Colombia: Colombian Left Makes Modest Gains against President Alvaro Uribe in Regional Elections
Regional elections somewhat weakened conservative President Alvaro Uribe's control of various posts around the country, although parties allied with him still maintain control of most of the Colombian political scene. A leftist opponent of Uribe, Samuel Moreno, won the mayor's race in Bogota, keeping the post conventionally known as the second-most-important office in the country in the hands of the left-wing Polo Democratico Alternativo (PDA). In the lead-up to the Oct. 28 vote, more than two dozen candidates were assassinated, while 10 others were kidnapped and about 100 faced death threats, according to Miami-based newspaper El Nuevo Herald.
Moreno takes torch of official opposition
Colombians voted to fill some 15,000 regional posts, including governors, mayors, regional assembly members, and municipal officials. Uribe's coalition won 17 of 32 governorships and 13 mayoralties in provincial capitals, counting the wins of the Partido Conservador, Cambio Radical, Alas Equipo Colombia, and Partido de la U, all parties allied with the president.
Nevertheless, the press and opposition parties called Uribe the loser of the election, with the failure of his preferred candidate in Bogota. PDA president Carlos Gaviria claimed victory, saying that Uribe "wanted to link his luck to this campaign [against Moreno], and he came out the opposite of his plan. In this moment, the PDA has obtained an overwhelming victory and the president of the republic has been soundly defeated in Bogota."
Moreno, an ally of outgoing Bogota mayor Luis "Lucho" Eduardo Garzon, ran against Enrique Penalosa, an independent candidate backed by Uribe. Moreno, a 47-year-old economist and lawyer, is the grandson of ex-military dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (1953-1957). He will replace Garzon on Dec. 31.
Garzon, a former labor leader and presidential candidate, won the mayoralty in 2003 (see NotiSur, 2003-10-31), making him a top opposition figure to the generally popular president. Garzon has popularity numbers around 60%.
Moreno received about 897,000 votes, 200,000 more than Garzon won four years ago. He took about 43% of the total votes cast in the mayoral race. Penalosa won 543,000 votes, about 28%. Coming in third was sports announcer William Vinasco with some 350,000 votes, about 16%. Abstention in Bogota declined between 4% and 5% relative to the 2003 election.
Moreno expressed his happiness with the "historic" victory, saying, "Starting now, I am the mayor of all Bogotanos." In his first public statement after the vote, he said, "We are going to construct a more positive, more inclusive, and more democratic Bogota where we can all live better."
Moreno's ambitious plan of governance includes issues like security, education, environmental improvement (Bogota has the third-worst air pollution of any Latin American city), better transit and transport service in a disorderly city with high crime rates.
Despite his big win, the city council Moreno will work with will have an Uribista majority.
Some observers like opinion columnist Maria Jimena Duzan of Bogota daily newspaper El Tiempo and Simone Bruno of news network TeleSUR accused Uribe of meddling excessively in the Bogota mayor's race. Bruno said Uribe had accused Moreno of "buying votes" and receiving support from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). Duzan's analysis of the Moreno victory credited the voters of Bogota with rejecting Uribe's interference and turning in even greater numbers toward Moreno. El Nuevo Herald reported that Uribe campaigned openly for Penalosa even though the law prohibits it.
Some analysts claimed that Uribe's losses reflected a calling to account for the many legislators and Uribe allies who have been investigated by the courts and prosecutors for links to right-wing paramilitary groups (see NotiSur, 2006-12-01 and 2007-03-02).
On Oct. …