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Who woulda thunk it?

Left Wing Gets Lift in Colombian Capital

Mon Oct 27, 8:18 AM ET

By KIM HOUSEGO, Associated Press Writer

BOGOTA, Colombia - Residents of Colombia's sprawling capital elected a former Communist union leader as their mayor in municipal elections, giving a major boost to embattled left-wing politicians who have long been the target of intimidation and assassination attempts.

With 92 percent of ballots counted, Luis Eduardo Garzon, the son of a cleaning lady, took 46 percent of the vote against 40 percent for the government-backed center-right candidate, Juan Lozano, the nation's official election body said. Lozano conceded defeat.

The victory was seen as a further headache for hardline President Alvaro Uribe, coming a day after he suffered a defeat in a sweeping referendum he had championed as vital to fight terrorism and boost the faltering economy.

Bogota is the biggest political prize ever claimed by an openly left-wing politician in Colombia. It provides a powerful launch pad for Uribe's opponents to attack his plans for tax hikes and labor reforms aimed at raising cash to pay for his war on leftist rebels.

"It's not easy for this country to accept (left-wing) proposals like ours," Garzon told local radio.

Popularly known as "Lucho," Garzon has pledged to help improve the lives of the poor in Bogota, a city of 7 million, facilitating access to education and setting up free food distribution centers. "No triumphalism, no arrogance" he drummed at campaign rallies, remarks clearly intended to set him apart from Uribe's tough, no-nonsense rhetoric.

Garzon came in third in last year's presidential elections and the Bogota mayor's office will give him a useful springboard for another run at the presidency.

Uribe's office said the president would meet with Garzon for talks later Sunday at the presidential palace.

German Piffano, 35-year-old anthropologist, said he voted for the union leader in part to give Uribe a slap in the face.

"With Uribe you're either on his side or you're a terrorist," he said. "Lucho represents a new alternative."

Garzon's victory was somewhat of a surprise given the huge popularity of his center-right predecessor, Antanas Mockus, who improved the quality of life in Bogota by instituting rush-hour restrictions and building parks, bike paths and numerous libraries. Mockus had endorsed Lozano.

Outside of Colombia's major cities, the campaign period before Sunday's vote was particularly violent, even by Colombian standards. Armed groups killed at least 30 candidates for mayor and kidnapped a dozen others.

However, the election day appeared to have gone remarkably smoothly. The only violence reported Sunday occurred when suspected guerrillas burned ballots in three villages.

Most of the pre-election attacks were carried out by leftist rebels, who sought to undermine Uribe's contention he was bringing state control into the furthest reaches of the country, which has been racked by four decades of civil war that kills about 3,500 people, mostly civilians, every year.

The rebels' archenemies, outlawed paramilitary groups, also intimidated candidates in order to have their favorites run unchallenged. The climate of fear left half a dozen towns without candidates.

In Saturday's referendum, meanwhile, it appeared the government failed to obtain enough votes to pass 11 of the 15 points on the ballot, with about 100,000 votes left to be counted, mostly in remote provinces.

Uribe had campaigned relentlessly for the referendum, saying it would give him the necessary tools to fight terrorism and corruption and put the economy on solid footing.

Its rejection was the greatest defeat to hit Uribe since he was elected to office by a landslide last year on pledges to put this violence-wracked nation in order and clamp down on corruption.

A glum Uribe appeared in Bogota's main plaza alongside gun-toting soldiers in a pouring rain Sunday afternoon to vote in the mayoral elections. He refused to comment on the referendum results.

Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez acknowledged defeat.

"All Colombians have lost an opportunity to adopt structural reforms," she told reporters after casting her vote.

The rejected measures included one to reduce the number of seats in Congress and another to freeze state salaries and pensions to save money for Uribe's war on leftist rebels.

However, four of the referendum points that still stood a chance of approval included a measure barring convicted criminals from holding or running for public office.

Each point needed to be voted on by at least 25 percent of registered voters. Some points were doomed because voters Saturday simply left many points of the ballot blank "” either to annul the result or perhaps because they were confused by the complicated issues.

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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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Sorry about the spanish, but I wanted to include something about the new mayor of Cali, and I couldn't find anyhing in english.

Apolinar Salcedo, el nuevo alcalde de los caleños

La luz de la razón ilumina a Polo hay una palabra que pueda resumir la vida de Apolinar Salcedo Caicedo, el nuevo alcalde de los caleños, es superación.

Este hombre de 48 años, que ayer alcanzó el primer cargo de la tercera ciudad del país, se ha destacado a lo largo de su vida por superar cuanto obstáculo se le ha puesto delante.

