Colombia’s Santos Sees a Future With Less FARC

BY Michael D. Mosettig  September 24, 2010 at 12:50 PM EST

The president got the news on his cell phone of a successful anti-guerrilla raid while jogging through New York’s Central Park. But the president was not Barack Obama learning of the latest U.S. special operation in Yemen or Pakistan. It was Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, hearing of a combined bombing and special forces attack that killed a leader of the guerrilla group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on Thursday.

“We struck at the heart of the headquarters of the FARC,” President Santos told a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations. Not only was a guerrilla mastermind, Jorge Briceno, killed in the raid, but Colombian forces also seized 14 computers and 60 discs with valuable intelligence information, the president said. “We will break the center of gravity of the FARC,” he added.

Recently elected in a landslide victory, Santos said his country no longer was the failed state of 20 years ago that has won billions of dollars in U.S. aid to combat the FARC, right wing paramilitaries and a thriving drug cartel. Rather than controlling barely a third of the nation, he said the government’s writ now extends through the entire country.

But the 40-year drug war is hardly over, Santos added. “As long as yuppies on Fifth Avenue continue to snort coke, we will have problems,” he said. The production and shipping of drugs are still a national security issue for the nation of more than 45 million people.

Santos, who did graduate studies in London and Massachusetts, spoke in flawless English to the Council gathering, one of several built around the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

The president presented an upbeat view of his country as a dynamic and well managed economy, with a citizenry more optimistic than many in Europe or parts of the United States while still grappling with bringing to justice human rights violators from the worst days of the drug war. He also appealed to President Obama and Congress to ratify a long-stalled free trade agreement.