If there were an award for outstanding head-of-state since 2000, my nominee would be Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. His indefatigable leadership has enabled Colombia — which my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting earlier this year — to progress from a lawless state to a reasonably safe and secure democracy.
Uribe is also a staunch ally of both the United States and Israel. President Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the American Jewish Committee gave him its “Light Unto The Nations” award.
In 2004, Colombia amended its constitution to permit Uribe to run for re-election in 2006. He won handily.
As his second term neared expiration, Uribe’s approval rating stood at 76 percent, and a clear majority of Colombians favored his election to a third term. His supporters attempted to amend the constitution again, but the Constitutional Court nixed their proposal, and Uribe abided by its decision.
This set the stage for yesterday’s election. The two leading candidates were Uribe’s former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos and the flaky former mayor of Bogota, Antanas Mockus, who ran as the Colombian Green Party candidate.
Some polls suggested a close contest. Like most economies, Colombia’s has experienced plenty of difficulties in the past few years, and the Uribe administration has also been associated with a few scandals recently.
Nonetheless, Santos trounced Mockus by a margin of 6.7 million to 3.1 million. Because the field was so crowded, Santos fell short of the 50 percent he needed to avoid a run-off. But, having garnered 46.6 percent of the vote and with the third and fifth place finishers also aligned with Uribe, Santos’s election via the run-off seems like little more than a formality.
Uribe will be quite a tough act to follow, and Colombians are likely to demand significant economic improvement — past successes and the maintenance of Colombia’s hard-won security are not likely to be enough going forward. Even so, Santos’s success is good news for Colombia and good news for the United States.
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