Colombia Political Players
Juan Manuel Santos: The candidate of the center-right Partido de la U won a second-four year term in 2014, defeating a challenger backed by Santos’ predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, in a contest that amounted to a referendum on the president’s effort to conclude a comprehensive peace deal with leftist rebels who have waged war against the government for more than four decades. Santos enjoys the backing of a large majority in the Congress, but a falling-out with the still-influential Uribe, who reacted with hostility to Santos’ rapprochement with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and what Uribe perceives to be a dangerous shift in focus away from national security, could pose a threat to the sustainability of a center-right coalition in the event of security or economic setbacks. The president’s economic program is based on the somewhat contradictory goals of exploiting Colombia’s mineral and oil wealth while also creating a foundation for sustainable development. Thus far, he has managed to strike a balance between those two objectives, and foreign investment is flowing in at a record pace. However, the peace process initiated in 2012 is a gamble that could produce Santos’ early relegation to lame-duck status if it fails to produce an agreement that is broadly acceptable to Colombian voters.
Social National Unity Party: A conservative party that favors liberal economic policies, Partido de la U was the core of Uribe’s legislative coalition during his second term and led the failed effort to clear the way for Uribe to pursue a third term in 2010. Once the courts ruled out a third-term bid, Uribe threw his support behind Santos, who had declared his preparedness to stand for the presidency if Uribe could not do so. Partido de la U emerged as the largest party in the Congress at the 2010 legislative elections, and retained that position in 2014, despite the emergence of Uribe’s Democratic Center as a rival for the support of the Partido de la U’s base.
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia: Uribe’s hard-line approach to dealing with the leftist guerrillas produced a measurable improvement in domestic security conditions, and FARC was clearly staggered by a series of setbacks beginning in 2008, including the deaths of top leaders and the surrender of large numbers of combatants. FARC’s weakened position left it amenable to restarting peace talks without a cease-fire agreement in place, a condition demanded by President Santos. Progress has been made since negotiations began in 2012, but the success of the talks is far from assured, with the issue of punishment for top FARC leaders being the most obvious sticking point. Until an agreement is operational, guerrilla violence will continue to pose security risks for foreign businesses and personnel in targeted areas.
Alvaro Uribe: Although his bid for a third term was stalled by the courts, Uribe still enjoyed immense popularity when he left office in 2010, and he retains influence among the center-right political forces on which Santos depends to secure approval of his government’s program. Although the presidential candidate of his Democratic Center party lost to Santos in a run-off election that amounted to a referendum on the peace process, Uribe’s party won 19 seats in the Senate (including one held by Uribe), making it the second-largest party in the upper chamber. Although Democratic Center won just 12 seats in the lower house, Uribe’s toehold in both legislative chambers will facilitate his ongoing campaign to undermine Santos.
Colombian Liberal Party: The PLC is the second largest party in Santos’ coalition, with 37 seats in the lower legislative chamber, and is also the most left-leaning of the parties making up the governing alliance. As such, the Liberals are likely to be the president’s most reliable ally on matters related to the peace process, but the PLC’s cooperation may be less consistent on economic policy issues.
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