The Miami Herald
Mar. 10, 2002

Colombian expatriates going to polls

                      BY PAULA NINO
                      Special to The Herald

                      Colombians living in South Florida will go to the polls today to vote for a congressional seat reserved for
                      Colombians living abroad. The election, which includes three candidates living in South Florida, makes
                      Colombia the first Latin American country to have such a seat.

                      Approximately 23,000 Colombians living in South Florida -- a record number -- registered to vote in this
                      special election, according to the Colombian Consulate in Coral Gables. This more than doubles the
                      10,300 who registered to vote in the congressional and presidential elections four years ago. According
                      to the most recent U.S. Census, 139,000 Colombians make Florida their home.

                      Frustrated by years of escalating guerrilla conflict, spiraling unemployment and increasingly bold activity
                      by illegal drug traders, Colombia's expatriate community sees its right to vote as the most viable way to
                      give support to its country, said Esperanza Martinez, director of the Colombian American Service
                      Association, a nonprofit organization that aids Colombians in South Florida.

                      CONCERN IGNITED

                      The recent rupture of peace negotiations by President Andrés Pastrana has ignited concern of many in
                      the exile community.

                      ''Frustration has been manifested by the high number of people registering to vote,'' said Juan Carlos
                      Zapata, founder of the association. ``People have something to say, and this is a way to say it.''

                      The three Florida residents running for the seat are: Jairo Martínez, 45, owner of a public relations firm
                      representing music personalities Emilio Estefan and Shakira; Manuel José Vives, 61, partner in a
                      vegetable import company; and Camilo Duarte, 38, a Miami entrepreneur. Martínez and Vives are
                      Miami-Dade County residents; Duarte lives in Miramar.

                      Martinez said Saturday that his platform would be based on creating a sense of community among all
                      Colombians living abroad; on fighting to obtain temporary protected status for Colombians in the United
                      States; and on working to lower the tax on funds sent to support relatives in other countries.

                      Temporary protected status was not enough for Duarte, who said he wants to explore the possibilities
                      of amnesty.

                      As for the current war going on in his homeland, Duarte suggested leaders ``ask Washington to lead a
                      movement to freeze assets of the guerrilla abroad and put the money back into the Colombian

                      In addition, Duarte said, registration should be accessible over the Internet, and the number of
                      congressional seats representing Colombians living abroad should be increased from one seat to four.

                      Vives said he would work to create social service agencies in local communities to extend services such
                      as health and education to Colombians. He would also establish a network of social agencies called
                      ''Casa Colombia'' to provide aid to immigrants.

                      ''Social services to low-income Colombians abroad should be extended, and the creation of education
                      for the children should be permitted,'' Vives said.

                      AROUND THE WORLD

                      The remaining 22 candidates hail from other parts of the United States, as well as Panama, Venezuela,
                      Canada and Spain.

                      The special seat was created in Colombia's 1991 Constitution to give citizens abroad a representative
                      in the House who would work for their interests, but the details about how it would work came into
                      place only last year, Zapata said.

                      Each candidate campaigns in his or her country of residence, but all of the 106,500 Colombians
                      registered abroad will vote. The winner will return to Colombia to represent citizens abroad for the next
                      four years.

                      Staff writer Cyd Penny contributed to this report.