The beginning of Santos’ administration has had a great international participation and an ambitious agenda in foreign affairs. Reestablishing diplomatic relations with Ecuador, normalizing (and improving) the existing ones with Venezuela and having an overall good performance in the region, Santos and Holguín are starting to be recognized as good internationalists.
Just this month, the president is going to attend the 20th Iberoamerican Summit in Argentina, then to the United Nations and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the International Criminal Court and then he is going to travel to Mexico to attend the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun.
Santos’ international actions are not only giving him a good image both inside and outside the country (as many are surprised with his performance in the first 100 days in office) but it also reflects two important facts: First, Colombia has traditionally been very respectful of International Law (although Uribe’s administration had some exceptions) and very committed to multilateralism. Second, Colombia’s greatest presidents have usually been superb internationalists.
Last month, Fundación Liderazgo y Democracia (leadership and democracy foundation), along with 20 of the best historians of the country, conducted a study about 42 Colombian presidents. As a result, a ranking was produced and it was published by Semana. Out of the top ten presidents, 7 had great achievements in international relations, either in or out of office. The highest ranked president was Alberto Lleras Camargo (1958-1962), one of the authors of the Alliance for Progress, the first Secretary General of the OAS and the author of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (IATRA).
Carlos Lleras Restrepo (1966-1970), ranked third, was one of the creators of the Andean Group for the region’s integration and gave Colombia a preferential place in the Alliance for Progress. Fourth and fifth are Francisco de Paula Santander and Simón Bolívar respectively, our country’s founding fathers and first presidents. The sixth is Enrique Olaya Herrera (1930-1934), who faced a war with Peru through both military and diplomatic means, achieving peace through the latter.
Eduardo Santos (1938-1942), ranked eighth, achieved great cooperation in hemispheric security during the Second World War and signed a treaty with Venezuela to define limits. Finally, César Gaviria (1990-1994), ranked tenth, gave way to an open economy, strengthened the Andean Group by creating the Andean Community of Nations and was Secretary General of the OAS from 1994 to 2004.
Ruling a very complex country in a complex world requires that the president and his cabinet understand the international arena and are able to maneuver through whatever relations are established with the neighbors, the region and the world. Failure to do so can mean isolation and being left behind by the progress of interacting and integrating states.
Santos has proved to be well-off in the beginning of his term. Although he wasn’t diplomatic when he served as Uribe’s defense minister, he seems to have learned his lesson and is living up to the new role. If he continues to handle Colombia’s foreign affairs as he has done so far, then there may just be a good place reserved for him in a future ranking of presidents.
Santiago Sosa studies International Business at Universidad EAFIT in Medellin