Colombia Elects A Hard-Liner on Fighting Rebels 

Colombia Elects A Hard-Liner on Fighting Rebels 
Posted by CN Staff on May 27, 2002 at 11:38:28 PT
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post Foreign Service
Source: Washington Post
Colombian voters today chose Alvaro Uribe Velez, a bookish former provincial governor who has promised a more intensive military campaign to end the nation's agonizing civil war, as their next president in an election that was carried out largely free of violence.Uribe won with a large lead over his nearest opponent, former interior minister Horacio Serpa, with his support spread broadly across the war-weary Andean nation. With 98 percent of the ballots counted, Uribe emerged from a six-candidate field with nearly 52.9 percent of the vote. Serpa had 31.8 percent. The abstention rate was 54 percent, higher than it was in the last presidential election.
By winning a majority, Uribe, 49, claimed an unprecedented first-round victory in the election, which became a referendum on how best to end Colombia's long war and whose outcome could signal a broader role for Washington in the worsening civil conflict.Uribe's victory signaled a sharp turn in Colombia's appetite for war over the past four years. It also anointed a new partner for Washington, one whose security-first approach fits more naturally with the Bush administration's war on terrorism than the peace policy favored by the current president, Andres Pastrana, whose decision to engage the guerrillas in negotiations has been largely repudiated by Uribe's victory.Uribe, who ran as an independent in a country that usually selects its presidents from two established political parties, campaigned on a message that a stepped-up military effort against Colombia's two enduring insurgencies is the best path to peace. He has called on Washington to help him implement his plan to double defense spending, create a million-member civilian defense force, and give his military commanders a freer hand in prosecuting a 38-year war now intensifying, driven by the profits of a vast drug trade."From now on we begin to convert our thesis into reality -- democratic security for all," Uribe said in a victory speech. He cited "the thousands of kidnapped Colombians," including presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was seized by rebels three months ago but remained on the ballot, garnering less than 1 percent of the vote."The strengthening of the armed forces is the necessary way to protect civilians and for the complete recovery of human rights," Uribe said. "The international community should know that Colombia has expressed its will to recover its civility and order, that Colombia does not want to be known in the world by its bad news of violence, but that the world also knows of our determination to defeat violence." He also vowed to seek international mediation to end the conflict.The voting today took place largely unhindered by the two insurgencies and a privately financed paramilitary group that has emerged to battle them, despite weeks of threats of violence by the groups intended to influence the outcome. Turnout in Colombia's well-protected urban areas appeared to be high, with lines stretching from many polling stations in the capital, but in the countryside, where the irregular armed groups exert more influence, turnout was much lower.Anticipating guerrilla efforts to sabotage voting, the Colombian government deployed more than 200,000 soldiers, police and other security agents to ensure that the balloting would be endorsed as free and fair by an electoral mission sent by the Organization of American States. Tanks rumbled through the capital, and the additional troop presence was apparent at voting stations, shopping centers and along roads into the city.The effort appeared to be largely successful, although scattered combat and sabotage disrupted balloting in at least three provinces. Interior Minister Armando Estrada Villa said voting had been suspended in eight of Colombia's nearly 1,100 counties because of combat, threats of violence, or stolen and burned election material. Colombian security forces said they prevented at least five acts of guerrilla sabotage. Uribe, who was the target of a guerrilla assassination attempt last month, was given the unprecedented option of voting in one of four undisclosed locations.The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's largest guerrilla army, which emerged in 1964 from a series of rural self-protection forces and now numbers 18,000 armed members, was blamed for most of the disruptions. But there were other obstacles. In the northern province of Magdalena, torrential rain kept thousands of would-be voters from the ballot booth.Pastrana was elected in 1998 on a promise to begin peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym FARC, to end a worsening war that last year killed 3,500 people. Despite skepticism in Washington, Pastrana turned over a 16,000-square-mile tract of southern Colombia to the FARC as an incentive to begin peace talks.But those talks foundered in February as the war intensified, marked by guerrilla attacks on rural towns, paramilitary massacres of civilians in strategic guerrilla zones, and kidnappings of Colombia's elite. Uribe's support, once confined to Colombia's conservative urban elite, has deepened ever since.In a telling sign of the country's hardening attitude, residents of the two provinces that were carved up to create the former guerrilla haven favored Uribe by 3 to 1 over Serpa, who advocated a return to negotiations with the FARC under more restrictive ground rules.Elvira Fernandez, a 50-year-old housewife, said she voted for Pastrana four years ago at a time when the country was staggered by a string of rebel victories. But Fernandez cast her vote for Uribe today at a public park in Chapinero, a middle-class shopping district in the capital."I hope that he does something drastic to get us out of this situation that is asphyxiating the country," Fernandez said. "I'm only concerned about violence right now."With a $1.3 billion anti-drug package approved by Congress two years ago, Colombia is the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid. The assistance, which includes 83 helicopters and a Special Forces-trained army brigade, has been restricted for use against the drug trade, which accounts for 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States. The aid has not been brought to bear directly against the FARC or the growing paramilitary army, known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia or AUC, which partly finance their war efforts with drug profits.The Bush administration wants those rules changed to help the weak Colombian government defeat the FARC, the AUC and the smaller insurgency known as the National Liberation Army, which are all classified as terrorist organizations by the State Department. Although Uribe has said he would not request U.S. troops, he has signaled his intention to ask Washington for more help, perhaps in the form of renewed aerial drug interdiction, increased intelligence sharing and additional helicopters to continue a process, started by Pastrana, of improving the military's mobility.But Uribe, whose résumé includes graduate studies at Harvard and Oxford, has alarmed human rights groups, which predicted that his administration would pay less attention to military abuses in prosecuting a larger war. His tenure as governor of Antioquia province, Colombia's most populous, was marked by successes in carrying out public works projects and new social spending, but also a significant widening of the conflict due to a rise in paramilitary activity.Those concerns, however, had little effect on his campaign and he appeared today to win an unequivocal mandate. Uribe would also enjoy a solid majority in Colombia's Congress, where he served as a senator for eight years, to help him push his programs after he is sworn in on Aug. 7. In his victory speech tonight, Uribe suggested he would be willing to begin talks with Colombia's "illegal groups," provided that a cease-fire could be arranged first. He said that, in addition to strengthening the armed forces, he would generate jobs and create an "education revolution" that is "the most efficient path to an egalitarian nation where no one is condemned by their economic status.""We reaffirm our proposal -- building democratic security so that the armed groups will embrace the idea of abandoning their rifles and making politics without arms and without being killed," Uribe said. "Let's build that dream. But we need an unequivocal sign of respect to give Colombians the relief they need."Newshawk: ddddSource: Washington Post (DC)Author: Scott Wilson, Washington Post Foreign ServicePublished: Monday, May 27, 2002; Page A01 Copyright: 2002 The Washington Post Company Contact: letterstoed washpost.comWebsite: Related Articles & Web Site:Colombia Drug War News Hard-Liner Elected in Colombia With a Mandate Vote's Sinister Side Closely Watching Sunday's Election in Colombia
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Comment #2 posted by kaptinemo on May 28, 2002 at 07:47:55 PT:
Thank you, WW
I' ve been following the latest developments in Colombia very closely, and agree that if you want to 'get to the meat', you read NarcoNews. Sr. Giordano and his friends have done a bang-up job in ripping back the curtain to expose the Gnomes of Washington (and maybe Zurich) hard at work, again. What is especially disturbing is the silence with which the US media has treated the painfully obvious machinations of Uribe's sr. Moreno with regards to all those precursor chemicals impounded by the DEA. Now that such a strong supporter of increased military action against it's own citizens has been elected, we can expect to see a major dustup with the Rebels occur.Prediction: the Colombian military will suffer a major defeat at the hands of the Rebels within a year. At that time, US Service personnel will become directly involved in the fighting; one or more will be killed by Rebels, in a less than clear cut case of assassination. The Repubs will then start baying for blood and give full support to US troops openly used a la Afghanistan. All to halt "terr'ism". Then the rubberized body bags in the aluminum coffins start coming back to Dover AFB. Santayana is shaking his head ruefully from the grave; they never listen, do they?
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Comment #1 posted by WolfgangWylde on May 28, 2002 at 04:41:32 PT
This guy's bougth and paid for...
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