Colombia changes Finance minister but confirms open-economy business friendly policy
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos moved Energy Minister Mauricio Cardenas to head the finance post on Thursday in a surprise move. At the midpoint of his four-year term, Santos asked all 16 ministers to resign, including Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverry, and set the stage for a cabinet shuffle aimed at shoring up his slumping approval ratings.
It was not immediately known when Cardenas, 50, who holds a doctorate in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, would take on his new role.
Santos, after naming Cardenas, said he was designed to be finance minister. He previously held ministerial posts in economic development and transport. Among other posts that may also be changed in the coming days are education, health, interior, agriculture and defense, according to government sources.
Cardenas, who helped preside over a boom in the mining and oil industries, will also represent the government on the central bank's board and seek ways to bolster growth in an economy that is being hit by the international financial crisis.
Once an investment pariah as drug-trafficking insurgents kidnapped, killed and attacked rural areas with bombs, Colombia has seen a dramatic turnaround in the last decade, attracting record foreign investment.
Together with Peru they have become the main magnet for foreign investors in the region based on a business friendly atmosphere and abundant mineral and energy resources.
The Colombian central bank meets Friday to vote on whether to cut the benchmark lending rate from 5%. Echeverry is expected to attend that meeting.
Santos has been under pressure from a constant stream of criticism from former President Alvaro Uribe and a growing number of attacks by the narco-leftist guerrillas denting his once commanding popularity.
Santos did not say who would be the next minister of mines and energy.
Known for his lively language and joking with the media, Echeverry will be nominated for a top role in the IMF, Santos said. He is credited with guiding a fiscal rule through Congress that aims to save money during boom times and balance the budget by 2014.
Some analysts said Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón could be among those leaving the cabinet after a rise in assaults by FARC rebels and the perception that security is getting worse.
Santos, credited with some of the biggest blows to the FARC guerrillas, accuses foes of using attacks by rebels as a political weapon and dismisses claims by Uribe and his followers that he is failing on security and planning a truce with the guerrillas, with discussions taking place in Cuba.