Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Colombian president tries to mend fences

In his inauguration speech on Saturday new Colombian president Juan Manual Santos took a conciliatory tone on several domestic and foreign policy issues. In the 72 hours since his talk he has concentrated on mending fences and trying to keep his campaign promise of having a “national unity” government.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is expected to meet with Santos today with the primary aim of normalizing relations between the neighboring states. Political ties between both countries have been weak especially in light of recent accusations accusing Venezuelan officials of knowingly harboring Colombian rebels. In anticipation of the visit Chavez urged Colombia’s FARC to halt the armed struggle and “release all their hostages.”

In addition, both leaders will likely tackle the possibility of restoring billions of dollars in lost bilateral trade. One point of contention could be the possibility that Santos will request the Venezuelan government to pay as much as $800 million to Colombian exporters.

Despite leaving office with high popularity outgoing Colombian leader Alvaro Uribe has left behind plenty of challenges for his successor to tackle. Aside from the rifts with Venezuela and Ecuador, Uribe butted heads with the high courts over several areas including the balance of power between the judiciary and the executive branches. Yesterday, however, Santos met with numerous senior magistrates in order to better promote dialogue and understanding. Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras promised that the government will not “interfere in judicial decisions” beyond procedural steps.

As we mentioned last month, several analysts believed that there’s a rift between Santos and Uribe due to the “hypersensibility of the outgoing president and the independence of the incoming”. According to The Economist:
The new president’s instincts are still undeniably conservative, and no one is expecting wholesale changes to Mr. Uribe’s successful strategy of aggressively confronting the FARC. But voters who were hoping for a more worldly and pragmatic successor to the combative Mr. Uribe should be pleased with Mr. Santos’s debut in office.
Image- AFP (“Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos arrives at Guaranda municipality.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, Financial Times, Reuters, The Latin Americanist, El Espectador, The Economist, El Tiempo

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