NOTHING reveals the central challenge facing the new president of Colombia, C'esar Gaviria Trujillo, so clearly as the manner in which he became the Liberal Party candidate. Mr. Gaviria was managing the campaign of Luis Carlos Gal'an last August when Mr. Gal'an was brazenly gunned down by drug traffickers. Gaviria, at the urging of Gal'an's family and supporters, picked up the party's fallen standard. Two other presidential candidates also were assassinated this spring on orders of cocaine barons. Gaviria spent the last weeks before Sunday's election campaigning from a bunker, or swathed in bulletproof vests when he had to venture out. When he is inaugurated in August, the young economist will assume an office whose risks are more than the usual political ones.
Despite the brutal attempts at intimidation, Gaviria has vowed to continue the war on drugs launched by departing President Virgilio Barco after Gal'an's murder. The president-elect appears to recognize that Colombia's sovereignty and rule of law are at stake.
He also realizes, however, that the Colombian people are wearying of the battle against the vicious drug lords. Resignation and fear may partly account for the low voter turnout on Sunday - just 45 percent of eligible voters.
Gaviria knows that his countrymen will not let the United States the drug war to the last Colombian. That's why he is, understandably and rightfully, calling on the US for greater help in bearing the burden and costs of the fight.
The assistance Gaviria wants from Washington is not just more military training and firepower. He also wants to be able to export Colombian goods - principally coffee and flowers - more freely to the US to raise his people's standard of living. And the president-elect wants the US to do more to combat demand for cocaine and other drugs within its own borders.
The Colombian people have shown great courage in a climate of backwardness and violence that few Americans can imagine. The US must do all it can to help. For Colombia's battle against the traffickers is also a war for democracy.