Santos becomes Colombia's 59th Prez | world | Hindustan Times
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Santos becomes Colombia's 59th Prez

Juan Manuel Santos, sworn in Saturday as Colombia's 59th president, vowed to cement security gains but declared himself open to dialogue with rebels in hopes of ending the Western Hemisphere's only armed conflict.

world Updated: Aug 08, 2010 08:56 IST

Juan Manuel Santos, sworn in Saturday as Colombia's 59th president, vowed to cement security gains but declared himself open to dialogue with rebels in hopes of ending the Western Hemisphere's only armed conflict.

Although he was invited, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was not among the 14 Latin American and Caribbean leaders, including Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, attending Saturday's ceremony on the carpeted cobblestones of Bogota's central plaza. Also absent was Chavez's close ally President Evo Morales of Bolivia.

Chavez broke diplomatic ties with neighboring Colombia two weeks ago after outgoing hard-line President Alvaro Uribe's government presented the Organization of American States with video of alleged Colombian rebel camps in Venezuela.

Chavez did, however, send his foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, who struck a conciliatory tone. "We want to extend our affectionate hand, of friendship and as brothers to all the Colombian people," he said after arriving.

Also attending was President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, which severed ties with Uribe's government in 2008 after the Colombian military raided a guerrilla camp a mile inside its territory, killing a rebel chief and 25 others.

Those ties have been on the mend, however, and Correa's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, said he planned to meet Sunday with his Colombian counterpart "to renew dialogue to establish relations between the two countries."

Santos indicated in his inaugural address that he would be less rigid than Uribe in dealing with Venezuela and other leftist neighbors.

"When governments fight, it's their people who suffer," he said.

Santos, a 58-year-old economist, also indicated his presidency would take a broader approach to ending Colombia's nearly half-century conflict - focusing for one on attacking the nation's deep-seated inequalities at their roots through social programs and job creation.