The impressive run-off electoral victory of Juan Manuel Santos demonstrates that Colombians place great confidence in the former finance and defense minister’s ability to guide their nation for the next four years. It was also a vote for continuity with the successful and popular policies of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe. Undoubtedly, Santos has large executive shoes to fill.
Colombia under Santos, who takes office on August 7, will need to strengthen democratic institutions, advance an impartial justice system, put the economy on a high growth track, and battle poverty, while protecting Colombia’s security against drug traffickers, common crime, and the narco-terrorism of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, still the largest armed terror group in the Americas.Dealing with neighbors will be a foreign policy priority for Santos. His victory will not sit well with Colombia’s meddlesome, leftist neighbors. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is in deep economic trouble and needs an enemy to distract disgruntled Venezuelans before legislative elections in September. Chavez is still, along with drugs, FARC’s main lifeline. Chavez remains pro-terror; just as Santos is resolute in his desire to end the depredations for FARC once and for all.
In a recent interview, days after Secretary’s Clinton’s visit to Quito, Ecuador’s leftist president Rafael Correa brusquely warned that if the Colombian army were to go after FARC guerrillas on his territory, he would respond with military action. To Clinton’s chagrin, Correa seems to be putting out a welcome mat for retreating FARC narco-terrorists to establish safe havens in Ecuador.
Santos hopes to find a steady and reliable partner in the U.S. The Obama Administration’s current two-step in Latin America involves emphasizing ties with friends while trying to dance with tyrants like the Castro brothers, Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Correa, etc.
The Administration and Congress need to move forward to keep relations with Colombia on the firmest possible footing by passing the stalled free trade agreement and sustaining an invigorated Plan Colombia to preserve solid ties with a key Hemispheric ally, soon to be under new management.