Bogota, Colombia A former defense minister from a powerful political clan who oversaw a major weakening of leftist rebels won Colombia’s presidency Sunday, routing an eccentric outsider in a runoff.
The victory for Juan Manuel Santos, a 58-year-old economist and three-time government minister, was a ringing endorsement of outgoing conservative President Alvaro Uribe, whose U.S.-backed security policies he helped craft and promised to continue.
Santos graduated from Kansas University in 1973 with degrees in business and economics.
With nearly all polling stations reporting, Santos had 69 percent of the vote against 28 percent for former two-time Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus.
Mockus ran an anti-corruption campaign atop a fledgling Green Party that many Colombians considered naive if well-intentioned. But after catapulting into early contention he stumbled with a series of gaffes that had Colombians questioning his ability to run a country mired in a half-century-old conflict.
Violence marred Sunday’s vote as seven police officers and three soldiers were killed in separate attacks blamed on leftist rebels, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the country’s largest rebel band.
Santos, a former naval cadet, paid tribute to those losses in his victory speech, promising to work with Colombia’s armed forces to “consolidate control over every inch of our territory.”
“Time is up for the FARC,” he said. There will be no dialogue with the rebels as long as they continue to engage in kidnapping and drug trafficking, he said.
As defense minister in 2006-09, Santos helped knock the wind out of the FARC. Two members of its seven-man ruling secretariat were killed during his tenure and FARC desertions soared. He also oversaw the bloodless 2008 ruse that rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three U.S. military contractors and 11 others from long captivity with the rebels.