The President Who Urinated In His Pants While Speaking

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos urinated in his pants while delivering a speech on Sunday. 

The 62-year-old—a prostate cancer survivor—was launching his re-election campaign when a wet spot began to form in the front of his trousers.   

Incontinence is a common but unfortunate side effect of prostate cancer surgery. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, “About 5 to 10 percent of all men who undergo prostate surgery experience mild but permanent stress incontinence, in which a small amount of urine passes while coughing, laughing, or exercising.”

Nonetheless, some critics are mocking Mr. Santos for what had to be a mortifying incident.

While such mocking is inappropriate, cruel, and inhumane, the incident did lead to a reasonable question that Mr. Santos would have to address: Is he healthy enough to serve another term?

Juan Manuel Santos Urine

To his credit, President Santos reacted quickly. He delivered a joint press statement alongside his physician and released the same statement in print. 

“Just as soon as this episode occurred, which was obviously quite uncomfortable for me and my family, they started sending the video showing what had happened to me around on the Internet, along with commentaries that were not only offensive but frankly, cruel, following something that could happen to any human being.

But now they are insinuating that I am ill and that therefore I am not prepared to occupy the presidency for four more years.

I want to make it clear, it is not true: I am in perfect health….

For my part, I would like to thank all Colombians who have expressed their understanding and good wishes.

And I must say also that it is very sad, very disappointing, that politics would result from this personal and human situation that could have happened to anyone.”

(The full transcript appears in the comments section below)

President Santos made the right choice by delivering an in-person statement. His tone was direct and mature, and he managed to retain his integrity while discussing a humiliating moment. He scored points simply by showing up and addressing the issue—which, in many cases, helps to diminish the shelf life of a media frenzy.

I’m not sure what the media landscape in Colombia looks like. If this had happened to an American politician, I’d add only one additional crisis management technique: humor. For example, I might advise a politician to accept an invitation to The Tonight Show, where he could exhibit his humanity and humor with a simple line delivered with a smile, such as: “Well, I’ve had better days.”

Mr. Santos should consider three additional precautions: wearing absorbent undergarments (if he’s not already), wearing darker-colored pants, and speaking from behind a full lectern.

I’d like to thank Deborah Brody, a bilingual, D.C.-area marketing communications pro, who transcribed Mr. Santos’s quotes into English. I hope you’ll return the favor by checking out her terrific English-language blog.

Thanks, also, to reader @ConsueCorrales for bringing this story to my attention.