Saturday, November 23, 2013

VOXXI: Juan Manuel Santos seeks ambitious re-election

Juan Manuel Santos seeks ambitious re-election
W. Alejandro Sanchez
November 23, 2013
Originally published:

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has announced that he will seek a second term in his country’s upcoming elections, which will take place on May 25, 2014.  He declared his candidacy this past Wednesday, November 20, but the move came as a surprise to very few as he has hinted his intentions regarding re-election for a long time.
This is an ambitious endeavor as Santos will have a difficult time winning over (again) the support of the majority of the Colombian population.
The Negotiations
The Santos presidency is currently in a difficult moment, as it seems to have had more failures than successes, which has resulted in Santos’ plummeting popularity in the past months.
Santos’ declaration comes at the heels of a historic agreement between the Colombian government and representatives of the Colombian insurgent movement, the FARC. The two sides have been negotiating in Havana, Cuba over the course of a year to try to find an end to this decades-old internal conflict.
Out of a five-point peace plan, the two sides reached an agreement over land reform this past May. More recently, in early November, the two sides accomplished another milestone: the insurgent movement will be allowed to participate in Colombia’s political system if a full peace agreement is reached.
Nevertheless, there are other issues that need to be agreed upon and the parties do not have much time left before the May elections.
It is worth noting that the FARC leadership has praised Santos’ willingness to negotiate. This is best exemplified by a November 13 interview between the Voice of Russia’s Brittany Peterson with Victoria Sandino Palmera, a female FARC commander and representative in the negotiations that are taking place in Cuba.
FARC’s Sandino Palmera declared that “You could say that the government has political will, as does […] Santos […]. But at least in the most recent times he has expressed more of an emphasis for arriving to a deal that allows an end to the conflict.”
Should another head of state come into power to replace Santos, it is debatable whether he (or she) may want to continue with the negotiations.
The momentum (broadly speaking) of the peace negotiations with the FARC has made Santos become even more ambitious as it has been hinted that the Colombian government may also start negotiations with the country’s other insurgent movement, the ELN.
Without a doubt, if some kind agreement is reached with either group in the near future, Santos can use this as a propaganda tool during his presidential campaign.
Protests by Peasants
It is important to stress that Colombians will not cast their votes solely based on their country’s security situation (though this is central issue). Obviously, the national economy is also critically important.
Colombia may be a member of the Pacific Alliance, the latest trade bloc to appear in Latin America and whose members are pro-free trade economies, but segments of Colombia’s workforce, particularly the agricultural sector, are displeased with the government’s pro-free trade stance.
This is best exemplified by the weeks of (sometimes violent) protests that were carried out both on Colombia’s countryside as well as major cities this past August-September. The protests started via Colombian farmers and peasants who were upset about Colombia’s free trade agreement with the U.S., which they argue will hurt Colombia’s important agricultural sector.
Popularity Challenges
Given these drawbacks, it comes as little surprise that Santos’ popularity was at a worrisome 21% by early September. However, he appears to be on a rebound, as a recent poll gives him a slightly more encouraging29% approval rating.
As for potential contenders, the major challenger so far appears to be Oscar Iván Zuluaga. According to a November 20 article mentioned in the British daily The Guardian, a poll by Invamer-Gallup found that 27% of people surveyed would vote for Santos, while Zuluaga comes in second place at 15%.
Interestingly, Zuluaga and Santos know each other fairly well as they both served under the administration of President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010). At the time Zuluaga was the finance minister while Santos was Uribe’s defense minister.
However, times have changed and Uribe has become one of Santos’ harshest critics, particularly due to Santos’ decision to negotiate with the FARC. (It has been recently revealed that the FARC had schemed a plot to murder Uribe, which adds to the former president’s anti-negotiations stance). President Uribe has even formed a political coalition, the Uribe Centro Democratico, with the aforementioned Zuluaga as his presidential candidate, to oust Santos.
After the Colombian head of state declared his intention to run again for the presidency, Zuluaga declared to the press that peace in Colombia “is not built by chasing peasants that protest while protecting terrorists that kidnap.” That is a pretty straightforward position on how Zuluaga views Santos’ ongoing negotiations with the FARC.
As for how the Colombian media has reacted to Santos’ presidential intentions, an op-ed in the renownedColombian daily El Colombiano argued that the president’s re-election plans actually started “almost 40 months ago, when he first assumed the presidency.”
It would seem that no one is surprised that Santos decided to run for a second presidential term. But whether he will be able to achieve this it is still too early to tell.

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