Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday held a press conference, together with his cabinet, to look back at his first 100 days in office
The president took office August 7 and to mark 100 days, completed on November 15, he called a conference at the Casa de Nariño to give an overview of the administration’s accomplishments thus far.
“We have seen fit to take advantage of these 100 days to be accountable to Colombians, to report on what we have done and also tell you what we are going to do from here on out,” Santos said. “We Colombians can now show our pride to the world, show ourselves as we are, what we represent and what we can do with different issues at a worldwide level,” Santos said.
One of the most important advancements for Santos thus far, he said, is the re-establishment of diplomatic ties with the neighboring countries of Venezuela and Ecuador. Venezuela broke ties with Colombia in July after Colombia accused the country of harboring FARC guerrilla camps, but Santos has met twice so far with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The foreign ministers of the countries have also met to discuss advancing cooperation and commercial opportunities between the two countries. Ecuador broke ties with Colombia after a 2008 Colombian bombing raid on a FARC camp in Ecuadorian territory which killed an Ecuadorean citizen. The two countries have made strides towards restoring relations, with Santos turning over computer files of deceased FARC commander “Raul Reyes” found at the camp long demanded by Ecuador.
“You have all seen that we’ve been able to reestablish relations with our neighbors, assumed leadership in the region, and not only in the region but different issues at the worldwide level,” Santos said.
As a part of his international agenda, the president has also aggressively pursued free trade agreements with the United States, the European Union and South Korea. The agreement with the U.S. was signed in 2006 but has not been ratified by Congress due to human rights concerns, despite pressure from Colombia. U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Michael McKinley and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg have both advocated for the agreement, as well as supported a “true partnership” between the two countries. During a visit to Colombia in October as part of a U.S.-Colombia High Level Partnership Dialogue, Steinberg met with Santos to discuss ways the two countries could expand their relationship beyond aid. As a result, the two countries agreed to focus on areas of energy cooperation, human rights and democratic governance, and scientific research and innovation.
According to Santos, Colombia has also seen a growth in international investment, and that “the line of investors wanting to invest in Colombia is growing every day.”
The Colombian president attributed Colombia’s increasing “international relevance” to the success of Democratic Security, the security policy developed by Santos’ predecessor Alvaro Uribe.
“Everything, everything that we are doing has the fundamental objective of making the leap from Democratic Security to Democratic Prosperity. Democratic Prosperity is giving more work to Colombians and getting more and more Colombians out of poverty,” Santos said.
With regards to his relationship to Uribe, Santos said he has nothing but respect and admiration for his predecessor.
“I speak with [former] President Uribe although many people would like to see us distanced from one another. We are not going to distance ourselves from one another,” Santos said. “Here we are caring for his legacy, a very important legacy left by President Uribe.”
The current president went on to emphasize that his government has different priorities than those of Uribe, who focused on returning security to the country. Santos said that it is because of Uribe’s return of security that his government is able to focus on other issues.
“So the fact that we have different priorities doesn’t mean that we are disassociating ourselves from one another or fighting, as many would like to see President Uribe and I doing,” Santos said. “Hence I say with all due respect to those who want to see us fighting: they are … not going to see us fighting.”
With regards to the problem of corruption, Santos said his government will fight corruption with the same force that it is fighting terrorism. Corruption continues to be a large problem in the Colombian government, with scores of public officials under investigation for alleged ties with illegal groups, taking bribes, or using their positions to illegally monitor political opposition. Santos recently ordered government takeover of the drug enforcement agency (DNE) for corruption and irregularities with the agency’s handling of seized drug assets.
The president called Congress to approve the Anti-Corruption Statute, which has yet to be passed by the legislative body.
“In this law there are many practical tools that will make the fight against corruption more effective,” Santos said.
Liberal Party spokesman Juan Fernando Cristo said the political party is also concerned with the passage of the statute, as well as the fate of the Victims Law Santos present to Congress in September. The Conservative Party will also support the anti-corruption legislation.
Minister of Defense Rodrigo Rivera said that in the first 100 days of Santos’ presidency, crime in Colombia has reduced 14 percent compared to the same period last year. He said homicide, kidnapping, extortion, terrorism and subversive activity have gone down four percent. Crimes such as common theft, vehicle theft, carjacking, and theft in financial institutions have gone down 13 percent.
According to La Republica, businesses, guilds, and academics rated Santos’ performance 4 on a scale of 5. Good management has changed the public’s opinion of the government, said an organizer of the study.
Many Cololombian political parties said there are still things they would like to see Santos’ government work on. President of Partido de la U Juan Lozano said the government must focus on issues of unemployment and health. Conservative Party President Jose Dario Salazar called for efforts to intensify the control of violence in certain regions of the country, and Polo Democratico President Clara Rojas said she was concerned that 42 members of non-governmental organizations have been killed in the country.
The president did acknowledge that Colombia still has many problems, and that the future will not be easy.
“There are difficult obstacles to overcome,” Santos said.