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Colombia’s Risky Peace Gambit

11:05 AM, Oct 3, 2013 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
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In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was a global murder capital held hostage by warring drug cartels. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it looked like a potential failed state. These days, it is described as “Latin America’s rising star,” “Latin America’s rising oil star,” “Latin America’s latest economic miracle,” “an economic powerhouse,” and “a magnet for foreign investment.”


While the story of Colombia’s resurgence has become old news, it has not become any less remarkable. A country where violence once seemed uncontrollable is now a darling of global investors and one of the most promising emerging-market economies in the world.

About a week before George W. Bush took office in January 2001, a San Antonio Express-News dispatch from Bogotá described Colombia as a nation “engulfed on all sides by violence and war.” Eight years later, when Bush was about to leave the White House, things in Colombia had improved so dramatically that he awarded then-President Álvaro Uribe with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, praising him as someone who had “reawakened the hopes of his countrymen and shown a model of leadership to a watching world.”

Uribe’s successor in the Casa de Nariño, Juan Manuel Santos, served as defense minister from 2006 to 2009, during which time Colombia scored a number of major victories in its battle against leftist narco-guerrillas, including the dramatic rescue of French-Colombian politician Íngrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages (three of them Americans) as part of Operation Checkmate in July 2008. The following December, Colombia’s most influential magazine (Semana) named Santos person of the year, declaring that he “may be remembered as the best minister of defense the country has had.”

After Santos became president in 2010, he surprised many Colombians by seeking to improve relations with the late Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chávez, who had previously denounced Santos as a dangerous warmonger. (During the 2010 Colombian presidential campaign, Chávez had warned that Santos “could cause a war in this part of the world, upon instructions from the Yankees.”) Santos also sought a rapprochement with Ecuador, whose president, Rafael Correa, a quasi-authoritarian Chávez disciple, had clashed with Uribe.

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