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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game