The Miami Herald
May. 30, 2002

S. Florida influences Colombian election

Drive brings out 27,000 voters


  Not long after the 2000 Census quantified Florida's Colombian population, the triumph of Colombian President-elect Alvaro Uribe Vélez Sunday proved the group's financial and political power.

  More than 27,000 Colombians voted from Florida's eight polling places Sunday -- 94 percent of them in favor of Uribe, whose Kendall-based U.S. campaign raised more than $400,000 in Florida alone.

  The election followed a six-month voter registration drive by the Colombian Consulate in Coral Gables, which for the first time operated outside polling places. The
  number of Colombian voters in Florida was quadruple that in the 1998 Colombian presidential election.

  This year, more than 34,000 Colombians living in Florida registered to vote -- and 80 percent carried through. Less than half of registered voters in Colombia cast
  ballots. Voter turnout represented almost 27 percent of Colombians living in Florida who are 18 and older.

  ''It's a huge number,'' said political scientist Dario Moreno of Florida International University. ``It signifies the importance of Miami as a transnational city, as a city where influence is not only going south-north, but north-south.''

  2000 CENSUS

  According to the 2000 Census, Miami-Dade County had 53,709 residents 18 and older who described themselves as Colombian. Broward County had 22,026.

  Only an estimated 3,600 Venezuelans living in Florida voted in the 1998 presidential elections -- about 13 percent of those who could have.

  In the days following Uribe's victory, the president-elect thanked Colombians living abroad via TV and an e-mail he sent to his Broward campaign head Lesly Jaramillo.


  ''In winning the presidency, we will create the necessary living conditions so those compatriots who found no future in our country can return full of dreams,'' wrote Uribe in the e-mail, which Jaramillo read to campaign volunteers Tuesday night.

  Uribe had good reason to give thanks abroad: 89,907 Colombians living outside their country voted the Antioquia governor into office from foreign polling stations.


  Whereas Uribe won nearly 85 percent of 106,705 foreign votes cast, in Colombia he won only 53 percent of the 11.2 million ballots.

  Uribe's hard-line proposal to confront rebels appealed to recent Colombian exiles, many of whom sought political asylum in the United States after losing family, friends and businesses to ongoing violence.

  ''These are the people that left, have some financial stronghold back home, and they're concerned about losing it all,'' said Fabio Andrade, a Weston-based Colombian activist who voted for Uribe.

  For Miami Consul Carmenza Jaramillo, registering this largely new community to vote proved arduous.


  From December through February, Jaramillo's staff of 14 worked every weekend registering voters in South Florida, Tampa and Orlando.

  The voter registration sites ranged from a bowling alley in Kendall to a physician's office in Weston.

  Jaramillo advertised the effort via radio, television, newspapers and 50,000 fliers.

  By the end of February, and in time for the March congressional elections, 22,000 Colombians were registered. When Jaramillo presented the numbers to government officials, they paid to hire 12 more employees who, from March to May, registered an additional 12,000 voters.

  With four Colombians running for congressional office in Florida elections this year, the group has a strong political future in the state as well, said Moreno, adding,
  ``Colombians are beginning to follow the Cuban path to political empowerment.''

  Herald database editor Tim Henderson contributed to this report.