Pro-US Candidate Wins Landslide in Colombia

By Howard Williams | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - Colombians gave a resounding "No" to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and his dream of a left-wing anti-U.S. coalition of Latin American governments on Sunday by re-electing conservative President Alvaro Uribe to a second consecutive term.

Uribe's victory came as no surprise, but his margin of victory was stunning. Most opinion polls prior to the election suggested Uribe would receive a maximum of 55 percent of the vote, although some last-minute polls suggested socialist Carlos Gaviria might win enough votes to force Uribe into a run-off.

In the end, with 99 percent of the votes counted, the nation's electoral commission announced Uribe had been elected on the first ballot with a whopping 62 percent support, unmatched in Colombia's history. Gaviria managed just 22 percent, well ahead of the other also-runs.

Instead of complaining, Gaviria declared his support a success - pointing out that just weeks ago he was near the bottom of the polls with just five percent support.

Uribe, educated at Harvard, ran an unashamedly pro-American, pro law-and-order campaign.

The president, who managed to force a constitutional change last year to allow him to run for a second consecutive four-year term, ran on his record of fighting left-wing guerrillas and the Medellin drug cartel while developing closer ties with Washington.

The choices were well-defined for the voters - Gaviria complained that Uribe was too close to Washington and Colombia should sign on to the so-called Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a left-wing, nationalist grouping which currently comprises Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia.

Uribe, whose father was murdered by left-wing rebels, established a priority for his first term of office to crack down on the guerrillas and the country's drug barons; essentially his promise to Colombians during the 2006 election campaign was to deliver more of the same.

While the Colombian economy has been doing well under Uribe's guidance, and with strong support from the United States, the president did admit during the election campaign that he will have to do more to help the large numbers of impoverished Colombians currently living below the internationally recognized subsistence level.

He argued that Colombia's recent participation in a free trade pact with the United States would help him achieve this goal. It was Uribe's signature of that U.S. agreement that gave Chavez an excuse to take Venezuela out of a regional economic and trade bloc that had originally included both Colombia and Venezuela.

Opinion polls showed that most Colombians are opposed to the U.S.-Colombia trade pact, but at the same time they have little taste for Chavez's plan for a new regional, left-wing economic union.

The next test in the region for U.S. President George W. Bush will be next Sunday's presidential vote in Peru.

Anti-U.S. nationalist Ollanta Humala -- once the front-runner, is now believed to be well behind former socialist president Alan Garcia.

Garcia came in second to Humala in the first round with opinion polls suggesting at the time that the former president did not stand much of a chance. But the tide has turned dramatically against Humala, despite public declarations of support from Venezuela's Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales.

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.