Uribe set to hold on against Latin America's 'pink tide'

Looking south from the high ground above Bogota, countless shacks sweep toward the horizon. Nobody knows how many people live in these impoverished neighbourhoods, or barrios, but they are among the largest and most chaotic in Latin America. Poverty and civil conflict have driven as many as three or four million Colombians to the outskirts of the capital.

In the broken brick and rusted metal of the notorious barrio of Cuidad Bolivar, red and yellow election posters cover every available flat surface bearing the slogan "Adelante Presidente" (Go Ahead, Mr President). The President in question is Alvaro Uribe.

Unlike his counterparts across the Andes in Bolivia and Peru, Mr Uribe is a right-winger. There will be no left turn in Colombia's elections tomorrow. The "pink tide" that is washing the continent stops here. Popular movements rooted in the endemic poverty of Latin America have transformed politics from Brazil to Nicaragua, but Washington's last ally in the region is expected to win re-election comfortably.

More than 3,000 civilians are killed every year in Colombia's internal conflict - a seemingly endless battle that has pitted government forces against Marxist guerrilla groups and latterly right-wing paramilitaries.

In the slums of Bogota, Mr Uribe's tough posturing against the guerrilla group Farc, and his message of security, hits home. "I'm going to vote for Uribe again," said Edelmira Reyes, a cleaner from Bolivar City. "He's the only tough president I can remember who's actually stood up to the Farc and not given into them like all his predecessors did."

Four years ago, Mr Uribe was elected to defeat Farc, the country's most powerful guerrilla group, by waging an all-out war. Colombia, already the largest recipient of US military aid in the world, got a new $1.3bn (£700m) cash injection under Plan Colombia, so that its armed forces were better trained and equipped to attack insurgent groups and eradicate the thousands of hectares of coca, the raw material for cocaine, which keeps Farc coffers replenished. While some 80 per cent of the cocaine sold in the United States comes from Colombia, the two nations have been close partners in the war on drugs for decades.

During Mr Uribe's tenure, there have been almost daily clashes between the guerrillas and armed forces, which is exactly what Mr Uribe's supporters demanded. Polls give the 53-year-old President a big lead, with 57 per cent of the vote, which guarantees him an unprecedented consecutive victory in the first round of voting. He is followed by the leftist contender, Carlos Gaviria, a former university vice-rector, with a predicted 19 per cent of the vote. Mr Gaviria's unexpected rise in the polls has overshadowed the veteran Liberal presidential candidate, Horacio Serpa, who has fallen into third place, with just 13 per cent.

In a country which has a derelict railway system, regaining control of the road network which was once ridden with guerrilla roadblocks has played a key role in making middle- to upper-income Colombians feel safer. "Before, you couldn't drive an hour outside of Bogota without coming across a guerrilla roadblock," said Luis Ospina, a lorry driver. "Now you can't go an hour without a police checkpoint."

Alfredo Rangel, director of the Foundation for Security and Democracy, a think-tank based in Bogota, said: "Here the left is not seen as a popular movement of the people but is associated with guerrilla groups, failed armed struggles and even terrorism. Colombia is a paradox. Despite the years of fighting it has remained relatively stable politically."

There have been none of the coups, purges and dictatorships that have blighted much of Latin America. The country's European-descended oligarchs have maintained political and economic power between liberal and conservative governments. The result is that a relative handful of wealthy families own almost all the fertile land and have little interest in policing and controlling what remains.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Learning Support Assistant

£60 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Youth Support Workers Glouceste...

IT Technician - 1st Line

£19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

PPA Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Primary Teaching Jobs Available NOW-Southport

£80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London