"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.
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.