Su inteligencia y capacidad de análisis, han sido los ojos que han guiado su trasegar desde que por un infortunado accidente perdió la visión cuando apenas era un niño de siete años de edad.

Uno de sus primos le disparó accidentalmente con un rifle cuando jugaban a los vaqueros y la luz de sus ojos se extinguió.

Pero sus hermanos no lo dejaron abatir por el dolor, aunque el era el mayor, lo obligaron a seguir con los juegos de niños, así Polo siguió jugando fútbol, montando a caballo y nadando.

Ese deseo de superación, heredado de su madre, Zoraida Salcedo, una humilde lavandera, que se sobrepuso a las negativas de varios rectores de colegios en su deseo de educar adecuadamente a su hijo, que era rechazado por su limitación, es la que hoy lo tiene al frente de Cali.

Su padre Luis Alfonso Caicedo, fue un cortero de caña quien posteriormente se dedicó a curtir pieles, hoy ambos viven en una modesta casa de Ciudadela Comfandi, en donde se respira el calor de una familia unida.

Este es el centro de reunión de la familia Salcedo Caicedo, nietos, sobrinos, hermanos, hijos, tíos, tías y primos se encuentran en esta pequeñ casa a degustar las delicias culinarias de la abuela Zoraida.

Admirado por toda su familia Apolinar es como el otro papá de los Salcedo Caicedo.

"Yo soy muy paternalista y me gusta estar muy al tanto de mis hermanos, de lo que hacen, hablo mucho con ellos y siempre vienen a mi por consejos, porque les gusta como yo les hablo", aseguró el nuevo Alcalde.

"Su inteligencia, su capacidad de gestión y la fortaleza para salir adelante a pesar de todo, es lo que más admiramos de nuestro tío", dicen varios de sus nueve sobrinos, quienes lo tienen como un tío muy consentidor.

Andr"šs su hijo mayor, vive orgulloso de su papá, "es un tenaz, inteligente y muy bueno con nosotros. Además es un gran jugador de fútbol".

Y es que Apolinar asegura que si no hubiese sido abogado y político le habrá gustado ser jugador de fútbol.

"Es que yo me imagino un estadio lleno gritando 'Polo, Polo' y a mi se pone la piel de gallina", sostiene.

Polo, como es conocido cariñosamente, nació en la vereda Sabaletas de El Cerrito, Valle, un 22 de febrero de 1955, es el mayor de seis hermanos.

Estuvo durante nueve años internado en el Instituto para niños Ciegos y Sordos de Cali, en donde aprendió a manejar el mundo de las tinieblas con la luz de la razón y los impulsos del corazón.

De allí salió para seguir sus estudios como cualquier adolescente y terminó el bachillerato en el colegio Departamental Eustaquio Palacios en 1974.

Entonces, Polo ten¡a decidida su vocación, pues de inmediato presentó las pruebas para ingresar a la Universidad Libre en donde estudió derecho.

Durante toda su carrera estuvo becado pues el rendimiento académico fue óptimo, obtiene con honores el t¡tulo de Abogado el 10 de diciembre de 1982.

Pero no se conformó con este t¡tulo y que decidióseguir avanzado en el camino acad"šmico y estudió un posgrado de Administración Pública en la Universidad del Valle, entre 1987 y 1989.

El hoy Alcalde durante los tres agotadores meses de campaña llenó coliseos enteros, barrios, centros comunales, recreacionales y hasta pequeñas viviendas en donde organizaba concentraciones, en desarrollo una actividad proselitista ya familiar para é gracias a sus tres periodos como concejal, en el último de los cuales obtuvo la mayor votación de Cali para esa corporación.

Con su discurso de superación de dificultades como la pobreza, la ceguera, e incluso el color de su piel, sedujo a los caleños que depositaron su confianza en él para que tome las riendas de la ciudad por los próximos cuatro años.

Parafraseando al ex presidente de República Dominicana, Hipólito Mejía, también ciego, capoteaba a quienes ponían en duda su capacidad de administrar debido a su invidencia.

"Decía Mejía, a mi me eligieron para gobernar y no para enebrar agujas", repitió Salcedo, una y otra vez en sus intervenciones en radio, televisión y prensa.

Amante del fútbol, ha sido selecciún Colombia en fútbol sonoro delantero "Porque a mi lo que me gusta es meter goles", asegura. Aunque dice que no tiene preferencias por ning£n equipo vallecaucano, "el Cali me atrae mucho porque ha tenido unos excelentes jugadores.

De las selecciones me gusta la de Brasil y en el fúbol internacional me encanta el Rael Madrid, eso es mucha bandola", dice emocionado.

