Colombia: Darling of the Death Squads

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Some 54 percent of the 24 million registered voters stayed at home in Colombia's presidential election last month.

Colombia's new president is death squad darling Alvaro Uribe Velez. Son of a prominent mafia boss, Uribe Velez won a decisive first round victory in Colombia's elections. The high abstention rates left Velez with just 5.8 million votes--24 percent of eligible voter preferences.

The low turnout signified a growing disenchantment with a political system that has failed to address the nation's ongoing death squad violence and a severe economic crisis.

Uribe, who has a media mogul as his running partner, enjoys the enthusiastic support of the US government and the local media. He is also supported by the country's powerful generals and the death squad umbrella organisation AUC. According to observers, residents in rural areas were forced to vote for Uribe by right wing paramilitaries.

Paramilitary support for Uribe was also evidenced following his victory by the congratulations he received from the AUC. US ambassador Anne Patterson also congratulated him.

Uribe plans to increase military spending, double the number of troops, and create an armed militia of one million citizens. The prospect of armed civilians patrolling rural villages conjures up images of mass murder from Guatemala, where 'civil patrols' slaughtered thousands of indigenous people during the government war on the opposition.

'What this is going to do is prolong the armed confrontation even longer and place the country at the edge of a situation that is almost civil war and dissolution,' said Jorge Rojas, director of a Bogotá-based human rights group known as CODHES, which works with the county's steeply rising internal refugee population.