Three weeks before the deadline for
him to announce a presidential bid, Colombian Defense Minister
Juan Manuel Santos said he would take a shot at the 2010 election
if President Alvaro Uribe steps aside.
Polls show Santos as a strong runner to replace the popular
Uribe, but he must resign his government post by May 29 if he is
to qualify as a candidate; Uribe has yet to publicly declare
whether he will seek a third term.
“If President Uribe decides to run for a third time — and he
has not yet said whether he will try — I would not stand in the
way, I would support him,” Santos told the Reuters Latin American
“If he decides no, then I would take a shot as an eventual
candidate as long as the circumstances were right,” he said.
Uribe is hugely popular for his crackdown on leftist
guerrillas that has eased violence and attracted more foreign
investment as the conflict eased. Many Colombians see him as the
man who pulled the country back from decades of uncontrollable
bombing, kidnapping and murder.
His supporters are pushing a proposed referendum on whether to
rewrite the constitution and allow him to run for a second
reelection. That process could still take months.
Santos has maintained a high profile thanks to a string of
military successes against the country’s FARC rebels, including
blows to their leadership and rescues of guerrilla hostages. But
recent scandals over killings of civilians by the armed forces are
worrying rights groups.
With a Democrat now in the White House, some U.S. lawmakers
have called for more human rights conditions on Colombia’s
multi-billion dollar U.S. aid package. Some analysts expect the
aid will be trimmed as the White House focuses on Afghanistan.
But Santos said the U.S. government had decided to maintain
the aid package for 2010 at about the same level as this year or
around $520 million.
“This is a positive signal. The United States understands that
Colombia is a strategic partner in many ways, and I believe this
is a demonstration that they have clearly understood this,” he
He said the current economic crisis, which has slowed
Colombia’s growth sharply, would not impact the country’s
investment in the armed forces and security.
Colombia’s military has driven the FARC back and weakened
their ranks. But the guerrillas remain a potent force in some
rural areas, employing home-made land mines and ambushes and
helped by cash gained from the cocaine trade.
At least four FARC leaders were hiding outside of Colombia,
Santos said, without referring to any country. Colombia has often
asked neighboring Venezuela and Ecuador to do more to curb
guerrillas seeking refuge across their borders.
to take them to the point where they cannot grow again.” (Reuters)