Made in the USA: Santos’ secret campaign advisers

Colombian political analysis website La Silla Vacia claims that three U.S. political advisers are an integral part of presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos‘ election campaign.

Santos’ campaign “handles the issue [of the Americans’ involvement] with secrecy, perhaps to avoid another controversy similar to that which erupted when it was learned that J.J. Rendon was working for Santos without a work visa. However it is certain that the gringos play a central role in the campaign,” La Silla Vacia writes. The website says that Santos’ campaign refrains from giving a direct answer on the exact roles of Santos “secret” advisers.

According to La Silla Vacia, “various elements of Santos’ campaign have been imported from Yankee model” of canvassing. Reportedly Americans Jack Leslie, James Carville and Ravi Singh are behind the revolution in Santos’ campaign tactics, which aim to make the “Uribista” into “a more affable and less defensive candidate” who is accessible to the people.

Changes in Santos’ campaign, such as starting to refer to him by his first name, constantly repeated slogans and call centers established to contact voters, are examples La Silla Vacia cites as “typical formulas of a gringo presidential election.”

Jack Leslie

“Juan Manuel does not take a single step without him,” a source close to Santos’ campaign told La Silla Vacia.

Leslie is the chairman of global P.R. agency Weber Shandwick and has worked with U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, as well as former Colombia President Virgilio Barco Vargas, to whom he was one of his closest government advisers.

During Barco’s presidency (1986-1990), Leslie reportedly told him that he needed to change the U.S.’s opinion of Colombia, because opinion polls indicated North Americans saw Colombia as a nation of corrupt drug dealers.

“You can’t ignore those figures,” Leslie reportedly told Barco. “You can’t just show what action Colombia is taking against drug dealers. It would look like propaganda. It won’t work. You have to appreciate public opinion on this. You are seen as a villain. First we must show you as a victim. Then a hero. Then a leader. Only after that do you point the finger at the United States for creating the demand for drugs.”

James Carville

James Carville is a political consultant and U.S. media personality who came into the spotlight for his work a strategist in the election campaign of former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

One campaign source told La Silla Vacia that Carville is primarily in charge of analyzing voter polls and submitting recommendation, but does not have a role in the Santos campaign as a strategist. Another source told La Silla Vacia the opposite, that Carville’s role is crucial.

Ravi Singh

Ravi Singh is known as an internet campaign guru and it is believed that he became an advisor to Santos when he was the defense minister in Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s administration.

Sources told La Silla Vacia that Singh is in charge of Santos’ entire internet campaign but does not make decisions on strategy. He is believed to be working in Bogota, although Santos’ people have not confirmed it. Those involved in the campaign are reportedly required to sign confidentiality agreements, and if they break them, will be fined.

Santos has received criticism in the Colombian media for his “dirty campaign tricks.” His publicist J.J. Rendon has been the center of controversy. Since Santos’ campaign revamp – which happened after Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus overtook him in voter polls –  the Uribista has been criticized for using an Uribe “voice-alike” in campaign advertisements and accused of using one of Colombian super-star Juanes’ songs without permission.

Santos won Colombia’s first round presidential election on May 30 but with 46.57% of the vote, did not achieve the majority required to win outright. He will now face-off against Mockus in a second round election on June 30.

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