BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Highlighting the importance of political pluralism, the freedom of the press and a democracy that respects the opposition, Juan Manuel Santos became Colombia’s president on Aug. 7 upon receiving the presidential sash from the president of Congress.
Juan Manuel Santos reiterated he will focus on national unity and improving the quality of life nationwide during his speech at the Plaza de Bolívar in the country’s capital.
“If we hope to achieve full social and economic development, together we have to build unity,” he said.
Juan Manuel Santos, 58, said one of his biggest challenges will be lowering the country’s poverty rate, which is 26%, according to the Departamento Nacional de Planeación of Colombia (Department of National Planning).
“If we overcome the challenge of poverty, Colombia’s intellectual and economic potential will take off like an uncontainable force,” Juan Manuel Santos said.
Juan Manuel Santos no stranger to political office
Álvaro Uribe, the outgoing president, was among the 5,000 in attendance to see Juan Manuel Santos take office. Juan Manuel Santos served as the foreign trade minister under President César Gaviria from 1991-1993, and from 2000 to 2002, he oversaw the Treasury and Public Credit Ministry during Andrés Pastrana’s administration. He was the minister of defense under Uribe from 2006 to 2009.
“Let us all support President Juan Manuel Santos and his government, so that this may be a great period of prosperity for the homeland, with fairness,” Uribe said during his farewell speech broadcast nationally on Aug. 5. “I am grateful to the soldiers and to the police, to the members of the armed forces of the homeland. We have to love them, to support them, to cooperate with them so that they may always respond to us and keep our nation safe.”
Juan Manuel Santos said his office will treat the country’s fight against terrorism very seriously, just as Uribe did during his two terms.
“Within the willingness and the strength of more than 45 million good Colombians, a tiny minority persists, with terrorism and drug trafficking, trying to block our path to prosperity,” Juan Manuel Santos said. “We will continue to fight all the illegal organizations without rest or mercy.”
Juan Manuel Santos stressed the importance of repairing diplomatic relations with Venezuela, which were severed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on July 22. Chávez cut ties with Colombia after Uribe’s administration went before the Organization of American States and alleged Venezuela was harboring members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
“One of my main objectives as president will be to rebuild the relationships with Venezuela and Ecuador, to reestablish faith and stress diplomacy and common sense,” said Juan Manuel Santos before other Latin American presidents in attendance, including Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Peru’s Alan García.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez absent
Hugo Chávez did not travel to Bogotá, instead sending Foreign Affairs Minister Nicolás Maduro.
“We come most ready to move forward, to work, looking toward the future,” said Maduro, as reported by EFE.
Colombia’s recently appointed Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín said in a joint media conference with Maduro that Hugo Chávez is expected to meet with Juan Manuel Santos in Bogotá on Aug. 10 to “seek a direct and frank dialogue with Venezuela.”
Colombians are hopeful that Juan Manuel Santos’ administration will continue the many successes of Uribe during his eight years in office.
Álvaro Arias, 29, said Juan Manuel Santos’ taking over for a president who had a 70% approval rate works to his advantage.
“What Santos needs to do is correct what is bad and improve on what has been done up until now,” said Arias, who has a degree in engineering from the Universidad Nacional de Antioquia.
Tatiana Giraldo, a 31 year-old physical therapist who lives in Medellín, said Juan Manuel Santos arrives at the Nariño House with the task of improving safety nationwide.
“Santos will receive a country that feels more confident, a country that does not fear the guerrilla or the paramilitary groups like it did 8 years ago, a country where you can travel without fear, but in which there is a level of violence on the streets that has to be resolved,” Giraldo said.
Juan Manuel Santos, who was the deputy director of the newspaper El Tiempo from 1981 to 1991 and is the great-nephew of former Colombian President Eduardo Santos Montejo (1938-1942), is confident Colombia will thrive while he’s in office.
“Now it is our turn,” he said. “The future is knocking at our door and all of us together will open it to follow the path to prosperity.”