Know Your Colombian Presidential Candidates: Juan Manuel Santos
Juan Manuel Santos is one of the two front-runners in this weekend’s Colombian presidential elections. He is the former Defense Minister from the Uribe administration and is the nominee of the Partido Social de Unidad Nacional (Party of National Social Unity) known as the Partido de la U (Party of the U) or just la U. The party was formed for the 2006 congressional elections to support Uribe (the whole “party of the U” bit is not a coincidence) and it was originally bankrolled in large part by Santos himself. He is the first official nominee of the party. While it supported Uribe’s re-election in 2006 he was not the party’s official nominee. The party currently holds a plurality of seats in the Congress after the March elections and looked to be the party set to dominate the next four years of Colombian politics as the leading party of a coalition of the government with Santos as President. Santos, as the heir apparent to Uribe appeared to be the shoe-in as the next president of Colombia up and until a few month ago, when Green Party nominee, Antanas Mockus moved first into contention, then into a lead, and finally into a tie with Santos heading into this weekend’s polling. At this point, it would appear that Mockus and Santos will face one another in a run-off in roughly a month.
Santos comes from a prominent family affiliated with Colombia’s Liberal Party (PL), although, as noted, left the Liberal fold (along with a number of his co-partisans) to move with President Uribe’s political orbit. He previously served in the administration of Liberal president César Gaviria (90-94) as Trade Minister. He has experience in private business, government and international institutions.
Santos comes from a prominent political family:
- His family founded and owned for many decades the nation’s leading daily, El Tiempo.
- His granduncle, Eduardo Santos, was President from 1938-1942.
- His cousin was Uribe’s vice president, FrancÃsco Santos CalderÃ³n.
His most significant asset is also his biggest weakness, i.e., he is the candidate of continuism from Uribe. This is a strength, as Uribe is highly popular and is credited with taming the FARC and leading the country back from the brink of escalating violence. However, Uribe’s administration has also had its share of controversy, not the least of which being the “false positives” scandal, wherein innocent civilians were killed by the military and dressed up as FARC members so that the military could increase their numbers of FARC kills. Santos was DefMin at the time. He was also in charge when Ingrid Betancourt, three American contractors and eleven others were rescued.
He has never held elected office.