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New Bogota Mayor Says He'll Work for Poor

Mon Oct 27, 6:16 PM ET

By ANDREW SELSKY, Associated Press Writer

BOGOTA, Colombia - Mayor-elect Luis Eduardo Garzon pledged Monday to work for Bogota's poor after becoming the first leftist to win the top office in Colombia's capital "” a victory that represented a political setback for the violent campaign of Marxist guerrillas.

Garzon, the former head of Colombia's biggest labor federation and an ex-communist, declared after his win Sunday that Jan. 2, his first day in office, would be "a day without hunger," indicating a mass distribution of free food.

The beefy 52-year-old, who eschews ties in favor of turtlenecks and sport jackets, said he would help the poor "” about half of the capital's 7 million residents "” but he did not intend to forget about the rich, or foment class divisions.

"No one should fear this mayor," said Garzon, the son of a maid who once worked as a golf caddie, adding that he did not intend to pit "the rich against the poor."

Garzon told The Associated Press on Monday that his administration plans to open food banks in neighborhoods flooded by families fleeing violence in Colombia's lawless countryside.

The mayor-elect also said he would oppose some of President Alvaro Uribe's hardline tactics in the government's campaign to crush the leftist insurgency "” particularly the mass arrests of suspected guerrillas.

"The president will not have me as an ally in these policies," he said. "I will reject and resist anything that violates human rights."

Leftists hailed the ascendance of Garzon, who is known as "Lucho," to the high-profile office as a new era in Colombia, which has been torn by four decades of guerrilla warfare. The electoral victory represents an alternative to the violent struggle of the leftist rebels.

The country's main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, launched a political party in the 1980s called the Patriotic Union. But right-wing death squads assassinated most of its leaders, prompting the guerrillas to abandon electoral politics.

Leftists gathered in Bogota's convention center to celebrate Garzon's win.

"I am 50 years old, and this is the first time that I am celebrating the victory of a candidate, because all the rest of them have been buried," said Carlos Rodriguez of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, a human rights group.

"This shows convincingly that the path of peaceful change is possible," Antonio Navarro Wolff, a senator who was a leader of the M-19 guerrilla group, which disarmed in 1990.

The left also scored an important victory in the southern Valle province with the election of another veteran of the workers' struggle, Angelino Garzon, to the governor's office.

There was no immediate comment from the FARC.

"The FARC will have to receive this triumph as a warning alert, because the political projects that favor social causes have a space in democracy," said Arturo Alape, an author and expert on the rebel movement.

The FARC is believed to be responsible for the assassination of 30 candidates before this weekend's elections. The killings were thought to be a challenge to the president's efforts to exert control across the nation.

The rebels' right-wing paramilitary foes are also suspected of having killed at least two candidates and intimidating others.

Uribe, who resoundingly beat Garzon in the 2002 presidential elections, met with the mayor-elect in the presidential palace late Sunday and said his victory helped strengthen democracy.

In Sunday's elections, Colombians also voted for state and municipal leaders across the country.

Among the closely watched races, Hugo Aguilar, a former police officer who killed drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in a shootout in 1993, won the race for governor of the central Colombian province of Santander, pledging to root out corruption and fight terrorism.

One of the election's biggest upsets came in Medellin's mayoral race, where the right-wing pre-election favorite lost to an independent with no political experience who was popular with indigenous groups.

In Cali, a blind lawyer running on an independent ticket beat out a conservative member of one of the city's most influential families.

A candidate for mayor of Savarena, in the violence-wracked province of Arauca, won from his jail cell a week after police arrested him on charges of financing Colombia's smaller rebel outfit, the National Liberation Army.

Voters in the coastal city of Soledad elected as mayor a woman who ran in place of her husband, who was killed Sept. 30.


Associated Press reporter Margarita Martinez in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

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