President
Colombia has sworn in a new president. And so begins the Santos era as the Uribe era heads for the history books.
The Juan Manuel Santos era began yesterday afternoon in the Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá Colombia, replacing two-term president Álvaro Uribe. This is noteworthy to the US, if anything, because Colombia is a major recipient of US foreign aid and is directly allied with the US in the war on drugs.
On Saturday, Uribe stepped down and Juan Manuel Santos took his place, with the inauguration staged outdoors and the new president speaking of job creation, democratic checks and balances and rural development. It was not until the 34th minute of an hour-long speech that Santos mentioned his commitment to fight the rebels.
The tenor of the day’s ceremony reflected the sharp differences in style and substance that seem to be emerging between Uribe, whose government severely weakened the rebels, and Santos, a U.S.-educated technocrat and scion of one of Colombia’s most politically influential families.
Since winning the presidency in a June 20 landslide, Santos has marked distance between himself and Uribe, signaling the arrival of a leader who, unlike his predecessor, intends to focus on a social agenda and the country’s frayed relations with its neighbors.
The speech (which I listened to via the miracle of the internet) did focus very heavily on social issues as well as the basic theme of Colombian unity. While Santos was the candidate of continuism in the election (the “change” candidate was Antanas Mockus), he is highly unlikely to be a clone of Uribe.
As Michael Shifter noted in a piece at Foreign Policy:
Since being elected in June, he has distanced himself somewhat from Uribe, taking a less confrontational tone, making repeated appeals for “national unity,” and a notably independent-minded cabinet.
Back to the WaPo piece:
Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said Santos will probably veer from Uribe’s more combative style while trying to fight corruption, which tarnished Uribe’s two terms. In addition to the wiretapping of opponents, dozens of lawmakers close to Uribe are in jail or under investigation for ties to death squads.
“Santos is not the same kind of polarzing figure that Uribe has been these last few years,” Arnson said.
More on Santos and his inauguration here: