In an election where only 45 percent of the electorate went to the polls, the right-wing candidate, Alvaro Uribe, was elected president of Colombia on May 26. Uribe, a dissident from the Liberal Party, is opposed to the peace negotiations between the government and the leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN). He campaigned on a promise to end the political violence by increasing military actions against the FARC and the ELN.

Uribe obtained 53 percent of the vote, thus avoiding a run off election. The closest candidate was Horacio Serpa of the Liberal Party, who got 32 percent of the vote. The Conservative Party of current President Andres Pastrana was in disarray and did not field a candidate.

Despite Uribe’s claim that he also opposes the right-wing paramilitaries, the Armed Self-Defense of Colombia (AUC) sent congratulations on his election. The paramilitaries were set up by wealthy landowners and drug lords to fight the peasant guerrillas.

Uribe declared that he would ask for more military aid from the United States to fight the guerillas. Uribe has been accused of being in Washington’s pocket. Calling it an act of “arrogance and reaffirming control and command” the Communist Party of Colombia (CPC) criticized U.S. Ambassador Anne Paterson for joining Uribe while the votes were still being counted and none of the other candidates had yet conceded the election.

The president-elect said that he would involve the civilian population in the civil war, a plan criticized by Amnesty International. This human rights organization had previously said that any plan to involve civilians in the armed conflict would broaden the civil war and would be dangerous to non-combatants.

A recent report prepared by Amnesty International for the U.S. Congress showed evidence that the Colombian Army permitted the paramilitaries to attack civilians and to travel through areas under its control.

In an interview with the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, former president Alfonso Lopez Michelsen said that 35 percent of the Liberal Party members voted for Uribe and suggested that Uribe should take the leadership of the party he used to belong to. The Liberal Senator German Vargas told the press that his party should support the new president and “leave the opposition to the Uribe administration … to Lucho Garzon,” the candidate of the leftist Democratic Pole, who received slightly over 6 percent of the vote.

Such statements were foreseen by the CPC leader Jaime Caycedo when he wrote in an editorial before the elections, “The candidates of the oligarchy … represent variations of the same model.”

Garzon, who was supported by the Social and Political Front, insisted that the new government had to look towards a negotiated solution to the civil war. Garzon’s candidacy was historic in that the left, for the first time, came in third place. Garzon is a trade union leader and was president of one of the labor federations.

The CPC responded to the elections saying, “The power of money, of being blackmailed with fear and the manipulation of the media has enthroned a president” who has “neofascist concepts of order and security.” The CPC statement continued that despite this, Garzon’s campaign “succeeded in consolidating a sector of public opinion … which will permit the building of an alternative.” The CPC said that “we must combine actions in parliament with street mobilizations and the activities of the movements that work for peace and human rights.”

The author can be reached at jacruz@attbi.com

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