Four weeks before his August 7 inauguration, president-elect Juan Manuel Santos is already using the occasion to alter the tone of Colombian foreign policy. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez have both been invited to the ceremony despite their countries’ strained relations with Colombia, and Mr. Correa has indicated that he plans to attend.
Santos called Correa’s response “a step in the right direction” for the frayed relationship between the neighboring countries. If Chávez is able to attend, Santos said, “It would be big news for us…and we are very happy to have initiated this foreign relations process on the right foot.”
Despite the rhetoric, real obstacles to improved relations and better regional cooperation remain. Ecuador continues to uphold an arrest warrant against Santos, stemming from his role in a 2008 Colombian military incursion into Ecuadorean territory. Last week, the Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo uncovered allegations that Correa’s telephone was secretly wiretapped by Colombia security forces. Mr. Chávez frequently reiterates his view that a 2009 agreement allowing the United States military to use bases in Colombia is a threat to regional security.
On his ongoing tour of Europe, Santos has said his administration’s foreign policy will based on “diplomacy, caution and respect.” His statements could signal a departure from the policies of his predecessor, current president Álvaro Uribe, who cautioned against naiveté on Wednesday and maintained that countries in the region must “undertake to not allow Colombian terrorists on their territory.”