In his first press conference as Colombia’s president-elect, Juan Manuel Santos comments on future international relations policy with neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela, as well as with ally the U.S.
Santos announced that he had received a phone call from Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa congratulating his victory at the polls in Sunday’s second round presidential election.
Santos reiterated his disposition to restore fractured diplomatic relations between the neighboring Andean nations and said “I spoke with President Correa this morning – he called me – we had a very pleasant dialogue on how to find a route to improve relations even more and accelerate that process.”
The president-elect also acknowledged the Venezuelan government’s congratulations published in a press release, which he said he ” appreciates and values greatly, is a positive first gesture towards the aim of restoring relations for the sake of our peoples.”
“I don’t want to rush into saying how we will act, but I value this press release as very positive and this gesture by Venezuela, congratulating the Colombian people and me as president-elect, is a very good first step and a good start to the re-establishment of relations,” Santos said.
The former defense minister and one time “enemy of Venezuela” expressed his “best intentions and total availability so that the Venezuelan government feels calm and confident.”
Santos praised Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s “silence” in the lead up to the second round Colombian presidential election, following criticisms of the Venezuelan’s “interference” in the Colombian electoral process.
Regarding the U.S., Santos said his administration will continue to collaborate with the North American nation in the fight against drug trafficking.
“We have to keep fighting drug trafficking, which is and has been for many years, the source of all manifestations of violence that have done so much damage to our country… This fight against drug trafficking is not a fight that Colombia can do alone, it is a fight that also affects other countries and we hope that on the principle of co-responsibility other countries will collaborate in this fight” Santos said.
Santos said that he plans to rest for a few days following the excitement of the elections, but plans to make a tour of the exterior. He said his advisers are working on an itinerary. “By the end of this week we will have a clearer panorama,” he said.
The president-elect has a history of rocky relations with both Ecuador and Venezuela. As defense minister he oversaw the 2008 Colombian army bombing of a FARC camp on Ecuadorean soil, which led to the death of guerrilla leader “Raul Reyes” and 25 others, including an Ecuadorean citizen. The incident led Ecuador to sever diplomatic relations with Colombia, claiming that its neighbor had undermined its sovereignty. Relations are yet to be fully repaired.
Efforts may be complicated due to the issue of an arrest warrant by an Ecuadorean court for Santos, for his responsibility in the 2008 raid.
Relations with Venezuela have been rocky for years but frictions worsened following Colombia’s agreement to give the U.S. increased access to its military bases – a deal that Chavez calls a threat to Venezuela.
Colombia, meanwhile, alleges Chavez’s government has allowed Colombian rebels to take refuge inside Venezuela. Chavez has repeatedly rejected the allegations. Chavez has been outspoken in his dislike for Santos.
Santos on Sunday was elected to be the 2010-2014 president by the Colombian people with 69% of the vote, defeating his opponent, the Green Party’s Antanas Mockus, who only received 28%.
Correa is expected to attend Santos’ swearing in as president on August 7.