Santos has risked Washington's good graces as he assuages neighbors. He extradited, for example, an alleged major Venezuelan drug trafficker back to his homeland even though he was wanted by the United States.

"In contrast to the very solicitous relationship that Uribe had, Santos has adopted a much more pragmatic and distant approach," said Cynthia Arnson, Latin America director at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

That included shelving an agreement made under Uribe to expand the U.S. military footprint at Colombian bases.

Yet Santos, a social progressive but military hawk who was defense minister in 2006-2009, can boast of making Latin America's fourth most-populous nation a lot safer.

Afflicted by the mayhem of drug cartels in the 1990s, when leftist rebels controlled about half the national territory, Colombia is now a country where a U.S. president finally feels comfortable enough to spend a night.


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