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Juan Manuel Santos Calderón

On August 7, 2010, Juan Manuel Santos was inaugurated as President of Colombia. He previously served as Minister of National Defense for Uribe’s second presidential term, as Minister of Finance under President Andres Pastrana, and as Minister of Trade under President Cesar Gaviria.

The Santos administration laid out an ambitious National Development Plan and used a legislative majority to pass significant legislation, including a historic victims’ law that will benefit approximately 4 million Colombians over the next 10 years with reparations and land restitution. Santos reorganized the executive branch, including new ministries of justice, labor, and the environment and abolished the discredited Administrative Department of Security (DAS) and replaced it with a new civilian intelligence agency.

Executive branch reform was mandated, including the redistribution of royalties from mineral/natural resources, fiscal reforms, and the implementation of more tools to improve citizen safety. To improve national policies going forward, Santos also created new presidential programs for Afro-Colombian and indigenous issues. Vice President Angelino Garzon, a respected former labor leader, coordinates human rights and labor right issues. He has promptly condemned human rights abuses and threats against unions.

The Santos administration maintained positive trends in security consolidation. Security forces captured, killed, or demobilized over 4,200 guerrillas and members of criminal gangs in 2010 and over 3,000 more in 2011. The number of FARC fighters has decreased from 16,000 in 2001 to approximately 8,000 in 2011. The Colombian police and military successfully coordinated operations that resulted in the death of top FARC military commander “Mono Jojoy,” ER-PAC (neo-paramilitary group) leader “Cuchillo,” and FARC Supreme Commander “Alfonso Cano.” Timoleon Jimenez, aka “Timochenko” was named Cano’s successor in 2011. The successful operation against Cano was the continuation of a government strategy of pursuing high-value targets (HVTs) to weaken guerilla groups. In August 2011, Santos announced a revised counter-insurgency plan focused on degrading the FARC and its networks through coordinated intelligence, smaller operations, consolidation, and better protection for law enforcement officials.

President Santos clearly defined his government’s position on the possibility of peace negotiations--the FARC must release hostages, stop violence and lawlessness, and renounce the use of force to achieve political ends. Santos re-emphasized, in December 2011, that the unilateral release of hostages was a non-negotiable first step. In February 2012, the FARC announced it would return hostages and cease its policy of kidnapping hostages for ransom, but it remains to be seen whether it follows through. Since 2002, more than 54,000 paramilitaries and guerrillas have demobilized, while kidnappings have fallen 91%, homicides 45%, terrorist attacks 91%, and attacks against oil pipelines 71%. Colombian law enforcement interdicted over 125 metric tons (MT) of cocaine and cocaine base in 2011. As a result of nationwide efforts to improve security, travel on Colombia’s roads has doubled since 2000, and tourism has doubled since 2004.

The Victims and Land Restitution Law, signed into law by Santos in June 2011, focuses on making reparations available to 4 million victims affected by the country’s ongoing civil conflict. This landmark law, the implementation of which began in January 2012, offers monetary compensation to the victims of human rights violations such as forced disappearance or homicide. It also offers monetary compensation or land restitution to people who lost their land as a result of the conflict. If the land is now uninhabitable because it is not secure or is now a natural park or other protected place, compensation will be made in the form of equivalent land in another part of the country. If land restitution does not fully compensate for the loss of land, a monetary award will be made. Victims (and the families of these victims) who were guerillas or paramilitaries will not be eligible for compensation, and it is unclear whether victims of criminal bands or state violence will be eligible for compensation. The law will continue to aid past and current victims through 2021.

Building on the “democratic security” agenda of the previous administration, President Santos campaigned on “democratic prosperity,” focusing on economic development (jobs), security, and poverty reduction. The Santos administration passed an employment and formalization law, which seeks to create 2.5 million jobs, formalize 500,000 informal jobs, and reduce annual unemployment to single digits, all by 2014. His legislation to reduce the deficit through fiscal discipline measures was passed in late 2011.

Colombians chose a new congress 09 March 2014 in a vote seen as a referendum on peace talks with leftist guerrillas and a likely bellwether for presidential elections in May 2014. Nearly 2,500 candidates were competing for a total of 268 seats in Colombia’s lower house and senate. The election was expected to consolidate President Jose Manuel Santos as the front-runner for a second straight term in the upcoming presidential poll. A win would allow his government to continue talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, which have dominated national political life since they opened in late 2012 in Havana, Cuba. Both sides have agreed to allow the rebels to take part in national politics once the insurgency ends. The FARC had been fighting for five decades against the Colombian government. It partly finances the insurgency through drug trafficking and frequent kidnappings of foreigners and Colombian officials.

Voters showed their support for peace talks with guerrillas by giving President Juan Manuel Santos a majority in Congress, while voters also elected his conservative rival, ex-president Alvaro Uribe, to the Senate. The result consolidated President Santos as the front-runner in the presidential election on 25 May 2014, but thinned the majority he would rely on if re-elected for legislative support to implement a peace deal with the FARC rebels if talks succeed.

Right-wing economist Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, the candidate of a new opposition movement, accused Santos of selling out Colombia by promising congressional seats instead of prison cells to rebel leaders if they end the 50-year-old conflict that had killed more than 200,000 people. Neither candidate is expected to win the 50 percent support needed for a first-round victory, meaning they would go into a run-off on 15 June 2014.

Juan Manuel Santos Calderón was born in Bogota on August 10, 1951. He was a cadet at the Navy Academy in Cartagena; he studied Economics and Business Administration and carried out graduate studies at the London School of Economics, Harvard University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

He was Chief of the Colombian delegation before the International Coffee Organization (ICO) in London; he was the most recent Designate to the Presidency and Colombia's first Foreign Trade Minister. He has also been Finance Minister and National Defense Minister. During this last position, he was in charge of leading the implementation of the government's Democratic Security Policy.

Santos served as defense minister under Mr. Uribe for nearly three years and scored key victories against leftist FARC rebels. Under Mr. Santos, Colombian troops killed a FARC leader and freed several high-profile hostages held by the guerrillas, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. The 58-year-old economist has promised to build on the security gains of outgoing President Uribe, who remains popular, but was barred from seeking a third consecutive term. Uribe's supporters rallied around Santos, who is representing the conservative National Unity party and is favored to win the runoff.

He created the Good Government Foundation (Fundación Buen Gobierno) and founded the political party Partido de la U in the year 2005, currently Colombia's largest political party. As a journalist he was a columnist and Deputy Director of the newspaper El Tiempo, he was awarded the King of Spain Prize and was president of the Freedom of Expression Commission for the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). He has published several books, among which the most significant are The Third Way, co-written with the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Check on Terror (Jaque al Terror), where he describes the most important actions against the FARC terrorist group during his tenure as head of the Ministry of Defense.

On June 20, 2010, (after obtaining the largest vote during the first round of the presidential elections which took place on May 30 of the same year) at the second round of the presidential elections, he was elected President of the Republic of Colombia for the four year period between August 7th, 2010 and August 7th, 2014. He obtained more than 9 million votes, the highest amount obtained by any candidate in the history of Colombian democracy.

During his campaign, he promised to lead a government of national unity that would carry out the transition from Democratic Security to Democratic Prosperity.

President Santos is married to María Clemencia Rodríguez, with whom he has three children: Martín (21), María Antonia (19) and Esteban (16).

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Page last modified: 19-05-2014 19:44:47 ZULU