Colombia’s New Defense Chief Promises Continuity
By Dialogo July 30, 2010
President-elect Juan Manuel Santos named Rodrigo Rivera as Colombia’s
next defense minister on Wednesday, picking a former member of Congress with a
history of supporting tough security measures.
Rivera will head Colombia’s fight against leftist guerrillas from next
month, when outgoing President Alvaro Uribe hands over power to Santos.
“The idea is to continue and consolidate the security policies that
were so brilliantly applied over the last eight years,” Rivera, 47, told
Uribe is the most popular leader in Colombian history for his U.S.-backed
crackdown on drug-running rebels who have been fighting the state since the 1960s.
Colombia’s cities and highways have become safer since Uribe first took office
in 2002, prompting a sharp increase in investor confidence.
Former senator and presidential candidate German Vargas Lleras was named
interior and justice minister. He will be in charge of the government’s
relations with Congress and the courts once Santos becomes head of state on Aug.
The incoming president is expected to move quickly to mend ties with
neighboring Venezuela, where leftist President Hugo Chavez has cut off relations
with Colombia in the latest crisis to hit a volatile Andean region plagued by
clashing ideologies, guerrilla armies and cocaine smuggling.
Uribe accuses Chavez of allowing 1,500 guerrillas to live in dozens of camps
along Venezuela’s jungle frontier, where Bogota says they are free to plan
attacks against Colombia.
Chavez dismisses the accusation, saying it is part of a Washington-backed
plan to invade his oil-rich country. He has said he hopes to improve relations with
Colombia once Santos, himself a former defense minister, is in power.
Chavez halted trade with Colombia last year to protest a deal allowing U.S.
forces to use Colombian air bases for anti-drugs operations. The halt has nearly
dried up what was once a $7 billion per year commercial relationship.
Outgoing Defense Minister Gabriel Silva has been named Colombia’s next
ambassador to the United States, which has given billions of dollars in military aid
to the country.