By: Mark Fitzgerald
In 1990, as the young editor of his family’s newspaper, El Tiempo, Francisco Santos was kidnapped off a street in Bogot?, Colombia, by Pablo Escobar’s Medell?n cocaine cartel and held hostage for eight months. When he was at last released, “Pacho” was famous and his family exultant.
Santos went back to running the nation’s biggest daily with his brothers and cousins, but, in 2000, he was once more caught up in Colombia’s vicious cycle of violence: He learned the left-wing rebel army known as the FARC was planning his assassination. He fled Colombia for Spain, where he became assistant to the publisher of Madrid’s El Pa?s and sent a column to Bogot? every week.
Less than two weeks ago, Pacho Santos, now 40, returned to Colombia, but this time there was no warm welcome home from his family. He was stripped of his job and column — and barred “for life” from working at El Tiempo again.
His publishing family was outraged at his decision to run as vice president on a ticket with Alvaro Uribe Velez, whose campaign message of getting tough with the FARC has propelled him to front-runner in next month’s presidential race.
Pacho’s choice was “disconcerting and painful” to his paper and family, an El Tiempo editorial complained: “Painful, because it appears his mistaken decision will hurt the credibility of the newspaper and discredit so many years of effort to distance this daily from political and partisan connections, and to be clearly independent of public and private power.”
Pacho is not the first Santos to be, in effect, excommunicated from the paper. Ten years ago, Juan Manuel Santos, then its managing editor, was removed permanently when he became a minister of foreign trade. In his first comment about Pacho’s run, El Tiempo‘s current co-director, Enrique Santos, let it be known that Francisco “was the principal critic in the family of Juan Manuel’s departure for a political life.”
Ironically, back in the 1930s, Eduardo Santos took time out as El Tiempo‘s publisher to serve as Colombia’s president, noted Russell Crandall, an expert on the country at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C. The idea of separating the paper and politics emerged during the drug violence of the 1980s, Crandall said. “What the family fears is that Pacho’s decision will reinforce the old beliefs of many enemies that the paper is tied to the oligarchy and the land-holding interests,” Crandall said.
During the 1990s, Pacho Santos created the nonpartisan “Pa?s Libre” foundation that at one point mobilized 10 million people — in a nation of 36 million — to participate in a mock vote against kidnapping. Uribe is counting on those human-rights credentials to soften his own image as a friend of Colombia’s brutal right-wing paramilitaries.
“I don’t believe I’m betraying the legacy,” Pacho said in an interview with El Tiempo. “This is a family that’s always lent service to the motherland. I’m sure my father is looking down from above — smiling.”