Does Vargas Lleras Really Offer a ”Radical Change” for Colombia?

Vargas Lleras
German Vargas Lleras with President Juan Manuel Santos. (Flickr)

By Angelo Florez de Andrade

EspañolRumors have been swirling in Colombia about whether former Vice President German Vargas Lleras will run for President in 2018.

He resigned from the vice presidency earlier this year, which increased suspicion, and had that resignation approved by Congress.

Those who support Santos will most likely support Vargas Lleras, and even some factions of the opposition Democratic Center party are not so hostile to him. According to recent polls, Vargas would win the first round of presidential elections, raising questions about what his presidency might mean for the country. Let’s take a look:

Radical Change: more than 15 years in power

After Horacio Serpa ran as the Liberal Party’s presidential candidate in 1998, some factions, especially the branch that supports former President Galan, opposed the choice and created a new political movement now known as Radical Change.

Despite the name, the party has supported all Colombian Presidents since its founding. To run against Serpa, it considered putting forward former public prosecutor Alfonso Valdivieso; however, it ultimately decided to support conservative Andres Pastrana.

Pastrana managed to win the 1998 election and several Radical Change members received prominent positions in his government.

Current Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez was appointed Minister of Interior. Humberto de la Calle was tasked with leading negotiations with FARC. Alfonso Valdivieso, Armando Estrada, Rodrigo Villalba and other politicians close to Radical Change were also given positions under Pastrana. However, Germán Vargas Lleras, then-leader of the Colombian movement Siempre, which would later join Radical Change, disagreed with Pastrana on demilitarized FARC zones.


Radical Change and Santos

In 2002, Cambio Radical decided to support presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe. In 2006, they supported his reelection. As in Pastrana’s administration, members of Radical Change were awarded positions on Uribe’s staff. Claudia Blum was appointed Colombian ambassador to the United Nations and Rodrigo Lara served in the anti-corruption bureau (although he resigned after allegations of corruption).

In 2010, Germán Vargas Lleras ran due to a breach Uribe’s support. In the second round, Vargas and his party decided to support Juan Manuel Santos.

After Santos’ win, Vargas’ party received positions inside the government. Vargas himself was appointed Minister of Interior, and subsequently Minister of Housing. Several of his political allies also held positions in Santos’ administration. Nestor Humberto Martinez was chosen by Santos as Minister of the Presidency, and Luis Gilberto Murillo, Elsa Noguera, Luis Felipe Henao, Natalia Abello, Andres Villamizar Pachon became influencers of Radical Change in Santos’ administration at their own positions.

As Minister of Housing, Vargas Lleras was in charge of one of Santos’ trademark programs: the distribution of housing. The minister delivered housing to several citizens presenting them as “free houses.”

Radical Change Alliances

Vargas Lleras’ political movement has experienced several political scandals. One of them was in connection with so-called “parapolitics,” involving the paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. Cambio Radical was the political organization with the highest number of parapolitics connections. Ten of Radical Change’s congressmen were convicted for their involvement. As a result of the investigations, the political party went from having 17 senators in 2006 to eight in 2010.

In addition to its parapolitics scandals, several members of the party are under investigation for alleged corruption. Three of the most prominent politicians elected by Radical Change in 2016 were dismissed.


Radical Change has participated in all Colombian governments since 1998. The party had ministers in the governments of Andres Pastrana, Alvaro Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos. In spite of the evident ideological differences between them, Radical Change has adapted to the each administration’s different ideological agendas and therefore obtained a significant influence. Though politicians can change ideologies, it seems difficult for Vargas Lleras’ government to bring about a radical change for the country, since its closest advisers have been linked to power for many years.

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