16 March 2006 Edition

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International: Colombia - Victory for the right

Elections amid Colombian civil war

The parties backing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe won the general election that took place on Sunday 12 March. The results present Uribe with a convincing possibility of winning the presidential election in May, in which he is now candidate after a controversial constitutional change. The electoral turnout was less than 50%.

The seven parties that support Uribe obtained between 60 and 65 seats out of the 102 of the Colombian senate. The Social Party for National Unity, known as Party of U, got 20 seats, followed by Radical Change, with 15. The Conservative Party, obtained 18 seats while the Liberal Party, in the opposition, only managed 17, a poor showing considering they were expecting between 25 and 30.

A new political group, Polo Democrático Alternati-vo (PDA) - Democratic Alternative - that unites various forces who oppose Uribe's adminstration, won 11 seats.

The Colombian legislature is now free to pass the Free Trade Agreement negotiated with the Bush administration in the US and reflecting the neo-liberalism, favoured by the President despite the negative effects on the country's social and economic fabric.

Uribe's mismanagement has led to 70% of the population living in poverty, while many are vulnerable to unemployment. The last few years of furious neo-liberal approaches has seen the gap grow between rich and poor. Corruption is rife in the civil service, while local political bosses and landowners make promises of state jobs to possible voters.

The number of those forcibly displaced by violence is 3.5 million, while more than four million Colombians live in exile. Deals have been struck providing right-wing paramilitaries with impunity for their massacres and human rights violations, while drug-traffickers have never had it so good.

Uribe's policies have also seen the closure of hospitals, schools and universities for lack of finance while attempts to privatise the oil and telecommunications sectors have only been stopped by the determination of workers.

Civilian massacres in Guaitirilla, Cajamarca, Arauca, San José de Apartadó - were brought to the attention of Irish people through the work of Colombian based Irish priest Brendan Forde.

Government prosecution and targeting of trade unionists, journalists, indigenous activists, religious leaders and human rights defenders have been denounced on numerous occasions by the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), whose recommendations have been repeatedly ignored by the government.

Meanwhile the Colombian civil war continues. Uribe took the presidency with the clear objective of launching an all-out war against guerrilla groups, while appeasing right-wing death squads.

With US support, Uribe's offensive aimed to crush the aspirations of the FARC and the ELN. However, despite huge military expenditure, financed by the US, the war has continued, so much so that the Bush administration wants to extend the 'Plan Colombia' to 2010.

Plan Colombia was presented in mid 1990s as an intervention plan to combat the drugs trade, but was denounced by human rights organisations as a cover for counter insurgency.

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