Bogota, Colombia The former defense minister who emerged from weekend voting as the front-runner in next month’s presidential runoff election said Monday he hopes to restore good relations with Venezuela and Ecuador if he wins.
Juan Manuel Santos, who directed the military under President Alvaro Uribe before making his first run for elected office, said he would seek “in every possible way” to repair ties with the leftist leaders of the two neighboring nations.
“I hope that if I win I can have good relations with the president of Venezuela, with the president of Ecuador,” Santos told The Associated Press at his campaign headquarters.
Santos is a 1973 graduate of Kansas University, where he earned undergraduate degrees in business and economics.
He is one of several members of his family to attend KU. Santos is a member of an elite Colombian family that operates the El Tiempo newspaper, the nation’s largest media operation.
Colombia’s relations with Ecuador were tattered in March 2008 after the Colombian military attacked a camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Ecuador’s territory, close to the border.
Venezuela’s leader, Hugo Chavez, was angered when Uribe’s government signed an accord with Washington last year allowing the U.S. military greater access to bases in Colombia. Uribe, meanwhile, accuses Venezuela of aiding the FARC guerrillas.
Santos, 58, surprised many people Sunday when he finished with 46.5 percent of ballots cast among the nine candidates for president. That was just under the 50 percent threshold that would have given Santos an outright victory.
Opinion polls going into the vote had indicated he was in a tight race with the Green Party candidate, former Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus. But Mockus finished far back, with just 21.4 percent of the votes.
Mockus, also 58, told Caracol radio Monday he was surprised by the results, but said he was pleased to be in the June 20 run-off election.