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| 6/22/2010 12:00:00 AM

In Colombia, More of the Blessed Same

June 22--Meet the new president, same as the old.

In the increasingly competitive arena of Latin American democracy, electoral landslides are growing rarer. But the crushing victory on June 20 of Juan Manuel Santos, who bested former Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus by more than two to one in the runoff race for the Colombian presidency, is one for the pundits’ seismographs. Santos, a former defense minister, took 69 percent of the ballots to his Green Party rival’s 27.5 percent, sweeping voters from the glistening capital to the Andes to the Caribbean coast. With 9 million votes, he eclipsed outgoing President Álvaro Uribe, who set a record in 2006, winning 7.3 million ballots.

On paper, this is hardly a surprise. A former defense minister and scion of an influential family, Santos is not just a political force but something of a Colombian institution. His uncle, Eduardo Santos Montejo, was president from 1938–42. Relatives and immediate allies control the nation’s two major news organizations, including Semana, the weekly edited by his cousin Alejandro Santos, and the leading daily, El Tiempo, which the Santos’s once owned outright and of which the family are now major shareholders. Most important, the incoming president carried the blessings of President Uribe, whose own bid for an unprecedented third mandate was struck down in February down by the electoral court. Uribe tasked Santos with executing Uribe’s successful “democratic defense” policy, cracking down on terrorists and bandits and chasing guerrillas into the jungle. For this nation of 45 million, which just a decade ago was a careening toward the junk pile of failed states, that kind of resume carries clout.

And yet Santos’s victory seemed to catch many Colombians by surprise. Political analysts will spend the next days and weeks parsing the vote. The balloting was partially marred by flash floods in the highlands and violent clashes between insurgents and security forces that claimed 10 lives. Nearly half the 29 million registered voters stayed away from the polls, a high but not unheard-of rate of abstention for Colombia. But it doesn’t take a political science degree to see what was going on in one of Latin America’s most stable democracy.

Read more here.
 
Semana International delivers news about Colombia in English. Find more in our home.
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