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Santos shows he’s no Uribe clone

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the Casa de Nariño in Bogotá Thursday. Photo by Felipe Pinzón, courtesy of SIG.

During his first two weeks in office, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has distinguished himself from his popular predecessor, Álvaro Uribe. While Uribe was bellicose in his dealings with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, Santos has been conciliatory toward the neighboring left-wing governments; while Uribe rejected any negotiations with the left-wing guerrilla organization known as the FARC, Santos has expressed an openness to dialogue; whereas Uribe focused exclusively on the military struggle against the FARC, Santos wishes to address the social and economic inequality that fuels the conflagrations in the countryside; and while Uribe often seemed willing to overlook human rights abuses by the military, Santos has pledged to make human rights a priority in his government.

In his inaugural address, Santos said, “One of my main goals as President will be to rebuild the foreign relations with Venezuela and Ecuador.”

Santos was true to his word to begin dialogue with Chavez “as soon as possible.” Three days after his inauguration, Santos met with Chavez in the coastal city of Santa Marta.

Chavez officially ended diplomatic relations with Colombia in July after Uribe reiterated the accusation that Chavez was providing aid and shelter to the FARC guerrillas, while relations with Ecuador have been cut off since 2008 when the Colombian military crossed the border to attack the guerrillas without the consent of the Ecuadoran government.

Global Post’s John Otis writes that Uribe’s July  “accusations were widely viewed as a parting diatribe.” The Economist alleges that Uribe’s diatribe against Chavez was intended to, “prevent Mr Santos from implementing a more conciliatory foreign policy.”

Whether or not it was Uribe’s intention to limit Santos’ foreign policy options, Santos, who served as Uribe’s minister of defense, has clearly rejected Uribe’s approach to Colombia’s neighbors and the change in administration has been welcomed by Chavez  who said he hopes to, “rebuild what was broken to pieces,” according to the Miami Herald. Colombia Reports quotes Chavez as saying to Santos, “From now on we welcome you, a good friend. We are different, but within the framework of respect we will do fine things.” Read more »