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Opinion

Left turn by Colombia's president brings his predecessor back into the fray

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Terrorism,Foreign Policy,Colombia,Drug Cartels

A recent sharp swing left by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has surprised most Colombians and worried many.

Elected by an overwhelming margin in 2010 as successor to his political mentor, Alvaro Uribe, he won an unprecedented mandate to continue Uribe’s strong fight against decades of guerrilla activity. But the Santos regime has turned sharply left and become blatantly corrupt In the last eight months.

For three years, Santos and the region’s strongest military continued to push hard against already severely weakened guerrilla networks. The leading group, FARC, a lethal collection of renegade terrorists, drug traffickers and basic human rights violators, suffered major losses during Uribe’s eight-year presidency. Santos continued the pressure, both internally and across borders.

Prior to his election, he spoke of his commitment to eliminating more than 20 FARC camps on the Venezuelan side of the countries’ shared border, and half as many in neighboring Ecuador. He put forth his top presidential priorities as continued pressure on the FARC, significant improvement in public education and an internal war against corruption.

In his first electoral contest, having held three important ministerial portfolios, Santos received an unprecedented 69 percent of the vote, buttressed by the full backing of his predecessor, who left office with an equally extraordinary 65 percent approval rating. He's seeking re-election on May 25.

Meanwhile, a year of peace talks with the FARC – in Havana — have progressed to the point that informed sources report that virtually nothing remains to be conceded to the terrorists. The parties have agreed to allow the FARC to participate in Colombia’s political process, to which Santos earlier declared he would never agree. This despite FARC being the dominant factor in the country’s illegal drug trade and kidnapping epidemic, with a 50-year history of terrorism.

On the political side, the best example of corruption is the embezzlement of more than $2 billion from the country's health system. It is the largest case of political payoff/corruption in memory.

Well-informed sources believe the president’s brother, Enrique, a lifelong ultra-leftist well-known for his affinity for radical action, is the driving factor in the administration’s sharp left turn.

Dismayed by the deteriorating situation and pressed by supporters across the political spectrum, Uribe has reluctantly re-entered the electoral fray, assuming leadership of the newly formed Centro Democratico party. Campaigning vigorously for election to the Senate in March 9 legislative elections, he and numerous running mates are virtually sure to win.

In his previous career, Uribe ran under the Liberal party banner in successful elections for senator, mayor of Medellin and governor of Antioquia. Splitting from the Liberals, he formed the Colombia First movement and was elected president in 2002. Re-elected in 2006 with 62 percent of the vote, then the highest in history, he maintains a 61 percent approval rating, by far the highest of any political leader.

Uribe has recruited many first-time citizen candidates for office. A leading Senate candidate is Paloma Valencia, a firebrand conservative critical to Uribe’s return to politics. In her mid-30s, Valencia is a respected, unabashedly provocative print and TV political commentator, and the youngest trustee of Los Andes, the country’s leading private university.

A strong showing by Centro Democratico in the legislative vote will imperil the re-election of Santos, whose recent approval ratings range between 29 percent and 49 percent. The latest polls show him leading with 25 percent to 38 percent of the vote, giving heart to the opposition in what can be a two-stage process. One candidate must garner 50 percent of the vote or more.

As Santos pushes his country sharply left in a corrupt political atmosphere, his opposition will be striving to stem the political marmalade from altering political reality, reducing him to one term as Colombia’s president.

Longtime geopolitical analyst "Ian Alexander" -- not his real name -- is a frequent visitor to Colombia and neighboring countries. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.
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