Colombia: Presidential Candidates Campaign amid Violence
Violence hangs over the presidential campaign in Colombia, and keeping the candidates alive is a major task for law enforcement. Alongside the violence, however, questions about the transparency of the electoral system and the influence of drug money and armed groups in the campaigns are having an impact on the race.
Ten candidates will be on the May 26 ballot competing for the presidency for the 2002-2006 term, according to the Registraduria Nacional del Estado Civil.
Front runner Alvaro Uribe, the hard-line right-wing dissident from the opposition Partido Liberal, who is running as the candidate of the multiparty Primero Colombia, survived an apparent assassination attempt April 14 when a bomb exploded as his campaign caravan drove down a city street in Barranquilla. Three people were killed and 13 others were injured in the blast. Police said explosives, loaded into a parked bus, detonated as the end of the caravan passed en route to the airport.
Uribe isn't the only candidate who's been targeted. Ingrid Betancourt, candidate for the small environmentalist Oxigeno Verde, was kidnapped by Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) rebels in February and is still being held (see NotiSur, 2002-03-01). In December, officials revealed an alleged paramilitary plot against the main left-leaning candidate, former labor leader Luis Eduardo Garzon who is running for the Polo Democratico.
"It would be suicidal to continue carrying out the campaign as though nothing has happened," Garzon told local RCN television after the attempt on Uribe's life.
The violence has altered many candidates' campaign strategy, with much more effort going into television propaganda and less into personal appearances.
President Andres Pastrana condemned the attempt on Uribe's life and invited all leading candidates to the presidential palace to discuss security for the final weeks of the campaign. Pastrana said the government was considering giving candidates more free television time as one way to help them get their message across safely.
On April 19, Uribe called off all campaign trips and said he would make limited public appearances only in the capital and would use radio and television more.
Uribe favored to win despite charges of paramilitary links
Colombia's presidential race began to heat up in late March with a televised debate among five candidates, many of whom pledged to get tough on rebels and even extradite their leaders to the US. Four candidates said they would agree to the extradition of FARC founder and leader Manuel "Tirofijo" Marulanda if the US sought it.
Only Garzon said he would oppose extradition, and he said he considered the breakdown of peace negotiations a grave historical error. Retired Army Gen. Harold Bedoya, an independent who is lagging in the polls, was the rebel leader's sharpest critic among the candidates. "Tirofijo is not a guerrilla, he's a drug trafficker," said Bedoya, a former armed forces chief, adding that the FARC was "nothing but a drug cartel."
Other candidates include former interior minister Horacio Serpa of the Partido Liberal, in second place in the polls, and former foreign minister Noemi Sanin, a dissident of the Partido Conservador who is running as an independent.
While both Uribe and Serpa have lost patience with the FARC guerrillas, Serpa's tone is more conciliatory, and he warns that a Uribe presidency will translate into "total war."
Uribe picks running mate
Uribe named as his running mate journalist Francisco Santos, who founded a group that counsels kidnap victims and has advocated tougher government anti-kidnap policies. Santos was kidnapped by Pablo Escobar's Medellin drug cartel in 1990 and held for eight months.
Uribe's hard line toward the guerrillas comes from his personal history. Guerrillas fatally shot his father, Alberto Uribe, in a 1983 kidnapping attempt. …