The president’s reshuffle comes amid a strong economic slowdown and ahead of a possible peace deal with the far-left FARC rebel group.
Controversially, the president granted minister positions to leading leftist and conservative opposition politicians, a move heavily criticized by those oppositions, whose parties now find themselves compromised to opposing a cabinet in which their own parties are now represented.
A lot of power within the government remains with the traditional Bogota political elite, although Santos has tried to diversify his cabinet by including important power brokers from the Caribbean, the Pacific and the economically powerful Antioquia province, home of Santos’ political arch enemy, former President Alvaro Uribe.
The move further isolates Uribe’s Democratic Center party, which received no position and has now been pushed to the fringe of Colombian politics and is now the only considerable opposition party.
Santos did further diversify his cabinet by adding the first black minister to his six-year coalition government.
New cabinet members
Jorge Eduardo Londoño | Green Alliance | Justice
Jorge Eduardo Londoño is a typical career politician and academic, who has been politically active in his native Boyaca province since the early 1990s.
He was senator of Boyaca between 2004 and 2007.
Londoño was elected Senator in 2010, but disallowed to take the position after the Inspector General convicted him for corruption. However, this sentence was later reversed and Londoño was absolved of all charges, allowing him to assume public office again.
The new minister has a number of law degrees and has long combined his political aspirations with top academic positions.
Londoño is a long-time member of the opposition Green Alliance party, which has long advocated against corruption. Londoño’s most outspoken party member, Senator Claudia Lopez, said she thought it was “absurd” that her appreciated fellow-party member “lends himself to legitimize” alleged corruption in the Santos administration.
Clara Lopez | Democratic Pole | Labor
Like President Juan Manuel Santos, Clara Lopez is an iconic Bogota dynasty politician whose family has been close to power since the beginning of the Republic and has delivered two of the country’s presidents. Lopez and has long been a leading figure with her Democratic Pole party, a socialist party that is officially in opposition to Santos.
She began her political career as a secretary at the presidential palace when her liberal great uncle was head of state. Since then, she has been active on the left side of the Liberal Party and later on the moderate side of the Democratic Pole Party.
Santos appointed her interim mayor of the capital Bogota in 2011 after her then-boss, former Bogota Mayor Samuel Moreno, was arrested over a major corruption scandal. Lopez ran for president last in the 2014 elections and — while being the opposition leader — endorsed Santos after losing in the first round.
Maria Claudia Lacouture | U Party | Trade
Maria Claudia Lacouture has been closely associated with Santos since before he took office. The former businesswoman was immediately appointed president of the country’s branding agency when Santos assumed the presidency in 2010. For generations, Lacauture’s family has been active politically in the Caribbean region, a crucial electoral base for Santos in the 2014 elections.
The new minister’s family became embroiled in a major political corruption scandal when prosecutors in 2008 found the family had illegally received presumed agricultural slush funds from the now-fugitive former Minister Andres Felipe Arias. Lacauture was personally never a suspect and has since become a widely respected political manager.
Luis Gilberto Murillo | Liberal Party | Environment and Sustainable Development
Luis Gilberto Murillo is the first black member of the Santos administration and, unlike almost all other ministers, no member of a political clan or dynasty. While formerly educated in mining, Murillo has been shaping environmental policy making in his home province of Choco since the 1990s.
He was elected governor of Choco in 2011, becoming one of the first non-dynasty politicians to lead Colombia’s poorest province. However, the popular politician’s election was later nullified over a 1997 criminal conviction over the use of sanitation funds to build a school, a crime that was scrapped in 2000.
After his dismissal as governor he was briefly kidnapped and sought exile in the US, where he became a respected member of several think tanks and a defender of black minority rights. Just before the 2014 elections, he returned to Colombia to help Santos’ re-election campaign in his home province. As a reward, Santos made him head of the Pacific Initiative, which seeks increased development in the long-abandoned Pacific region.
Elsa Noguera | Radical Change | Housing
Elsa Noguera is the former mayor of Barranquilla who was widely praised for successful development and education projects executed under her supervision. After years of being aligned with the Liberal Party, she joined the Radical Change Party at the turn of the century and has been endorsed by her party since.
