THE DEATH OF 'MONO JOJOY' | 9/29/2010 12:00:00 AM
The fall of ‘Mono Jojoy’, FARC’s No 2, enhances Juan Manuel Santos’ popularity, makes him gain confidence on right-wing political sectors and gives him space to promote social reforms.
The FARC had been able to lessen President Santos’ honeymoon during the first days of his presidency. Their violent acts, since August 7 (the day Santos’ took possession of his presidency), had triggered public unrest. The number of citizens from the five major urban centers in the country who consider insecurity as the worst problem increased from 17 to 29 percent, according to the last Invamer-Gallup poll of September. Still more striking was the rising percentage of people for whom the situation in this field is increasing, from 48 to 62 percent, as well as the fall of those who think that security is improving: from 45 to 22 percent. Even Juan Manuel Santos’ image decreased in only one month, from 75 to 64 percent. Finally, the qualification of management against the guerrillas fell from 82 to 69 percent.
The picture was enough for some to relate the increase in violence with the replacement of previous president Álvaro Uribe’s ‘democratic security’ discourse with a new one, which includes ideas as “the doors are open to dialogue” and “let’s be prudent” with neighboring president Hugo Chávez. Other analysts weren’t sure whether the social reform plans announced by Santos in his inaugural speech —in which security issues went to a back seat—, would be viable and maintainable. They didn’t know whether the new government would have to make a shift towards toughness either. Statements by Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera and the President himself helped supporting this hypothesis, which was, incidentally, defended by radical ‘uribist’ representatives who believe that Juan Manuel Santos new agenda could jeopardize Uribe’s "work".
With such a scenario, the military success against the FARC's military chief (Jojoy) couldn’t have been more politically appropriate for the new President. Experience shows that Colombians are benevolent to their presidents when they reach significant military victories. And no blow could have been received with a better welcome than Mono Jojoy’s death. He was one of the most hated guerrilla figures given his symbolic character as the man behind FARC’s systematic kidnappings. If security issues lessened Santos popularity during his initial days in government, it is likely that ‘Operation Sodom’ (as it was baptized by the Colombian military) gives it back to him.
But escalating in polls isn’t Santos’ only profit. From a strategic standpoint, this blow against the FARC produces confidence and strengthens his own discourse. It serves him as an argument to defend the thesis that a government’s agenda expansion towards reforms on the land, on royalties, health and prosperity, doesn’t mean that it neglect the necessary strength against the FARC, which was Uribe’s major policy. Santos has made it clear that advances in military’s training, strategies’ sophistication, and improvements in intelligence and in international cooperation enable him to diversify objectives and seek progress in other areas. An ambitious and diverse development plan can be built on Uribe's legacy. Tuesday’s events strengthen this argument.
There has been great speculation around the future of the relationship between Juan Manuel Santos and Alvaro Uribe, due to a clear ideological shift made by the new president, despite being a representative of the uribist Party (The ‘U’ Party), who ruled during Uribe’s presidency with a more right-winging approach. There are many examples that show that ‘uribism’ and ‘santism’ are very different political projects. However, if there’s a point where they both agree, that’s the security agenda. Santos was the Defense Minister when Uribe's ‘democratic security’ policy achieved notable successes like the Operation Jaque (the one that freed Ingrid Betancourt and other hostages) and the bombing of Raúl Reyes' camp in Ecuador (Operation Fénix). The most ‘uribist’ member of Santos’ cabinet is Rodrigo Rivera who leads, precisely, the Defense portfolio. With the death of Jojoy, Juan Manuel Santos grabs an opportunity to use a continuity-and-change formula that, if used properly, can be very profitable. Uribe’s successful security lines keep going, but there are changes in other fronts such as international relations, land policy, treatment for victims and relations with the Judiciary branch of state.
Uribe's ‘democratic security’ policy was unimaginable to many without Uribe himself. That the continuity of the pressure on the FARC depended on Uribe's permanence in power was the main argument with which the country was about to embark on yet another re-election. Santos has now freed from the public notion that Uribe’s successor wouldn’t be as good or better than him. And then again, Santos has had a principal role, as minister and as president, in the three hardest blows that the FARC have received in its whole history: the deaths of ‘Reyes’ and ‘Jojoy’, and a spectacular hostage rescuing (which included Ingrid Betancourt’s freedom). In all of these episodes, it was Juan Manuel Santos who appeared on TV giving Colombians the good news.
The ‘democratic security’ has grown enough to acquire an institutional dimension rather that a personal one. Between Operation Phoenix and Operation Sodom, every key official in terms of security strategies have been replaced: the President, the Chief of the Armed Forces and the Army’s Commander. This means that there’s a state policy which is not endangered.
The whole picture is favorable to Juan Manuel Santos’ young presidency. The big question is how he will use it. It is assumed that he will ratify its commitment with all the planned reforms and that he will keep attacking the FARC. But it remains to be seen what he will do in a medium term. Just 50 days have passed of his four years at the Presidential Palace, which is very little time. Especially with the prospect of a an eight-year term.
Santos struck with a line of his inauguration speech, during his possession —"the doors for dialogue aren’t closed"— which generated controversy over the convenience and desirability of negotiations with the guerrillas. It’s always been said that dialogues are effective as long as the illegal armed groups are weakened. Thus, Juan Manuel Santos could bet to be on Colombia’s history books, not just as the one who ended Uribe’s war, but as the one who achieved peace.
It's premature to predict those far-reaching scenarios. And even more with a government that doesn’t seem to have been in office for the 50 days that it has, but for several months, or even years: a lot of things have happened in this short term. So far, it’s undeniable that Juan Manuel Santos, thanks to a combination of accuracy, planning and good luck, gave his presidency a good start. And to that purpose, the death of ‘Jojoy’ is certainly very "welcome".