Pero su gran amor es la familia por quien asegura daría todo, es padre de dos hijos, Andrés de 14 años y Alfonso de 5 años de edad. y hace 16 años es casado con Ana Cecilia Tovar Montes.

"Soy un papá sobreprotector, a pesar de que no me gusta que lo sean conmigo yo si vivo muy pendiente de lo que hacen mis hijos y me preocupan mucho cuando se enferman", dijo Polo.

EL PROFESIONAL. Este hombre empezó su desempeño profesional en el departamento Administrativo Jurídico de la Gobernación del Valle, en donde se ganó el respeto y la confianza de quienes lo rodeaban.

De allí pasó a la secretaría de Hacienda Departamental, posteriormente a la secretaráa de Educación, fue instructor en la Escuela Superior de Administración Pública y coordinó los programas para discapacitados de la Alcaldía de Cali.

Tras doce años de ejercicio profesional en el sector público Polo decidió aventurarse por un cargo de elección popular.

En 1994 sale elegido por primera vez con 4.534 votos a su favor.

En ese per¡odo el proyecto más polémico que se discutió fue el de la transformación de las Empresas de Servicios Públicos de Cali, Emcali, y su voto fue el único negativo.

En el segundo periodo como concejal, entre 1997 y 2000 Salcedo Caicedo, se desempeñó como presidente del Cabildo en 1998.

Sin embargo, por esta gestión Apolinar Salcedo fue vinculado a una investigación de la procuraduría por destinación indebida de recursos.

"Muchos me critican porque dicen que no tengo experiencia en el ejecutivo, pero desde el Concejo yo he podido conocer de otra forma el manejo de la Administración. Además yo fui funcionario público durante diez años y sé"š como es el trabajo desde adentro", explica Polo.

El nuevo mandatario de los caleños asegura que su gran sueño como Alcalde es poder tener algún día a todos los niños de la ciudad estudiando y sin hambre.

"Esto no es una promesa, es un sueño, pero es el más grande que tengo para esta ciudad", puntualiza.

Apolinar Salcedo Caicedo
Edad: 48 años
Estado civil: casado
Hijos: 2
Comida Favorita: el sancocho de gallina que prepara su mamá
Literatura: La de tipo descriptivo - narrativo. Le gusta mucho El Viejo y el Mar de Ernest Hemingway; Cr¢nica de una Muerte Anunciada, de Gabriel Garc¡a M rquez y Robinson Crusoe de Daniel Defoe. Tambi"šn le gustan los relatos de Jorge Luis Borges.
Múica preferida: Los boleros, baladas de los a¤os 60, los tangos y algunas rancheras.
Lo enoja: La agresividad y la hipocres¡a.

Illegal, noun:

A term used by the descendents of European Immigrants to refer to descendants of Native Americans

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[This message was edited by ricardomath on November 03, 2003 at 04:12 PM.]

Offbeat Leftist's New Take on Bogota

An oil union chief and former caddie drawn to salsa bars, Mayor-elect Luis Eduardo Garzon aims to fight poverty.

By Ruth Morris, Special to The Times

BOGOTA, Colombia "” Luis Eduardo Garzon is hardly part of Colombia's ruling elite. He doesn't own a tie, he didn't finish college, and he hangs out in sweaty salsa clubs.

But after a turbulent electoral weekend, he has streaked into the stratosphere "” a former golf caddie turned shining star of Colombia's emergent left-wing political force.

Portly and unpretentious, Garzon won 47% of the vote in municipal elections Oct. 26 to become mayor-elect of the bustling capital, Bogota. The victory put his fledgling party, the Independent Democratic Pole, on the map and placed Garzon in the most visible government post outside the presidential palace.

"I'm a Marxist-Lennonist," said Garzon, who began his political life as a Communist but has since moderated his stance. "Marxist for the Marx Brothers, and Lennonist for [John] Lennon. My style of government will be authentic. There won't be any liposuction."

Garzon's triumph also dealt a serious blow to Alvaro Uribe, Colombia's hawkish, workaholic president, who was still enjoying his political honeymoon when Garzon irreverently stepped into the limelight.

Uribe won last year's presidential election in a landslide on promises to boost military spending and beat back the leftist rebels who have spent nearly 40 years trying to topple the government. Garzon ran against him, on promises to boost social spending, and placed third.

A self-made man, Garzon completed three semesters of college and then left academia behind. Among his political influences he lists Martin Luther King Jr. and comic-strip figures Calvin and Hobbes. He's an aficionado of Latin jazz and an avid reader of fashion magazines.

"I'm a gossip by nature," he said with a shrug.

