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Santos wins: A vote for continuity in Colombia

June 22, 2010 |  2:23 pm

Juan manuel santos colombia The presidency of Colombia for the next four years is in the hands of Juan Manuel Santos. The former defense minister defeated Antanas Mockus by a margin of more than 40% in Colombia's presidential runoff on Sunday, Chris Kraul reports in The Times.

Santos' landslide win is a vote for continuity. The former military chief under current two-term incumbent President Alvaro Uribe promised in his campaign to extend Uribe's get-tough approach to guerrilla groups and to cocaine production. Analysts said the rescue of three hostages in rebel captivity announced a week before the voting also boosted the candidate's margin of victory.

Santos, who has never held elected office, assumes the presidency on Aug. 7. More from Kraul:

Santos is expected to continue Uribe's good relations with the United States, which regards Colombia's current leader as its chief Latin American ally and which over the last decade has delivered more than $6 billion in military and development aid to help the country fight drugs and terrorism.

His win also maintains the current ideological polarity in Latin America, between the United States-aligned right led by Colombia and the left led by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Uribe frequently clashed with Chavez, and as Uribe's defense minister, Santos led a 2008 incursion into Ecuador's territory against FARC rebels that heightened regional tensions.

But Santos received congratulations on Monday from both the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador, suggesting better relations with Colombia are possible under a Santos presidency. Santos told an interviewer that he would like to invite Chavez to his inauguration. Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, is ready to attend if invited (link is in Spanish).

The runoff was marked by less violence than previous Colombian elections but was not entirely peaceful. Rebel forces seeking to disrupt the vote killed seven police officers and three soldiers on Sunday, reports said.

A United Nations report released Tuesday notes that coca leaf production in Colombia dropped between 2008 and 2009, and that the world's leader of coca growth is now Peru.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's president-elect. Credit: Semana.com

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