Ex-Colombia president stripped of US visa makes comeback as promoter of South America unity

A former Colombian president stripped of his U.S. visa two decades ago for taking payments from the nation's biggest drug cartel is making a political comeback.

Ernesto Samper was sworn in Thursday at a ceremony in Venezuela's capital of Caracas as secretary general of the 12-member Union of South American Nations.

Analysts say Samper's traction among leftist, anti-American governments could help bridge the region's political divide. In recent interviews he said his goals for the regional group include jumpstarting stalled dialogue between Venezuela's government and the opposition, and helping Colombia sign a peace deal with Marxist rebels.

Samper as president regularly faced off with the U.S., which maintains he knew about payments to his 1994 campaign by the now-defunct Cali cartel.