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.
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.