The World-View this week
Pulsamérica considers the foreign policy of Colombian President Santos one year in, while Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega receives a Libyan delegation.
Sunday 7 August marked the first anniversary of the inauguration of Juan Manuel Santos as president of Colombia. Pulsamérica’s Colombia column this week considers the president’s largely very impressive domestic popularity. But what of the view from without?
Perhaps the most significant development in Colombia’s foreign policy under Santos has been his well‑documented rapprochement with his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chávez.
A demonstration of the strength of the bilateral link between the two countries, which has in recent years been blighted by animosity, came this week in the shape of reaction to a statement by the commander of the Colombian armed forces, Édgar Cely.
On Tuesday 2 August, Cely remarked that the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) continue to operate in Venezuela.
Santos countered by saying: ‘We have received, in public and in private, repeated demonstrations by the Government of Venezuela […] that they do not tolerate the presence of delinquents and criminals from Colombia in their territory and they will act with all diligence against them […].’
Chávez, entering the debate three days later, reserved his belligerent remarks for the United States, which he blamed for being behind attempts to return relations between Venezuela and Colombia to their previous ‘sour’ state.
‘Santos has been steadfast in [the defence of the bilateral relationship]’, Chávez added in the same interview.
The story of Santos’s diplomacy does not stop at relations with Venezuela, however. In the past week, the Colombian leader has met with President Felipe Calderón during a visit to Mexico and hosted former Brazilian leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Bogotá.
Santos and Calderón agreed to implement a new free trade agreement between their two countries, discussed security issues — a field in which they share much in common — and signed an extradition treaty. The daily El Tiempo labelled Mexico as ‘a vital ally in President Santos’s vision of Latin American integration’.
In this context, the meeting with Lula, champion of many of the most recent regional initiatives, is significant. Moreover, on a bilateral level, Lula was accompanied by a large, high‑level trade delegation, prompting the same newspaper to brand the Colombia‑Brazil relationship ‘an alliance for the future’.
All this sits awkwardly with Colombia’s recent image as a black sheep in a region seeking increasingly more independence, in particular from the United States, with whom Santos’s predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, maintained a close relationship.
Exactly to what extent regional dynamics have been influenced by policies in Washington or those determined in Bogotá is difficult to determine, although Santos has appeared to adopt a harder line on issues like Colombia’s still pending free trade agreement with the US. It seems safe to conclude, however, that after a year in power, President Santos’s approach to diplomacy has been one, if not of realignment, then of seeking to broaden horizons.
Elsewhere this week, Nicaragua’s President, Daniel Ortega revived his lobbying in defence of the beleaguered Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
As Pulsamérica reported when the United Nations sanctioned air strikes against the Gaddafi regime in February, Ortega is one of the most fervent supporters of the Libyan dictator.
The Nicaraguan this week received a delegation from Libya and used the opportunity to reiterate his characterisation of NATO as a ‘terrorist’ organisation that is carrying out ‘genocide’ in the North African country.
Ortega noted that the majority of African and Latin American countries recognise the Gaddafi regime as the legitimate government of Libya and repeated his demand for a NATO ceasefire to allow for dialogue to take place.