Juan Manuel Santos wins presidential election in show of support for peace process

News from Colombia | on: Monday, 16 June 2014

Colombian voters have elected Juan Manuel Santos to be President of Colombia for a second four-year term. The second round of voting had seen the incumbent Santos in a run-off with Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, a candidate backed by the ex-president Alvaro Uribe and a fierce critic of the peace process which has seen the government in talks with the FARC-EP since late 2012. The election was seen by many as a preliminary referendum on the peace process and indeed Santos, who had come in second place to Zuluaga in the first round of voting, was no doubt aided by the support given by a so called peace coalition, including many on the left, that came together in support of Santos in order to ensure that the peace process continued and that there was no return to the open belligerence towards human rights as would have been expected if Zuluaga were to win.

Whilst Santos’ victory is a significant one for the continuation of the peace process, this should not cloud the fact that the socio-economic reality for Colombia’s most marginalised, and the human rights situation for trade unionists and other social and political activists continued to be seriously problematic during the four years under President Santos. His economic policies continued to favour large scale transnational mining projects causing considerable damage to local peasant communities and his commitment to international free trade deals such as with the United States and the European Union are deemed to have such a detrimental effect on small and medium scale agricultural production that last year Colombian farmers carried out the largest industrial action seen for several decades. Whilst there was a significant improvement in the rhetoric towards trade unionists and human rights defenders, the irony was that there were not similar improvements seen in the number of activists threatened or killed. 2013 was in fact the most dangerous year for over a decade to be a human rights defender with 78 reportedly killed. 27 trade unionists were also killed. And the impunity rate of well over 90% for these crimes remained. Whilst on the one hand Santos painted the image of a government more tolerant to political opposition, with the same brush ministers repeatedly linked social activists to the guerrillas, particularly during the different strike actions that have taken place over the last year. Many activists have been imprisoned as a result.

Yet Santos’ achievement in his first four years and the reason for which his victory yesterday over Zuluaga was indeed a positive one rests on his initiation of a peace process with Colombia’s largest guerrilla organisation, the FARC-EP, and the initiation of preliminary talks with the second guerrilla force, the ELN. The political movements, the trade unions and the social activists that “lent” their vote to Santos will now continue their activities as part of the broad political opposition demanding that there is not just a continuation of the peace process, but that it is intrinsically linked to a greater respect for human rights, increased guarantees for political activists, and a genuine focus on the social needs of the country’s most marginalised.

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