Latin America: US Drug War Ally Reelected in Colombia, But Leftist Legalization Advocate Places Second 6/2/06

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Colombian President Alvaro Uribe cruised to an easy reelection victory with 62% of the vote Sunday, but more than half the electorate stayed home and a drug-legalizing former Supreme Court justice running as head of left-leaning ticket polled a surprising 22%. Uribe ran as a law-and-order candidate and gained the support of urban voters who applauded his tough stance against the country's massive drug trade and the long-running leftist insurgency of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).

Sen. Gaviria at DRCNet's
2003 conference
Uribe has been a staunch ally of the Bush administration's anti-drug and anti-terror policies toward Colombia and has been the recipient of more than $4 billion in US aid aimed at eradicating the coca and cocaine trade and defeating the guerrillas. But after six years, according to the US government's own figures, Colombia is producing roughly as much cocaine as when Plan Colombia began despite a massive aerial eradication campaign that has sprayed tens of thousands of acres of cropland. And while the intensity of FARC attacks during this year's election campaign was much reduced from 2002, by no means have the guerrillas gone away.

The level of support for pro-legalization Senator Carlos Gaviria Diaz, presidential candidate for the Alternative Democratic Pole, is the strongest showing for Colombia's electoral left since it was massacred (literally) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As a Supreme Court justice in the early 1990s, Gaviria crafted the decision that legalized drug possession for personal use in Colombia.

Last week, Gaviria -- who was a keynote speaker at DRCNet's 2003 "Out from the Shadows" conference in Mexico, said he still supports drug legalization, but that as a practical matter it was not something Colombia could do in isolation. "I'm in favor of legalizing drugs, but I'm also aware that a government cannot do this," he told a Bogota press conference last Friday. Legalizing the drug trade would mean the state could control it, he said. "But Colombia would become a pariah country."

But it is the growth of the democratic left in Colombia that is the big story. For decades, Colombia has been a two-party system, with Liberals and Conservatives vying for control of the state, but between Conservative support for Uribe and a rising tide on the left, the Liberals appear increasingly irrelevant. Liberal candidate Horacio Serpa came in third, with under 12% of the popular vote.

In the last presidential election, Democratic Pole candidate and legalization advocate Luis Eduardo "Lucho" Garzon gained only 6% of the vote. But in a sign of increasing disillusionment with the status quo, the following year Garzon won the race to be mayor of Bogota, the country's capital and largest city. Now, the Democratic Pole has overtaken the Liberals to become the second party.

"We're very happy with the results," Gaviria told Caracol Radio Sunday night after recognizing his defeat. "For the first time in the country's history, the main opposition party will be comprised of the democratic left."


13. Latin America: As Venezuela and Bolivia Draw Nearer, Chavez Ponies Up $1 Million for Coca Factories, Research

It's a trio that gives the Bush administration nightmares, and they were all together in Bolivia last weekend. Bolivian President Evo Morales hosted Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in what he called an "axis of good" during a visit to Bolivia's coca-growing Chapare region, and Chavez announced he would support Morales' call to legalize and industrialize the coca leaf by providing $1 million in funding for research into coca's uses and factories to turn it into coca flour or tea.

The weekend meeting came as tensions are increasing between Washington and Bolivia and Venezuela. Among the Morales policies the administration clearly doesn't like is his determination to expand his country's coca industry and win legal status for the plant long sacred in the Andes. While Morales has vowed to fight cocaine trafficking, he is also seeking voluntary -- not forced -- limits on coca production, a move that makes the US uneasy as Bolivian coca production continues to rise.

Ironically, Morales and his guests flew into the region at the US-built Chimore air base, once a hangout of US DEA agents attempting to enforce the "zero coca" policies their government imposed on Bolivia. Upon his arrival, Morales gave thanks "to the government of the United States for building that airport," although he added that the effort had led to conflict and loss of life. "From those days of sadness, we come to a day of celebration," Morales said. "Before the governments made us weep with their repression and now we weep with joy."

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Issue #438 -- 6/2/06

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Editorial: We Should Have Such Problems | Book Offer: Burning Rainbow Farm: How a Stoner Utopia Went up in Smoke | Feature: Salvia Under Siege -- Movement to Ban Herbal Hallucinogen Gains Momentum in Statehouses | Feature: SSDP, ACLU Seek Permanent Injunction in HEA Lawsuit, Education Department Moves to Dismiss | Feature: Drug Reformers Take the Third Party Path in Bids for Statewide Office | Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle? | Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Law Enforcement: Federal Drug Prosecutions Declined for Past Five Years | Medical Marijuana: South Dakota Initiative Makes the November Ballot | Harm Reduction: ACLU Wins Victory in Connecticut Needle Exchange Case | Latin America: Mexican Leftist Candidate Calls for More Army in Drug War | Latin America: US Drug War Ally Reelected in Colombia, But Leftist Legalization Advocate Places Second | Latin America: As Venezuela and Bolivia Draw Nearer, Chavez Ponies Up $1 Million for Coca Factories, Research | Europe: Dutch Mayor to Move Coffee Shops to Belgian Border | Web Scan: New Change the Climate Online TV Ad, Journey for Justice Daily Journal, Psychedelics and Medicine, Convict Nation | Weekly: This Week in History | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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