Colombia Looks Past Washington

Juan Manuel Santos is not wasting any time. Three days after being inaugurated as Colombia's president, he met Tuesday with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez; the two leaders restored diplomatic ties and reviewed how to better manage their countries' often volatile relationship. U.S. relations with Colombia -- Washington's major Latin American ally over the past decade -- may be on the verge of some important changes as well. Chávez broke off diplomatic relations two weeks ago after Colombia publicly accused Venezuela of harboring rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). But the tough charges were the last hurrah of Colombia's outgoing "democratic security" president, Álvaro Uribe. Ironically, Santos -- who was the notoriously hard-line defense minister under Uribe and won the presidency largely thanks to his immensely popular predecessor -- is shifting gears and adopting the role of conciliator and diplomat in dealing with Chávez. While Santos is familiar with Chávez's unpredictability and knows as well as anyone where the FARC rebels are and what they are up to, he also knows the economic stakes for Colombia: Bilateral trade with Venezuela has dropped from $7 billion in 2008 to less than $2 billion today. Santos and Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, who served as Colombia's ambassador in Venezuela, intend to remain vigilant on FARC while using diplomacy to build confidence between the countries. One promising step was the leaders' agreement to set up a "security commission" to monitor the often chaotic and violent border. Complete article via Washington Post.

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