Born to one of Colombia’s most influential political dynasties, “Pacho” descends from a family of powerful politicians and journalists.
Colombia’s ex-president Eduardo Santos, one of the founders of family newspaper El Tiempo, was his great uncle.
Santos, like almost everyone in his family before him, was El Tiempo’s editor-in-chief.
When he was editor of his family’s newspaper, Santos was kidnapped in September 1990 by the Medellin Cartel and not released until May 1991. At the time, Escobar and his “Extraditables” were trying to pressure the country’s elite-run Congress to vote against an extradition treaty with the United States.
Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about Santos’ kidnapping in his book “News of a Kidnapping.”
After his release, Santos moved to the United States where he got a job at Harvard University. The scholarly stint didn’t last long and Santos founded the “Pais Libre” foundation, an NGO that campaigned against kidnapping and for years was one of the most authoritative think tanks about the subject.
Alleged ties to paramilitary death squads
While campaigning against kidnapping and still very much involved in his family’s newspaper, Santos allegedly sought an alliance with paramilitary group AUC, which had begun a gruesome offensive in the north of Colombia to rid the country of guerrillas and “everything that smelled of guerrillas.”
According to former AUC chief Salvatore Mancuso, Santos met with the AUC leadership to form a paramilitary death squad in Bogota.
His receptiveness surprised me when we met … Santos praised the model we exposed, how we operated in Cordoba … Among circles in the capital there was concern about the advance of the guerrillas, how they were approaching the capital, which could not be allowed because democracy would be affected, according to what Santos said.
From journalism to politics
Despite his alleged affinity with the far-right, Santos was a prominent supporter of failed peace talks between the far-left FARC and conservative president Andres Pastrana that took place between 1999 and 2002.
However, his anti-kidnapping activities and alleged ties to the AUC made him a “military target” of the FARC and Santos was forced to leave the country again in 2000.
The peace talks with the FARC failed and Santos hooked up with Alvaro Uribe, the hard-right former governor of the Antioquia province who had signed off on the creation of many of the “self-defense groups” that would later form the AUC and were allegedly praised by the media mogul.
The two won the extremely violent 2002 election and Santos served as vice-president for the full eight years Uribe was in office.
By then, however, Santos had already been accused of ties to the paramilitary group that was determined a terrorism group by the United States in 2001 while Uribe had gotten into major trouble over the mass killing of civilians and the illegal wiretapping of the Supreme Court.
Returning to journalism
The Santos family had sold El Tiempo in 2007 already, and Santos was hired as editor in chief of RCN, a conservative media conglomerate also accused of sponsoring the AUC.
Loyal to Uribe hard-line political views, Santos became one of the most vociferous critics of his cousin, President Juan Manuel Santos, who succeeded Uribe in 2010.
Santos was fired by RCN in 2012 and helped Uribe found the political movement that would later become the Democratic Center. The party was officially founded on January 20, 2013.
Santos was hoping to run against his cousin in the 2014 elections, but was defeated by Oscar Ivan Zuluaga in the primaries. Citing fraud, Santos briefly distanced himself from Uribe.
Santos supported Zuluaga’s candidacy in the last weeks before the presidential elections and was picked by Uribe to become the candidate for Bogota mayor after Zuluaga failed to win the presidential elections.
Land theft claims
Like Uribe and many members of the Democratic Center party, Santos has been accused of land theft.
Santos’ alleged land theft practices took place in the eastern Vichada province with the help of renowned law firm Brigard & Urrutia of Colombia’s former ambassador in the US, Carlos Urrutia.
The scandal, which like Santos’alleged ties to the AUC was never legally resolved, forced Urrutia to resign from his post in Washington DC in 2013.
Ambassador to Washington DC
Santos has claimed the land acquisitions were legal and because Colombia’s ambassador to Washington DC in September 2018 after Uribe’s protege, President Ivan Duque, won the elections and returned power to the “Uribistas.”
Less than a month after taking office, Santos spurred major international tensions, claiming that there was consensus between the administration of hard-right US President Donald Trump and the Colombian government about “multilateral action” against Colombia’s neighbor Venezuela, whose President Nicolas Maduro has been a vociferous critic of US foreign policy, but has been unable to tackle a major humanitarian crisis that spurred the migration of approximately 2 million Venezuelan citizens.