Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | September 21, 2010

Santos ups security

Myles Frechette, a former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, wrote in The Miami Herald, “Chávez expects to buy Colombian silence about FARC guerrilla camps in Venezuela.” Frechette is suggesting the new president, Juan Manuel Santos, is more interested in economic growth, hence trade with Venezuela, than in security. Frechette believes that Santos will make nice with the rest of Latin America, as well as maintain strong ties with the U.S., with the end-result of selling Colombian goods.

I don’t think so. At least not entirely.

For economic growth, Colombia needs a climate of security, at least in the cities and in the economically important areas, to attract investor confidence. President Santos, both a former Economics Minister and former Defense Minister, knows that when it comes to Colombia it won’t work to fiddle with interest rates unless the engines on the Blackhawks are also revved up. Plus, Santos will take a nose-dive in the polls if Colombians feel there is any reversal in security since the very popular Uribe, a hard-liner against terrorists, left office. And, most importantly, Santos, too, will be betting on a reelection in four years; Colombians were clear when Santos was elected that they want him to continue Uribe’s security gains.

So it was that last Saturday, President Santos relaunched “democratic security” as a priority policy. The goals of democratic security, the brain-child of Uribe, are: consolidating state control throughout Colombia, protecting the civilian population, destroying the illegal drug trade, maintaining a deterrent military, and transparently and efficiently managing government resources.

To best demonstrate his commitment to democratic security, President Santos created the office of “High Security Advisor,” and appointed Sergio Jaramillo, a former Deputy Defense Minister, to the post. Jaramillo’s work will focus on countering a recent wave of guerrilla attacks, while coordinating strategy with the Defense, Foreign and Interior and Justice Ministries. Moreover, Santos created the office of “High Councilor of Civil Society,” and appointed Afredo Rangel, also a former Defense Minister, to the job. Rangel will concentrate on inner city gangs, such as the ones that have plagued Medellin’s poorer neighborhoods, and will work with the local, departmental and national levels of government.

Proof of just how serious Santos is about security is the death of 22 FARC members in Putumayo, near the Ecuadorean border, last Sunday. Santos called it the most severe blow to the FARC in the recent months. The Colombian army took care to not offend Ecuador by containing the fighting within Colombia, and Ecuador cooperated by mobilizing troops to prevent the FARC from crossing into Ecuador. Mr. Santos said he had given “clear orders” to the security forces to “continue giving these kind of blows without treaty or quarter.”

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