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17 Jun, 2010 20:42

Colombia goes to the polls

When people hear about Colombia, most people think of drugs. But the drug trade is only one of the many challenges facing the country.

 “This is the procedure to make cocaine. Once we place the ingredients into the mix, the result is called “pasta base” which is raw cocaine. After this, the filtration system includes even more chemicals in order to get the pure cocaine,” explained Lt. Rodrigo Godinez, of the Colombian Anti-Narcotics Force.

On May 30, millions of Colombians went to the polls to chose their next president. But after the votes were counted, two candidates still remained in the running: Juan Manuel Santos, a protégé of President Alvaro Uribe, and Antanas Mockus, former mayor of Bogota. As a result on June 20, both political parties will play the game of alliances and the parliament will then decide who will be the next leader—a leader who will have the tough job of closing major social gaps.

The government is not doing what it is supposed to do. For many years I have been working in the fields, and after all this work I don’t have a pension to retire. I believe that the new president should look on our situation and give us a hand,” said Jose Cruz, a Colombian farmer.

The conclusion of the election so far going into June 20 is that the Colombian people are looking for a new leader who will fix three issues: The economy, the peace process and the drug problem.
But Colombia is a country of contradictions: Poor neighborhoods with people living on less than one plate of food per day share the most developed city in the region with entire armies of bureaucrats and business people.

And the country’s military gets its fair share of criticism. Since 1996, Colombia’s military has received more than $6 billion in US aid. However, all of that money has been unable to fix 40 years of unofficial civil war, and a war on drugs with no end in sight.

Liberal Senator and politician Piedad Cordova believes these contractions exist because as long as internal war continues— whether it’s a war against drugs, or wars against paramilitaries or guerilla fighting—more and more politicians will benefit from it.

“There is convenience on keeping the war going on over and over throughout the same paths. For the Uribe government this was the doctrine of ‘democratic security’ and for the US, this was the way to preserve its presence and interests in the region,” said Cordova.

Today, Colombia’s close ties with the US is something that directly affects Colombia’s relationship with its South American neighbors. One main concern is the fact that Colombia is the only country in the region that allows US military forces full access to operate on its soil. As a consequence, neighboring countries have complained of violations to their sovereignty. But the relationship with the US, as well as the money and the resources they provide are crucial for Colombia’s government.

“We receive cooperation, resources and strategies from United States in the eradication of the coca crops and the fight against illegal drug production. All of this help comes from the Plan Colombia,” said Colonel Oscar Atehortua Luge, the director of the National School of Operations

For now, there are a lot of expectations from the people of Colombia. No matter who becomes the next leader of this South American country, one thing is for sure: He will face a long list of duties, starting with improving Colombia’s image, both within the company and around the world.