Colombia Leans Left

Last Monday’s election of Luis ‘Lucho’ Eduardo Garz?n as the
mayor of Bogota and the defeat of Colombian president Alvaro
Uribe’s right-leaning referendum on fiscal and political reform is
a surprising victory for the left in violence-wracked Colombia. In
an interview with Phil Stewart for Reuters, Garz?n, a
former Communist and labor leader, said that the simple fact he had
survived the election was ‘a revolutionary change in every way for
Colombia and Bogota.’ Leftist leaders have often been killed by
right-wing death squads, and during the recent campaign 30
candidates were murdered and 160 dropped out after receiving death
threats.

The mayor-elect — the son of a maid who has worked as a golf
caddie — has promised to help the poor while not fomenting class
divisions. The victory is the most important for Colombia’s left in
decades and shows the country’s 20,000 Marxist rebels that armed
resistance is not the only path to helping the poor. Garz?n’s
election is seen as the latest in a wave of popular sentiment
swinging left across Latin America from Bolivia to Brazil to
Venezuela, driven by opposition to the neo-liberal model of
globalization pushed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

As the new mayor prepares to take office, President Alvaro Uribe
is preparing to deal with the political and economic setback from
the failure of his IMF-backed referendum. Andy Webb-Vidal, writing
for the Financial Times, reports that Uribe ‘had
personally promoted the ballot as a make-or-break plebiscite
backing his right-leaning policies.’ Uribe wanted to cut back on
government spending by freezing public sector wages and capping
state pensions for two years. Further, he wanted to raise money for
his hard-line military policies against rebel groups.

Garz?n has been a steadfast critic of Uribe and what he has
lately called Uribe’s ‘authoritarian streak,’ reports Stewart.
Uribe has been under fire nationally and abroad for accusing
left-wing groups of terrorism. Garz?n now wants to succeed where
Uribe’s right-wing policies have failed: stopping the guerrilla war
raging throughout Colombia for more than a year. Garz?n plans to
make changes in an unusual way. On Monday, Garz?n told the
Associated Press that he will open food banks in Bogota
neighborhoods inundated with refugees from the war-torn
countryside. ‘I am going to take away the fuel [the rebels] use to
justify the war: social problems.’
Joel Stonington

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