Can Colombia's Santos unify the Americas?
Building consensus is important as the Americas struggle with high crime and violence. At this weekend's Summit of the Americas in Colombia, all eyes are on President Santos.
(Page 2 of 3)
Santos has not only pushed Colombia closer to the center, analysts say. He has also sought to unify countries on opposite ideological spectrums, mending the tense bilateral relationship with Venezuela, while most recently defusing a standoff between the US and leftist leaders who were promising to boycott the OAS summit if Cuba, which does not belong to the group, was not at the table.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"There are sharp divisions [in Latin America], and the region … is moving in different directions," says Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue. "If you are going to deal with the main regional problem, which is citizen security, you have to work together…. There is a real need," Mr. Shifter says.
Deft resolution to Cuba controversy
The brouhaha over Cuba's participation in the regional summit is, in many ways, a microcosm of the divides that have grown in the Americas in the past decade.
Cuba has not been part of the OAS since 1962. But Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa rallied the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas, a bloc of left-leaning nations, to protest Cuba's exclusion by possibly not showing up to the 34-nation meeting. Cuba's presence could have, in turn, led to a US boycott.
Santos flew to Havana and brokered a resolution: Cuba is not invited to the summit, yet the country's future inclusion will be on the agenda.
Prior to the Cuba-OAS standoff, Santos helped broker the return of Honduras to the OAS after it was expelled for the 2009 ousting of former President Manuel Zelaya. He has also traveled extensively, trying to export Colombia's security know-how, after leadership reined in decades of kidnapping and violence fueled by battles among leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and the state. Santos has also joined sitting presidents in supporting a robust debate on drug legalization, a clear deviation from US policy.
Santos is not the first person to try his hand as a regional diplomat, of course. Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, sought the same role for the early part of the past decade, rallying countries through his anticapitalist rhetoric and oil-revenue-generated international aid packages. But his vitriolic anti-Americanism has led many to distance themselves from him.
Brazil – with its sheer size, making up nearly 50 percent of South America, and its economic influence as a powerful emerging market – is a logical leader for the region. The country has gone further than most nations in the Americas on the international stage, and has been a strong regional leader in the past, particularly under former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.