Kennedy School Alumnus Elected President of Colombia

June 24, 2010
by Doug Gavel

A South American nation in the throes of an economic and political renaissance is turning to a Harvard Kennedy School graduate to lead it forward over the next four years. Juan Manuel Santos MC/MPA 1981 was elected president of Colombia in a two-candidate run off on June 20th and will take office in mid-July.

Santos, a former defense minister and minister of foreign trade, is considered similiar in style and tone to the current president, Álvaro Uribe, who is credited with having restored law and order in the county following years of drug problems and violence. The president-elect is also considered a friend of both Europe and the United States, having attended the London School of Economics and the Kennedy School.

Ricardo Hausmann, the director of the Kennedy School’s Center for International Development who worked with Santos for many years while serving in the Venezuelan government and at the Inter-American Development Bank, gives the president-elect high marks.

“Juan Manuel is the president with the strongest CV I can remember. He has had to deal with the most difficult problems from the most senior positions of government,” Hausmann said. “He is smart, honest, experienced and hardworking. He has vision and has a calm and strong leadership style.”

Santos will face three major challenges the moment he assumes office, according to Hausmann.

“First, he needs to promote job creation. Jobs are Colombia's main economic headache,” Hausmann remarked. “Second he must settle the FARC insurgency. Finally he must deal with two hostile neighboring countries: Ecuador and especially, Venezuela.”

Colombia remains a major recipient of U.S. assistance dollars – as much as $4.5 billion in military and police aid during the Uribe administration – but the aid dollars are expected to shrink in the coming years.

But despite the anticipated reduction in foreign aid, Hausmann believes Santos will succeed in efforts to keep Colombia on the right track.

“He has all the personal skills he needs plus a strong majority in Congress. Things look good for Colombia,” Hausmann said.

Photo by Edgar Alberto Domínguez Cataño.

Juan Manuel Santos at the April 2010 World Economic Forum in the session on Economic and Social Investment Opportunities in Colombia. Photo credit, Edgar Alberto Domínguez Cataño.

Ricardo Hausmann

Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Center for International Development.

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