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 3 of 3)
But its sustained economic growth has created an asymmetry with the rest of Latin America, says Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, a Latin America analyst at the Eurasia Group. In addition, the country is constrained by language – it is the only country in the region that uses Portuguese – and a historic fear of being perceived as imperialist by its neighbors, Mr. Castro Neves says. And Brazil's current president, Dilma Rousseff, isn't a career politician and has proved to be less interested in diplomacy. "Rousseff doesn't pay a lot of attention to foreign policy," Castro Neves says. "She's focused on domestic politics more and lets the foreign ministry take care of most of the diplomacy."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The regional leadership some see in Santos can help overcome mistrust and political differences in order to find solutions for the Americas' most pressing issues.
Moving any regional agenda forward has been an increasingly difficult task over the past decade, says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, who worked on the first Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994. For example, in the early 1990s, he says, the region was unanimously united over free trade, but that is now such a divisive issue – and perceived to be an "American" neoliberal policy – that it cannot even be broached.
Most recently, a boycott from either the US or left-leaning countries siding with Ecuador in the Cuba-OAS case last month would have been an embarrassment to Colombia.
A Bill Clinton-esque leader
Though Santos has the will to step up as a leader, even likening himself to former US President Bill Clinton, according to Shifter, he is also the beneficiary of a changing political climate that allows for someone with his skills and background to step into the limelight. Relations with the US are better now than they were in the past decade, and President Obama is personally liked in the region. As a result, Colombia's relationship with the US is less of a political liability, especially, Castro Neves says, because a more centrist vision is taking root in the Americas as a whole. "[The region] is much less radical today in its foreign policy than it was just a few years back," he says.
"I'm optimistic because leaders are meeting more, communicating more, sharing information more, and proposing policies that they share," says Roberto Izurieta, head of the Latin America Department at The George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management.
For success, Mr. Izurieta says, "you just need the minimum of working together with your neighbors and establishing a plan."
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.