Skip to content
Know Your Rights
Source: New York Daily News
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Colombian Election Fever in Jackson Hts.


Not surprisingly, with congressional elections in Colombia being held on March 14 and the
presidential election on May 30, the political environment is heating up in the
South American country – and in New
York City

Here in New York,
home to more than 1 million immigrants from the South American nation,
passionate political campaigns pro and con for Colombia‘s candidates are gathering

New York Colombians can vote in the elections at
their consulate.

Tomorrow, a group of progressive Colombians plans a
day-long series of events in Queens to launch
the campaign for the Polo Democrático opposition party and its presidential
candidate, Sen. Gustavo Petro.

Appropriately, the launching will take place in Jackson Heights,
the heart of the Colombian community in New

"We call ourselves Amigos del Polo Democrático en Nueva York, and we share Sen. Petro’s positions," said Freddy Castiblanco, 38, owner of Terraza 7
Train Cafe in Elmhurst.

The group opposes the policies of the current
president, Álvaro Uribe – the strongest Washington ally in Latin America – who,
after one reelection and eight years in power, apparently wants to run for a
third term.

Uribe’s popularity, still strong with voters,
lately has suffered a series of setbacks. A recent poll found that the majority
of Colombians do not want him to run again. Yet if he does, he will be the
undisputed favorite.

"The problem is that the Constitution doesn’t allow him to do
so," Castiblanco
"The whole country is waiting for the Constitutional Court verdict on his

Actively involved with the community in New York, Castiblanco belongs to
Make the Road New York and New York Small Business United for Health Care. He says Polo
Democrático is filled with young, active professionals who would like to see a
change in Colombia‘s
"political habits."

"We support Sen. Petro’s struggle to put an end to the close link
between the mafias and the state," Castiblanco
said. "Thanks to his
denunciations, more than 30 corrupt Congress members are in jail today because
of their links with drug traffickers, paramilitary groups and the FARC

One of Petro’s concerns is to put an end to the
violence that has plagued Colombia
for decades. But he says that, contrary to Uribe, he doesn’t believe this can
be accomplished only by force.

"I would have a policy different from
President Uribe’s," Petro told us in a phone interview. "It would be
a policy based on the conviction that social inequality is the mother of

"I would put in place a redistribution of
land, make credit available to small-business people and make great emphasis on
education. In other words, I would give the people the tools for them to be
able to leave poverty behind. Work is the only way to overcome poverty."

Mauricio Trujillo, the Polo Democrático’s candidate
for elected representative in the Colombian House of Representatives of the
more than 4 million of his compatriots who live outside their country, will be
in New York
for the occasion.

Although Castiblanco
is in favor of immigration reform, he says that the Polo Democrático’s main
concern is eliminating the problems that force people to emigrate.

"To resolve the problem of immigration, we have to fight its
primary causes,"
he said. "We
need to fight poverty, social inequality, lack of opportunity, insecurity [and]
unemployment so people won’t have to leave their country."