As voters line up for today's Colombia election, many will cast
their ballots based on how the candidates will handle strained
relations with neighboring Venezuela and its fiery leftist leader,
Try as candidates might to keep Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
and his politics out of their domestic elections, he always seems to
be a factor in voters' minds across Latin America. Today's Colombia
election is no different.
In presidential elections Sunday, some Colombians say they are
voting for Juan Manuel Santos, the former defense minister and ally
of outgoing conservative President Alvaro Uribe - Mr. Chavez's No. 1
foe in the region - because they say if Mr. Santos wins, he will
stand tough against what they see as Chavez's aggressions.
Others want Green party candidate Antanas Mockus to win because
they fear a Santos victory will heighten tensions between Colombia
But the outcome of the race, which polls indicate will most
likely go into runoff between Mr. Mockus and Santos, will not have
foreign policy implications for neighboring Venezuela alone.
Both candidates are promising to stand tough against the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and carry on with the
free trade principles espoused by President Uribe. But as Santos
represents continuity with Uribe, he comes with the baggage that the
president has amassed, making foes of both Chavez and his allies in
the region, as well as Democrats in the US. A Mockus victory,
meanwhile, might worry conservatives in Washington, but it could go
a long way toward healing greater divisions in Latin America.
"I think that Mockus has a goal, and it's to return Colombia to
Latin America," says Laura Gil, a columnist and political analyst in
Bogota. With Chavez, she says, "the geopolitical facts remain. No
one is going to change Chavez's mind. ... But it could mean a
gentler relationship with Mockus, one that is not that costly."
Staunch US ally
Under Uribe, a right-wing president in a continent where the left
has dominated over the past decade, Colombia became a staunch ally
of the US, which lent it $6 billion in anti-narcotics aid and helped
Uribe fight back guerrillas. He is widely popular within Colombia.
But outside his own country, his policies have angered neighbors.
Colombia faced tough questions after it announced cooperation with a
US plan to increase its access to military bases in the country. …