The 52-year-old Garzon worked as a golf caddie, a messenger and a porter before rising to the top of Colombia's prominent oil union. He was born out of wedlock, and into Colombia's struggling underclass, at a time when boys who didn't carry their father's last name were shut out of private schools and banned from the priesthood.

"He was an illegitimate son, and in Colombia that's heavy," said political analyst and former U.N. Ambassador Fernando Cepeda. Yet Garzon is extremely proud of his roots and loves to show off his mother, a former cleaning lady named Eloisa. During his acceptance speech, Garzon, who is divorced with two children, brought the petite and plain-spoken woman to the podium with him.

By the standards of Colombia's starchy political class, "that's a shock," Cepeda said. "Then you think about it, and it's very impressive."

Garzon lives with Eloisa and his girlfriend, a frizzy-haired woman named Marcela Hernandez who used to manage one of his favorite bars. He dresses informally in turtlenecks and corduroy pants, and he claims to have worn a tie just once, to impress an earlier girlfriend who left him anyway.

Until campaigning began cutting into his social schedule, Garzon was also a regular at Bogota's dimly lighted salsa clubs, where patrons sip Cuban rum and munch on coconut rinds while listening to brassy ballads.

Characteristically, Garzon's mayoral campaign included proposals not just to alleviate poverty, but also to transform drizzly Bogota into a more "Latin" city.

Outgoing Mayor Antanas Mockus, a quirky philosophy professor, made his mark by paving miles and miles of bike paths and by decreeing several "No Car" days to give city dwellers a rest from the smog and grit. His "geek law" closed bars at 1 a.m. and helped lower homicide rates.

"Antanas wanted to create a city in a country like Lithuania, where the mosquitoes don't bite and the dogs don't bark," Garzon complained. "We're going to launch nights full of culture, theater, cinema festivals."

To one-up Mockus, he also plans to initiate "No Hunger" days, when food banks will distribute free meals to Bogota's undernourished.

Allies credit Garzon with creating a new style of leftist leadership. In a break from many other left-wing activists, for example, he condemns Colombia's rebel factions, which have turned to drug trafficking and kidnapping to fill their war chests.

The country's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, launched a political party of its own in the 1980s, called the Patriotic Union. But right-wing death squads destroyed the party, assassinating about 3,000 of its members. Garzon, also known by the nickname "Lucho," lost two close friends in the rampage.

"This is a country at war, socially polarized, with strong hatreds," said Daniel Garcia- Pena, a former peace commissioner and one of Garzon's closest advisors. "Lucho wants to insist on an inclusive government."

Garzon is even trying to change the language of Colombia's left. He's especially weary of what he calls the old guard's "R words," such as "rage," "resentment" and "retrograde."

"The left only prepared for socialist revolution," Garzon said.

"It never prepared to govern. The left would discuss everything. The color of a lightbulb was a debate. And when it was time to act, they'd lost the moment. I'm different from that left."

At the same time, Garzon bristles at the suggestion that he's moving to the middle. "Centrism is like asexuality," he said, frowning. "It has no smell, no color, no taste."

His fresh approach has prompted some to compare Garzon to the wildly popular Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, also a former trade unionist, who this year became Brazil's first elected leftist president.

Like Lula, experts say, Garzon will have to strike a delicate balance between fulfilling the lofty expectations of his supporters and working within the confines of rigid state institutions.

And as the capital's first left-wing mayor, all eyes are upon him. If he's successful, Bogota's mayoral post could serve as a springboard for another, stronger, presidential bid.

"The primary challenge now is to govern well, with total transparency and zero corruption," said Cepeda, the political analyst. "Bogota is a big window box. Everything is on display."

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Leftist Bogota mayor begins work

BBC News
Thursday, 1 January, 2004, 22:43 GMT

The post is seen as the second most important in Colombia

A former trade union leader has taken up his post as mayor of the Colombian capital, Bogota, pledging to fight poverty, hunger and unemployment.

Luis Eduardo Garzon is one of more than 1,000 mayors beginning terms of office after being elected in October.

Mayor of Bogota is considered the second most important political post in Colombia after the presidency.

The election of Mr Garzon was a defeat for the centre-right government of President Alvaro Uribe.

It was also one of the biggest electoral victories for the country's left.

Holding the mayorship of Bogota provides a powerful launch pad for opponents of hardline President Uribe.


Opponents have attacked Mr Uribe's plans for tax hikes and labour reforms aimed at raising cash to pay for his war on leftist rebels.

Mr Garzon - a former Communist union leader - promised to defend his comrades, who have long been the target of intimidation.

"We have never had the opportunity to govern," Mr Garzon said in his inauguration speech in Bogota's Plaza Bolivar.

"We have a responsibility to manage things well, and to be completely efficient."

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