Close on the heels of an escalating conflict with Venezuela, Colombia ushered in a new regime over the weekend and swore in a new President, Juan Manuel Santos. Mr. Santos immediately struck a conciliatory note towards Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who recently severed ties with Colombia after a conflict with its former President, Alvaro Uribe.
Speaking shortly after being sworn in, Mr. Santos called for Colombia to improve relations with its neighbours, saying, “One of my main goals as President will be to rebuild the relationships with Venezuela and Ecuador, to re-establish the trust, diplomacy and prudence.” Mr. Santos is set to meet with Mr. Chávez on Tuesday.
Hostilities between the two countries were sparked at a meeting of the Organisation of American States in Washington earlier last month, when Colombian Ambassador Luis Hoyos, produced what he alleged was documentary evidence that Venezuela was housing camps of the rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on its soil.
Responding immediately President Chávez severed ties with Colombia describing the Colombian accusations as a “United States-inspired aggression”. Further Mr. Chávez said on state television, “We have no other choice but, out of dignity, to totally break our relations with our brother nation of Colombia.”
Apart from Venezuela, Mr. Santos is also likely to take up the task of mending fences with Ecuador, which also severed ties with Mr. Uribe’s government in 2008 following a raid by Colombian military within Ecuadorian territory.
Challenges of domestic security
He is further likely to face challenges regarding Colombia’s domestic security situation, which is still threatened by the FARC rebel group. Addressing the problem of violence and kidnapping by FARC Mr. Santos said during his swearing-in: “As long as they don’t free the hostages, as long as they perpetrate terrorist acts, as long as they don’t return children recruited by force, as long as they keep on planting mines and polluting the Colombian countryside, we will keep on battling those who commit violence, without exception, by any means available.”
The U.S. sent National Security Advisor Jim Jones to attend the inauguration of Mr. Santos and the White House said it sought to send “a clear message that the U.S. will continue its close bilateral ties and strong partnership with Colombia”. Colombia is one of the U.S.’ staunchest allies on a continent in which the U.S.’ influence has been steadily waning.