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Juan Manuel Santos Inaugurated In Colombia; Says Will Improve Relations With Venezuela, Human Rights

August 9, 2010 By Staff
Juan Manuel Santos was inaugurated as Colombia's president on Saturday.

Juan Manuel Santos was inaugurated as Colombia's president on Saturday.

Today in Latin America

Top StoryJuan Manuel Santos took office as Colombia’s president in a ceremony on Saturday, pledging to renew ties with Venezuela and pay more attention to social issues and human rights, The Washington Post reports.

Santos inherits the popularity of the outgoing conservative Álvaro Uribe administration, which is credited with improving security by delivering devastating blows to a half-century old leftist guerrilla army known by its Spanish initials as the FARC.

But the Uribe administration fared poorly in the realm of human rights. Colombia’s intelligence service, known as the DAS, has spied on and, in some cases, threatened opposition politicians, journalists and human rights workers. Colombia’s military was found to have killed innocent civilians and dressed them up as enemy combatants to inflate casualty statistics, in a scandal that has become known as the “false positives.”

In his speech, Santos opened the door to negotiations with the FARC — a strategy that ex-president Uribe had avoided.

“The door to dialogue is not locked,” Santos said at his inauguration speech, according to The Associated Press. “It is possible to have a Colombia at peace, a Colombia without guerrillas, and we’re going to prove it! By reason or by force!”

One of the key developments following Santos’ inauguration was a breakthrough in Colombia’s fractured diplomatic relations with neighboring Venezuela. The Colombian government announced over the weekend that the newly elected Santos would meet with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Tuesday to discuss how the two leaders could rebuild their frayed relationship.

The tussle between Colombia and Venezuela has caused concern throughout the hemisphere over the last three weeks, and was debated at meetings of the regional group Unasur and the common market alliance Mercosur, which is composed primarily of the countries of the Southern Cone.

“We have much hope that the new government will begin to construct all that Uribe’s government has destroyed,” Chávez said, according to The Miami Herald.

Shortly after the announcement that Santos would meet with Chávez, Uribe took a jab at the Venezuelan president, telling Chávez via his Twitter account to “stop being a coward, sending insults from long distance.”

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa also attended the inauguration and met privately with Santos — a signal that Colombia and Ecuador may take steps toward normalizing diplomatic relations.

In 2008, a Colombian airstrike against a FARC camp located just across the country’s border in neighboring Ecuador angered the Correa administration, which accused Colombia of violating Ecuador’s sovereignty. The Ecuadorian courts later filed charges with Interpol against President Santos, who was then serving as Colombia’s defense minister, for his role in the attack.

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