Steady in Colombia: Voters re-elect a president with a record of progress

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The second round of Colombia’s presidential election Sunday resulted in a new term for incumbent Juan Manuel Santos, a good outcome in terms of prospects for peace in the troubled country of 48 million.

Mr. Santos, a graduate of the University of Kansas, had been expected to win a second term easily as the initial favorite of his predecessor, President Alvaro Uribe, who had good relations with the United States. But Mr. Uribe went sour on Mr. Santos once he was in office and in this year’s campaign supported his opponent, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who is slightly to the right of the president. Things were not looking so good for Mr. Santos when Mr. Zuluaga finished ahead of him in the election’s first round.

However, during Mr. Santos’ presidency and through the end of the campaign, he played the “peace card,” which went down well with a Colombian electorate that has been contending with civil war for many years. In 2012 he began negotiations with the largest and most stubborn rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC.

Then, in a pre-election coup, Mr. Santos last week announced talks also with a second rebel group, the National Liberation Army or ELN, offering Colombians, if they reelected him, the possibility of a comprehensive end to decades of bombing, fighting, kidnapping and general armed mayhem.

That, plus economic progress during his four-year term, with 4.3 percent growth last year, pushed him over the top on Sunday. He received 51 percent of the votes, with Mr. Zuluaga achieving 45 percent, a smaller margin than Mr. Santos’ in 2010, but still a victory.

Colombia is a key Latin American country for the United States partly due to its role in drug interdiction and has received $8 billion in recent U.S. aid, mostly military in nature. So the election outcome may also be positive for Colombia’s big neighbor to the north.


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