Former defense minister and front-runner in Colombia’s upcoming presidential elections, Juan Manuel Santos, said Monday that he plans to establish a “grand coalition of Uribe supporters” to guarantee electoral victory.
Santos told Caracol Radio that on Saturday President Alvaro Uribe had urged him to seek out and build a large political alliance in order to prevent the opposition from gaining power.
“We spoke about the future, about the need to guarantee that everything we have built with the president won’t be thrown out, to guarantee that there will be continuity, to fix mistakes, to fill in gaps, and said that we must do everything possible to keep what was built from falling away,” Santos explained.
“He [Uribe] told me to continue with the Partido de la U but to expand it with conservatives; the Conservative Party, Cambio Radical Change, Liberal ‘Uribistas,’ and the independents, and that with this large coalition we could win the election in the first round,” Santos continued.
Santos, who officially announced his candidacy after the referendum to allow Uribe to run for a third term was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, went on to explain that he has to yet receive the official “wink,” or endorsement, from President Uribe.
The former defense minister also clarified that under his leadership his government “would seek balance with [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez; on the one hand diplomacy and on the other, prudence”.
“What I’m most interested in is that the relationships [with neighboring countries] be as good as possible,” Santos explained
During Santos’ time as defense minister from 2006 to 2009, Chavez referred to him as a “minister of war” and as an “enemy of Venezuela.”
Following a shouting match with Uribe at a summit in Mexico last week, Chavez expressed his desire for Venezuela to normalize relations with Colombia.
Chavez invited his Colombian counterpart Uribe to “sit down and talk like gentlemen.” Now that the Constitutional Court has ruled that Uribe cannot be re-elected as Colombian president, the future of Colombian-Venezuelan diplomatic relations remains uncertain.
Diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela were frozen after Colombia signed an agreement last year with the U.S. that allows the Americans to use Colombian military bases and civilian airports for counternarcotics and counterterrorism missions.
Chavez believes the agreement undermines sovereignty in the region, and is its most outspoken opponent.
The border region has long been a source of tension between the countries, as Venezuela accuses Colombia of allowing right-wing paramilitary fighters to enter Venezuelan territory, while Colombia says the border is often crossed by left-wing guerrillas seeking refuge in the neighboring country.
Frozen diplomatic relations have adversely affected the Colombian economy, with exports to Venezuela down 79% in December 2009.