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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
05BOGOTA10396
2005-11-04 15:41:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Bogota
Cable title:  

HISTORIC LOW TURNOUT FOR CARTAGENA MAYORAL

Tags:   PGOV  KJUS  PINR  CO 
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VZCZCXYZ0031
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #0396/01 3081541
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 041541Z NOV 05
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9447
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 6351
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 6721
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ NOV 7415
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 2878
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 8502
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 3395
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 3306
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/USCINCSO MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
						C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 010396 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/01/2015
TAGS: PGOV KJUS PINR CO
SUBJECT: HISTORIC LOW TURNOUT FOR CARTAGENA MAYORAL
ELECTIONS; CURI TO SERVE THIRD TERM

Classified By: Political Counselor Jeffrey DeLaurentis;
Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

-------
SUMMARY
-------



1. (C) On October 30, a record low number of Cartagena's
residents voted to return controversial
doctor-turned-politician Nicolas Curi to the mayor's office
for a third, non-consecutive term. Seventy-eight percent of
eligible voters stayed home during the special election.
Curi's main opponent was a "blank vote" movement, known in
Cartagena as "voto en blanco." If this movement had received
fifty percent of the vote, new elections, with a new slate of
candidates, would have been required. Curi received 45.6
percent of the nearly 120,000 votes cast; the "blank vote"
movement received 34 percent. Because of death threats and
accusations of vote buying in the weeks leading up to the
vote, the GOC took extra action to ensure fairness and
transparency. Ultimately, election day transpired in an
orderly fashion.



--------------------------

---
CARTAGENA ELECTS CURI TO THIRD TERM;
OPPOSITION CHOOSES TO SUPPORT "BLANK" CANDIDATE


--------------------------

---



2. (U) Cartagena held a special mayoral election on October


30. The election was called to resync Cartagena, off cycle
for administrative reasons, with the national mayoral
election schedule. While there were six candidates on the
ballot, only two were in contention: two-time former mayor,
Nicolas Curi Vergara, and a "blank vote," known as the "voto
en blanco." Curi, a former doctor who served as Cartagena's
mayor on two prior occasions, 1992-1995 and 1998-1999, is a
controversial figure. According to Curi himself, he is a man
of the people, interested only in promoting the well-being of
poor people who inhabit the impoverished neighborhoods south
of the historic city center. According to other local
leaders, including Representative German Viana, Curi is the
"worst of the worst," the most corrupt politician in a city
known for corruption. (The day before the elections, Interior
Minister Sabas Pretelt denounced the awarding of the city's
trash collection contract as corrupt.) Curi left office in
1999, before the scheduled 2000 end of his second term as
mayor, amid a flurry of corruption charges. He was not
convicted, but the charges were widely reported by local and
national press in the months leading up to the elections.




3. (C) Curi's only real opponent was the "voto en blanco"
movement, which, had it won 50 percent of the vote, would
have mandated new elections with a new slate of candidates.
In a meeting with poloffs, Curi claimed the movement was
funded by Cartagena's wealthy elite as a means to defeat him
and install a candidate of their choosing. Others claimed
Curi was allied with the city's elite and that the "voto en

blanco" movement was the spontaneous creation of a group of
young people. The movement itself had no spokesperson and
made no statements. Polls in the week leading up to the
elections showed Curi and "voto en blanco" running about
even. No poll showed the "voto en blanco" movement receiving
the necessary 50 percent of the votes, and Curi was expected
to win the elections.



4. (U) Ultimately, Curi received 45.6 percent of the nearly
120,000 votes cast. The "voto en blanco" movement received
34 percent. In third place, Mary Luz Londono, the Democratic
Pole (Polo Democratico) candidate, received 11 percent.
Turnout hit an historic low; 78 percent of those eligible did
not vote. (Comment. Had this been a regular election,
Curi's vote total and margin of victory would likely have
been much larger, as city council and other local races would
have mobilized the traditional electoral machinery. End
Comment.)



--------------------------


ELECTIONS A QUIET AFFAIR, DESPITE CONCERNS
ABOUT ELECTION FRAUD, VIOLENCE


--------------------------






5. (C) The weeks preceding the election were marked by
threats of violence and accusations of vote buying.
Representative Viana told poloffs he received a death threat
as a result of his vocal support of the "voto en blanco
movement." Journalists, including the editor of the leading
local paper, El Universal, also received anonymous death
threats.



6. (U) The GOC took extra measures to ensure that the
elections were fair and transparent. Fifteen hundred members
of the various security agencies, including the Colombian
National Police (CNP), the Colombian Navy and the Prosecutor
General's Office (Fiscalia) were stationed at polling
locations to ensure order and prevent vote fraud. Both the
Fiscalia and the Department of Administrative Security (DAS)
created telephone hotlines to report voting fraud or
difficulty. These numbers were published in local newspaper
El Universal on election day and posted at many of the
polling locations poloffs visited. El Universal reported on
October 29 that the Fiscalia's Technical Investigations Unit
and the CNP had carried out raids on election headquarters
and homes of the candidates and their relatives, including
the "voto en blanco" movement, looking for money and other
items with which to buy votes. The Fiscalia did not comment
specifically on what items were found during these raids; El
Universal reported that caches of money totaling 200 million
Colombian pesos (COP) and 700 million COP, respectively, were
found in two of the raided locations. According to the
paper, the raids were carried out in response to tips
received on the DAS election hotline.



7. (C) On election day, poloffs visited seven of the 54
polling locations throughout Cartagena including the center
of the city, the Bocagrande suburb, and the impoverished
neighborhoods south of the center. They did not witness any
voting impropriety. Schools and shopping areas served as
polling locations. Voting moved swiftly at each location
visited; there were no lines. Voters were able to locate
their pre-registered Colombian national identity number on
boards posted outside the polls, their polling station within
a given location, vote and leave in less than three minutes.
At one polling location, a couple complained to poloffs of
voting difficulties associated with attempting to vote at a
location other than the one at which they had pre-registered.
Fiscalia representatives at each polling location said voter
turnout was low. On November 1, a Fiscalia representative
told poloff that no formal complaints of voting impropriety
or fraud had been received during the election. (On October
31, El Tiempo reported accusations of vote buying in the El
Poson area of Cartagena.) In general, election day
transpired in an orderly fashion. Law and order was the
norm. Cartageneros commented that such a development was in
itself a novelty.



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------





8. (C) In the days leading up to the election, poloffs met
with Curi and other Cartagena politicians, including Senator
Javier Caceres Leal, Governor Libardo Simancas Torres and
David and Jose Turbay (former Bolivar Governor and former
Representative, respectively). All supported Curi, either
openly or behind the scenes; all were skeptical about the
"voto en blanco" movement's origins and chances for electoral
success. Despite Curi's contention that attacks against him
were motivated by Cartagena's elite, his election to a third
term demonstrates that most of the old guard in Cartagena
politics continues to support him.
WOOD