Santos is a new breed of diplomat at Colombia’s helm
By Juan Forero
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 26, 2010; 10:09 PM
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA – The fiery socialist Hugo Chavez of Venezuela used to deride Juan Manuel Santos as the No. 1 “little Yankee.” Now, as Colombia’s new president, Santos calls Chavez “my new best friend.”
t has been an abrupt shift for Colombia, Washington’s most stalwart ally in the hemisphere and the recipient of $9 billion in U.S. aid over the past three American administrations. But it has not been the only shift. In his four months in power, Santos has taken a series of stands strikingly at odds with those adopted by his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, who was closely tied to the United States.
In two recent interviews with The Washington Post, Santos, 59, said he realizes his moves have raised eyebrows, as much here as in Washington, which has been a steady partner in Colombia’s fight against drug traffickers and a Marxist insurgency. Santos’s landslide victory in a June election, after all, was seen as a message of support for the policies of Uribe.
“They thought that I was going to be a surrogate of President Uribe and simply follow his policies. That was absurd from the beginning,” Santos said. “Uribe is Uribe, and Santos is Santos, and Santos has a different approach.”
But some current and former American officials say they believe the change in power in Colombia has left the United States better off, because many South American leaders viewed Uribe as overly militaristic and had come to distrust him.
In particular, Santos’s decision to heal the long rift between Colombia and Venezuela has won support from the Obama administration, which sees it as playing to American benefit. The approach effectively left Chavez with little case to be made that Washington planned to use Colombia as a platform to invade his country, an argument that Chavez once frequently used to whip up his followers.
Santos is “doing something that’s absolutely fantastic,” Myles Frechette, a former American ambassador to Bogota, said of Santos. “He’s taking Colombia into the 21st century diplomatically. He’s gone out there to engage with the Brazilians and all the others.”
Santos has good relations with both parties on Capitol Hill, and no U.S. lawmakers have criticized his approach. But Republicans who work on Latin American policy have disparaged the Obama administration for being too soft on Chavez.
“They think he should be more confrontational and slap Chavez down,” Frechette said.
Buoyed by an approval rating topping 70 percent, the Santos administration is pushing legislative initiatives to compensate victims of Colombia’s decades-long internal conflict, including those targeted by the state’s security forces. Officials are also working to return to poor farmers up to 10 million acres of land stolen by corrupt politicians and local warlords. One bill winding its way through the congress would use mining royalties to help fund public education.
Rafael Pardo, a former senator who ran against Santos for the presidency, said Uribe would not have pursued those policies.
A tough conservative who looked to Washington for funding and guidance, Uribe worked tirelessly over his eight years as president to weaken a guerrilla group once thought invincible. But his policies were seen as favoring the elites, particularly wealthy landowners. His administration was also tarnished by scandals, the details of which continue to surface, and he left office with Colombia largely isolated in the region.
Santos: ‘Colombia can play a role . . . that coincides with the U.S. interest’
By Juan Forero
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 26, 2010; 7:12 PM
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who was inaugurated Aug. 7 and has taken his country by storm with a wide array of new initiatives, spoke to The Post’s Juan Forero on Dec. 6 in New York and again on Dec. 10 in the Colombian capital, Bogota.
* Santos is a new breed of diplomat at Colombia’s helm
* Santos: ‘Colombia can play a role . . . that coincides with the U.S. interest’
Q: You and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela had been bitter rivals. How did you change that relationship?
A: I told Chavez from the beginning: “Let’s not pretend to change each other’s minds. We think very differently on many aspects but let’s respect our differences, and if we respect our differences we can have cordial relations, and that is in the best interest of both the Venezuelans and the Colombians.” And that is what I have been doing, establishing a cordial relationship under the understanding that he doesn’t mingle in our internal affairs and vice versa.
Q: What did you get out of this new relationship?
A: So far we have done very well in the sense that we have been starting to collaborate on aspects that for us Colombians are very important. We started having trade, he started paying our exporters, he started collaborating in security issues and for the first time he has helped us recover a couple of kidnapped people that were taken to Venezuela.
Q: You also immediately began to try to reestablish relations across the continent, though your closest ally is the United States. What’s your strategy?
A: I have had extremely good relations with the United States and with both parties (Republicans and Democrats), and I hope to continue to have these good relations, which I, again repeating, do not consider to be mutually exclusive with having good relations with Venezuela or Ecuador or whichever country in South America. And as a matter of fact, President Obama, Secretary Clinton and many members of Congress have celebrated that we have improved our relations with Venezuela and with Ecuador.
Q: You speak of “enhancing” the relationship with the U.S., which has long been defined by the war on drugs. What do you mean?
A: We have improved enough [in the security situation] to be able to include other points in our bilateral agenda like education, the environment, like transfer of technology. . . . Let’s really be strategic partners, not in name but in practice. And what does that mean? That means that Colombia can play a role in the region that coincides with the U.S. interest, like for example helping the Central American countries and the Caribbean countries and even Mexico and other South American countries in the fight against drug trafficking.
Juan Manuel Santos a The Washington Post: “Chávez es mi mejor nuevo amigo”
diciembre 27, 2010 11:22 am
El presidente de Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, considera a su colega de Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, su “mejor nuevo amigo”, según una entrevista publicada hoy en el diario The Washington Post, el cual afirma que el acercamiento entre ambos países vecinos es beneficioso para Estados Unidos.
Santos, de 59 años, “ha adoptado una serie de posiciones que contrastan con las de su predecesor, Álvaro Uribe, un firme aliado de Estados Unidos”, añade el diario en un artículo en el que resume dos entrevistas con el mandatario colombiano, que asumió el cargo en agosto pasado.
Colombia ha recibido unos 9.000 millones de dólares de ayuda de Estados Unidos en la última década y Chávez llegó a calificar a Santos, que fue ministro de Defensa en el Gobierno de Uribe, como “el pitiyanqui número uno”.
“En sus entrevistas recientes con el Post, Santos dijo que se da cuenta de que sus acciones han causado perplejidad tanto en Colombia como en Washington, que ha sido un socio en la lucha de Colombia contra los traficantes de drogas y los rebeldes marxistas”, continua el artículo.
De hecho la victoria electoral abrumadora de Santos en la elección de junio pasado se consideró, según el Post, un mensaje de apoyo para las políticas que había llevado a cabo Uribe.
“Pensaron que yo iba a ser un sustituto del presidente Uribe y que, simplemente, continuaría sus políticas”, dijo Santos para recalcar que “eso fue absurdo desde el principio”.
“Uribe es Uribe, y Santos es Santos, y Santos tiene un enfoque diferente”, agregó.
Pero, continuó el Post, “algunos funcionarios estadounidenses creen que el cambio de gobierno en Colombia ha dejado a Estados Unidos en mejor posición porque muchos líderes sudamericanos consideraban a Uribe demasiado militarista y desconfiaban de él”.
La decisión de Santos de superar la prolongada disputa entre Colombia y Venezuela ha obtenido el apoyo del gobierno del presidente Barack Obama que ve en ello un beneficio para EE.UU., indicó el artículo.
El ex embajador estadounidense en Colombia Myles Frechette dijo al diario que “Santos está haciendo algo que es absolutamente fantástico”.
“Santos está llevando a Colombia diplomáticamente al siglo XXI, ha salido abiertamente a dialogar con los brasileños y todos los demás,”, agregó el ex diplomático.
El Post destacó el hecho de que el Gobierno de Santos haya promovido iniciativas para compensar a las víctimas del conflicto interno en Colombia, incluidas las que han sufrido a manos de las fuerzas de seguridad del Estado. EFE
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