Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos sat down Thursday with Senator Roy Barreras, other congressional leaders and controversial political spin doctor J.J. Rendon for a two-day private summit on the 2014 elections.
On the agenda was Santos’ affiliation with the party and the party strategy for the upcoming congressional and presidential elections, in which the Centro Democratico and other political factions loyal to former president Alvaro Uribe are expected to make a strong campaign opposing the President and his “Coalition of National Unity.”
The question of who will be charged with running Santos’ still unofficial reelection campaign next year is one of the important issues the meeting sought to resolve.
Judging from a statement Santos made at the Casa de Narino after a meeting Wednesday, the honor will now fall to German Vargas, Colombia’s former housing minister and leader of the Cambio Radical party, who reportedly is preparing to take charge of Santos’ Buen Gobierno Foundation, a non-profit in charge the presidential re-election campaign.
Still, Barreras has said he will ask the President to reassert his commitment to La U, and allow the political machine that elevated him to office in the first place to lead the effort to keep him there.
“Leadership of the debate belongs to La U, and not to any NGO,” said Barreras, who didn’t mention Buen Gobierno or Vargas by name. “There are others who want a role that doesn’t correspond to them.”
For Barreras and the other congressional delegates from La U, the distinction is symbolic as much as anything. Facing reelection battles of their own, they hope to use the President’s clout and endorsement to ward off attacks from political factions inspired by ex-president Alvaro Uribe.
There has been some dysfunction within La U, however, including dissent toward President Santos, particularly regarding peace talks with the FARC rebels and his perceived deference to the Liberal party.
But indications are that the tone of the meeting will be largely conciliatory, especially after a series of uncomfortable encounters recently — Ex-president Uribe was present at last year’s general assembly, and a gathering this past April was so contentious, Senator Armando Benedetti called it “the most disastrous political meeting I have seen.”
Twenty-five senators and 45 representatives are expected to attend the meeting, which is slated to last through Friday evening.