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Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Profile: Alvaro Uribe Velez
FARC militants train in an area ceded to the group in 1998
The Colombian civil war topped the presidential agenda

With his landslide victory in the May elections, Alvaro Uribe Velez became the first presidential candidate to win outright in the first round in a Colombian election.

Mr Uribe climbed to the top of the polls with his talk of getting tough with the Marxist guerrillas and their 38-year war on the state, which has reached unprecedented levels of intensity.

But this message does not sit well with the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which have put a large contract out on his life and have tried to assassinate him three times in the last six months.

Colombia's presidential frontrunner speaks in public
Uribe has avoided death three times
In April, the guerrillas placed a bomb in a bus along the route Mr Uribe's campaign convoy was using in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla.

The bomb went off but the armour of Mr Uribe's vehicle saved him from harm. Sixteen passers-by were not so lucky. Three were killed and 13 wounded in the blast.

But Mr Uribe's relations with the FARC go back a long way, to 1983 when they gunned down his father in the family ranch in Antioquia.

"I hold no bitterness", he said before the elections, a small army of security guards crowding the hotel suite he occupied in the capital, and security ring thrown around the building. "I just want to serve Colombia."

And it is no small irony that it is the FARC that got Mr Uribe elected.

As the three-year peace process with the FARC broke down in February and guerrilla attacks increased, his popularity soared.
A bus travelling on the same route in northern Colombia was targeted
Three were killed in April's assassination attempt

President Pastrana tried the peaceful route and that only led to record levels of kidnapping, violence and extortion. The Colombians want to give war a chance.

"We gave the guerrillas a chance to negotiate, and they refused it," said Cristina Jimenez, 27, a teacher in Medellin, the heartland of Uribe support. "Let's see if they change their minds with a gun pressed to the heads."

The bespectacled 49-year old, a lawyer by training, a professional politician by instinct, obtained over 20 percentage points more than his nearest rival, the Liberal Party candidate and former Interior Minister, Horacio Serpa.

Mr Uribe's physical appearance, a slight bookish-looking man, educated at Oxford and Harvard, contrasts with his right-wing message and his political history.

President Pastrana tried the peaceful route and that only led to record levels of kidnapping, violence and extortion - the Colombians want to give war a chance.

His political opponents have plenty of ammunition against him, but none has hit the target with the electorate.

They have tried to paint him as the candidate of the right-wing paramilitaries that were responsible for killing more than 1,000 unarmed people last year through their policy of massacres and assassinations of suspected guerrillas, trade unionists, left-wing intellectuals, human rights workers and journalists.

Most of the raw material for such accusations comes from Mr Uribe's term as governor of his home province of Antioquia from 1995-1998.

During this time he set up a network of rural security co-operatives, known as Convivirs. At least two of these later became fronts for the paramilitaries.

Many Colombians tired of Pastrana's peace talks which resulted in more violence and extortion
Pastrana's initiatives have not worked
Not only is Mr Uribe unapologetic, but plans to create a national militia of some one million citizens to help bring state presence to the half of the country under the control of the warring factions.

During his period as governor of Antioquia the FARC suffered one of their worst ever reverses.

Under a combined military paramilitary onslaught they were driven out of the rich banana-growing region of Uraba and they have been trying to get back ever since.

There is little doubt the paramilitaries support Mr Uribe's candidacy, but they would support anyone with his message of a get-tough policy against their hated enemies the Marxist guerrillas, and there is no evidence that the hard-line candidate has any links with them.

There has been the smear of drugs trafficking laid at his door, and there is evidence that some of his friends have been involved in this shady world, but nothing has ever stuck to him.

And he has pledged to get tough with all the propagators of illegal violence in Colombia, the guerrillas, the paramilitaries, the drugs traffickers and common criminals.

"The main proposal is security with democracy. Security for all Colombians," he said.

Many have turned to Uribe because of the peace failure
Colombians lament the rise in violence
What he lacks in a sense of humour, he compensates with intensity. "I will protect all Colombians regardless of whether the attacks come from guerrillas or paramilitaries."

It would be wrong to label Mr Uribe a one-track album. His manifesto is complete and complex, revealing a lawyer's relish for detail. And his administrative ability has been proven as mayor of Medellin and governor of Antioquia.

But the shadow of Colombia's extreme and bloody right-wing waits to bask in his glory. And one thing is certain, Colombia faces yet more bloodshed, and the civil conflict is certain to enter its fifth decade.

The Colombian military has proven itself unable to react to, let alone contain the spreading violence.

It was the FARC, through their endorsement of current president, Andres Pastrana, and his peace proposals that secured that president's election.

It seems with their unrelenting attacks and atrocities they did the same for Mr Uribe.


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