President Santos has been building on these positive developments since coming to office. While trying to maintain the military initiative, he has launched an ambitious attempt to "take the water away from the fish" -- to bring peace to the countryside by restoring as much as 12 million acres to owners and implementing a land reform program.
Have Uribe and Santos, in fact, succeeded in chaining the Orangutan? I'm skeptical. Despite all the gains under the last two administrations, neither made a clear break with the system of governance that created Colombia's problems in the first place.
President Uribe invested vast amounts of time and political capital attempting to change the term-limit provision in the constitution so that he could maintain his grip on power -- hardly the work of a devotee to democracy. He succeeded once, but only through an alliance with the politicians elected with paramilitary support in 2002.
The unaccountability of politicians, an important characteristic of the system, has also persisted. One telling example concerns Santos himself, when he was still minister of defense under Uribe, During his tenure, there came to light what Colombians have called the "false positive" scandal. In pressing the military to intensify the conflict with the guerillas, the government offered pay rises and promotions for verified killings. Though this no doubt led to the deaths of many guerilla fighters, it also led to the execution of some 3,000 innocent civilians who were murdered and dressed up as guerillas after the fact. Yet when the scandal broke, Santos did not take any responsibility for the acts of the soldiers under his command.
It's true that violence has fallen in Colombia and that the economy has been doing exceptionally well in the interim. But violence also fell in the 1960s, only to bounce back. Moreover, Colombia still suffers from the most unequal distribution of income in Latin America (with the possible exception of Bolivia). And the growth spurt is largely explainable by the temporary global boom in the price of oil and coal, which constitute 60 percent of the country's exports.
The Orangutan is lurking. In the local elections of October 2011, 41 candidates were murdered and countless others were threatened with violence. Perhaps the most revealing statistic about the state of the commonwealth is that the richest tenth of Colombians pay just three percent of their income in tax, while the poorest tenth pay eight percent.
I'd like to believe that good things will beget better things -- that declining violence and faster growth will create a virtuous circle of social progress. But I fear Colombia is still the Colombia where the tuxedo fits the Orangutan all too well.