LIBERAL Party candidate Ernesto Samper Pizano was elected president of Colombia Sunday over Conservative Party candidate Andres Pastrana Arango in the closest presidential race Colombia has seen in more than two decades.
Mr. Samper, dubbing his platform ``social capitalism,'' promises to increase social spending and slow the pace of privatizing government enterprises, contrary to Latin America's current trend. Samper, an economist, says his aim is to mitigate the negative side effects of his predecessor's neoliberal program.
Patricia Lara, editor of the newsmagazine Cambio 16 says, ``Free trade won't be as free with Samper as it would have been with Pastrana.''
Results from the National Registry Office gave Samper 50.3 percent of the vote to Mr. Pastrana's 48.6 percent, with 99 percent of polling stations reporting.
These elections were peaceful in contrast to the 1990 presidential campaign, when three candidates were murdered, victims of drug-related violence.
Though drug money's influence on the candidates has not yet been measured, it was a campaign issue. US officials leaked information to the press that they had warned both candidates against accepting campaign contributions from drug traffickers.
Samper responded by offering to open his campaign ledgers to anyone who wanted to examine them. Pastrana challenged Samper to sign a letter swearing to resign from the presidency should drug contributions be discovered in the campaign.
Otherwise, drug trafficking was not a big issue in the campaign. Although Colombia is the No. 1 producer of cocaine in the world, trafficking is very low on the list of Colombians' worries. They are more concerned with street crime and unemployment. Since the Medellin drug cartel - with its campaign of violence designed to intimidate - has been dismantled, Colombians feel relatively unaffected by drug trafficking.
But both candidates spoke out against a recent Supreme Court decision decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, hashish, and methadone intended for personal use.
This is the first presidential election under the 1991 Constitution, which gives Colombia a vice president for the first time. Samper takes office on Aug. 7, having the advantage of a Liberal Party majority in both houses of the legislature.
The new Constitution required a runoff election if neither candidate won a 50-percent-plus-one majority in elections May 29.
Samper, most recently Colombia's ambassador to Spain, served as development minister in the first year of President Cesar Gaviria Trujillo's government. Mr. Gaviria put Colombia in the forefront of Latin nations opening their doors to foreign competition and capital. Colombia is currently involved in more free-trade pacts than any hemisphere nation.
Samper left Gaviria's Cabinet when differences with the president became marked. Though he does not plan to reverse current free-trade negotiations, Samper says unemployment created by Gaviria policies is too high and the farm sector is suffering unduly from imports.
He has promised that during his four-year term he will create 1.5 million new jobs. Samper also says he sees ``nothing magic'' in privatization, but would sell off state firms if it would result in improved efficiency.
Both campaigns were highly polished and often modeled on successful techniques used in other countries. Samper copied Chilean advertizing. Pastrana borrowed US President Clinton's 11th-hour tour of major cities on election eve.
Both Pastrana and Samper were pleased that the race was relatively peaceful, since they are victims of drug violence. Samper carries three bullets in his body from an assassination attempt during the 1990 campaign. Pastrana says he was kidnapped by the late drug lord Pablo Escobar the previous year.
Neither candidate made clear proposals for dealing with the country's 42-year-old guerrilla war or its poor human rights record.
Even though the Medellin cocaine cartel has been dismantled, Colombia's violence alienates many foreign investors. The new president will also have to develop a strategy for dealing with traffickers in the city of Cali, which now distributes more than 70 percent of the world's cocaine.