She is a close ally of the Char family, a relatively young but immensely powerful Caribbean political dynasty, which has been a major political power broker in the Caribbean for decades and an ally of vice-president German Vargas’ and his family.
German Arce | Conservative Party | Mining and Energy
German Arce is an economist and former deputy finance minister from Valle del Cauca. His announcement was made first as the sector is suffering from weak commodity prices that have reduced investment and drastically cut government revenue. The new minister reportedly is one of Santos’ inner circle.
Arce’s Conservative Party left Santos’ coalition last year, but has remained mostly silent in the opposition benches dominated by the part of former President Alvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center party.
The inclusion of the Conservative Party in the same cabinet as centrist parties and outspoken champagne socialists like Clara Lopez, makes the political isolation of Uribe, Santos’ primary political enemy, almost complete.
Jorge Eduardo Rojas | National Salvation Movement | Transport
Jorge Eduardo Rojas is the former, highly popular mayor of Manizales and member of the obscure but respected National Salvation Movement.
The party was founded in 1990 by conservative politician Alvaro Gomez, famous for his staunch anti-corruption battles. He was killed in 1995, while investigating ties between the now-defunct Cali Cartel and former President Ernesto Samper (Liberal Party), and has become an iconic martyr for many conservatives.
Rojas will be working closely with vice-president German Vargas (Radical Change) who has been leading Santos’ investment flagship, a major “G4” improvement in the country’s inadequate road system. Vargas, who has disassociated himself from ongoing peace talks with leftist rebels, is widely expected to run for president in 2018.
Staying cabinet members
Gina Parody | U Party | Education
Gina Parody has been a close, but pragmatic ally of Santos after she broke with former President Alvaro Uribe over the latter’s permissiveness in regards to ties between politicians and paramilitary death squads.
The career politician has been cleverly riding popularity waves of more prominent politicians, which has helped to speed up her political career. She is one of the fiercest critics of her former political patron.
Juan Fernando Cristo | Liberal Party | Interior
Juan Fernando Cristo is another member of yet another political dynasty from Bogota. His father, a prominent Liberal Party power broker, was killed by the ELN. Cristo’s brother Andres is Senator for the Liberal Party.
María Angela Holguín | Liberal Party | Foreign affairs
Maria Angela Holguin is a dynasty politician from the same Bogota political clan as her new colleague, Clara Lopez. Both women are descendants of former Conservative Party President Jorge Holguin (1921-1922).
She has received much respect for her diplomatic handling of neighbor Venezuela, whose government has become increasingly unreliable and hostile over the years.
Mauricio Cardenas | Conservative Party | Finance
Mauricio Cardenas is also a dynasty politician, whose family has long been aligned with the Conservative Party. Cardenas was also minister in the cabinet of former President Andres Pastrana (1998-2002).
Luis Carlos Villegas | Liberal Pary | Defense
Luis Carlos Villegas is considered one of Colombia’s most powerful politicians because of his friendly ties within both the public and private sector where he held powerful positions, for example as director of Colombia’s soccer league and national coffee growers federation.
Aurelio Iragorri | U Party | Agriculture
Aurelio Iragorri is the grandson of former President Guillermo Leon Valencia (1962-1966), making him the umpteenth dynasty politician in the Santos administration.
Alejandro Gaviria | Liberal Party | Health
Alejandro Gaviria is a member of one of Medellin’s political and economic dynasties. His father was both mayor of Colombia’s second largest city and director of public utilities company EPM. While considered a talented manager, the minister is under a lot of political pressure about a health care crisis that has been ongoing for years.
David Luna | Liberal Party | Technology
David Luna is a career politician whose family has long been prominent in Bogota’s economic upper circles. The 40-year-old minister began his political career as youth leader for the Liberal Party and has since, through clever alignments with political power brokers, known to rise the political ladder to ultimately become minister.
Mariana Garcés | Culture
Mariana Garces is a career politician with a major track record in Culture policies. The minister began her career in the cultural sector of her home town Cali and has since advanced her career to ultimately become minister of culture, a position she has held since 2010.