As had been expected, Juan Manuel Santos, Colomba’s minister of defense since July 2006, turned in his resignation today. A longtime heavyweight in Colombian politics, Santos is considering a run for president in 2010, unless – as appears likely right now – President Ãlvaro Uribe changes Colombia’s constitution to run for a third term. According to Colombian law, cabinet ministers with presidential aspirations must leave office a year before the presidential election. That deadline is imminent.
Santos’ tenure was marked by successes against the FARC guerrillas, including the death of two Secretariat members and the killing or capture of dozens of commanders, as well as the bloodless July 2008 rescue of fifteen hostages. Along with technocratic vice-ministers Juan Carlos PinzÃ³n and Sergio Jaramillo, Santos made “consolidation” the key word of his strategy. Instead of simply launching bruising large-scale military offensives, he sought to apply counterinsurgency doctrine more comprehensively than his predecessors. He directed more resources to intelligence, encouragement of guerrilla desertion, and programs to bring non-military government presence into stateless areas. He also enacted a series of human rights directives [PDF] that had no precedent in the history of Colombia’s security forces.
However, two and a half years is not enough to bring about deep cultural change, as the “false positives” scandal made clear. And particularly where human rights are concerned, Santos was a tepid reformer at best. He denied the severity of the “false positives” allegations, even attacking non-governmental investigators’ credibility as late as September 2008 and January 2009. In public statements, he has falsely sought to tie opposition politicians and journalists to the guerrillas.
Who will President Uribe name to replace Santos as the fifth defense minister of his administration’s first seven years? The list of most likely replacements includes the following, notes an analysis piece in El Tiempo:
- Gen. Freddy Padilla de LeÃ³n, the current head of the armed forces, who would retire from the military before assuming this post, which has been held by a civilian since 1991.
- Juan Carlos PinzÃ³n, a young official currently serving as one of Santos’ vice-ministers of defense.
- Rodrigo Rivera, a former Liberal Party senator and presidential primary candidate who has become a vocal Uribe supporter.
- Luis Carlos Villegas, head of Colombia’s National Association of Industrialists (ANDI).