Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he’ll seek a second four-year term in elections next year to ensure talks continue to end a guerrilla conflict that has left 220,000 dead.
“I’m convinced that we have advanced enough and that it is finally possible to reach that future of prosperity and peace that all Colombians deserve,” Santos said last night in a televised speech from the presidential palace. “When you see the light at the end of the tunnel, you don’t step back. We can’t stop half way. We have to finish this task.”
Santos began talks in Havana last November with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a Marxist group that uses extortion and cocaine money to fund its war against the state and multinationals. Santos’ strongest opponent, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga from former President Alvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center Movement, has vowed to end the talks if he is elected.
“Santos’s card is the peace talks, that’s what people will be voting for,” said Juan David Ballen, an analyst at Alianza Valores brokerage in Bogota.
The 62-year-old incumbent would get 27 percent of votes in the first round, compared to 14.9 percent for Zuluaga and 12 percent for ex-guerrilla leader Antonio Navarro Wolff, according to a Gallup poll published Nov. 12. Elections will be held in May.
Zuluaga, a former finance minister who accuses Santos of squandering security gains made under Uribe, would lose to Santos in a second round of voting, the poll found.
The number of Colombians with a favorable image of Santos rose to 29 percent in October, from a record low 21 percent in August, when farmers and truck drivers staged nationwide protests amid discontent with the economy.
The peso has rallied 48 percent over the last decade, the biggest gain of 24 major emerging market currencies tracked by Bloomberg, hurting coffee, flower and banana growers even as oil and mining boomed.
Gross domestic product growth averaged 5.4 percent during Santos’s first two full years in office, compared with an average of 3.4 percent over the previous two decades. The increase was boosted by record foreign investment and a surge in production of oil, coal and gold.
Since taking office in August 2010, Santos has cut taxes on foreign bond holders and implemented free-trade deals with the U.S. and others.
Oil exports rose to $31.6 billion last year, from $16.5 billion in 2010, accounting for 52 percent of the Andean nation’s exports.
In Havana, government and FARC negotiators have so far reached agreements on land reform and on the rebels’ participation in politics, the first two points of a six-point agenda.
The FARC continues to control swathes of Colombia’s mountains and jungles, and launch attacks on army patrols and the oil industry, even after Santos’s government tracked down and killed the group’s two top leaders. Santos rejected the guerrillas’ offer of a cease-fire during the talks, to prevent them from regrouping.
The Ministry of Defense reported 147 attacks on oil pipelines in the first nine months of this year, up 18 percent from the same period a year earlier.