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Can Colombia's Santos unify the Americas?

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"Santos has taken several steps to assert Colombia's position regionally and globally," says Arlene Tickner, a political analyst at the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. So far, she says, he is proving to be adept in the role. "He is much more efficient in trying to create bridges between the left and the right in the region."

When Mr. Santos was elected president in 2010, few believed he would veer from the path of his predecessor and former boss, Álvaro Uribe, who moved Colombia closer to the US with his hard-line security views. Santos served as defense minister under Mr. Uribe, raising concerns about his human rights record. But by many accounts, he has brought more transparency to local institutions. And his shift away from the US was evident early; in his inaugural address, he said he would prioritize relations with Venezuela and Ecuador – and didn't even mention his large neighbor to the north.

"In a relatively short period of time, he totally put into reverse Colombia's traditional policies," says Larry Birns, head of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Among those policies, he says, was Colombia's strong pro-US stance, hostility toward Venezuela, support for the Plan Colombia model of fighting the drug war, and hard-line security policies.

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