Change of fortunes for Colombian leader
President-to-be exults in victory
By TIM JOHNSON
Herald Staff Writer
BOGOTA, Colombia -- Nearly a decade ago, when he was mayor of Bogota,
Andres Pastrana glanced out his office window to a startling sight: A man climbing
the steps of Congress literally exploded.
The shock wave knocked the telephone out of Pastrana's hand.
A terror attack had gone awry. A bomb blew up prematurely in the carrier's
hands. It was only one of 130 bombings and assassinations that occurred during
Pastrana's 1988-90 mayoral watch, earning him what he now calls ``a Ph.D. in
Studies in violence will surely come in handy as Pastrana, 43, dons the
sash Aug. 7 to lead a nation submerged in turmoil.
But oddly, Pastrana struggles with an image as a lightweight, the son of
ex-president who grew up in gilded society, attended the good schools and looks
like the well-groomed TV newscaster that he once was. Some Colombians see
him as lacking substance.
``He's had it all from birth. . . . He's very superficial,'' said Paola
Pastrana's supporters say he has been tempered and deepened by personal
And they say his talented aides are restoring confidence in Colombia. Since
Pastrana's June 21 runoff victory, the peso has climbed, and business leaders are
In an interview, Pastrana appeared buoyant at the positive coverage of
and the flood of congratulatory calls from foreign leaders.
``Our image has changed in the world,'' he said. ``Did you see the headline
Times of London? `Mr. Clean' Wins the Colombian Election.''
It's quite a change of fortunes since his election loss to President Ernesto
in 1994, when Colombians turned on him as a ``sore loser'' two days after the
election, when he revealed taped phone calls indicating that millions of dollars in
drug money had poured into Samper's campaign. Pastrana said the tapes had
come to him anonymously.
In the months that ensued, Pastrana's negative image soared to as high
percent among his countrymen, according to pollsters.
The scandal left Pastrana distraught, recalled his older brother, Juan
``People said, `How could you do this to the fatherland?' They spit at him in the
street. . . . Nobody defended Andres.''
The cassettes sparked a huge investigation, and dozens of politicians went
Pastrana's credibility was restored.
``Do you remember when everyone called me a political corpse?'' Pastrana
a reporter, smiling broadly.
Given his family background, it's little surprise that Andres Pastrana
should end up
leading his nation. His grandfather, Carlos Arango Velez, ran for president in
1942, and his father, Misael Pastrana, won the presidency in 1970, sending the
family to San Carlos Palace, the former presidential residence in colonial
As a 15-year-old in 1970, Andres Pastrana chafed at the protocol in the
where few friends would visit: ``I was very bored. . . . All my girlfriends lived up
here in the north,'' he recalled.
After law school, Pastrana took a job as a producer and newscaster at the
TV program, TV Hoy, and began the quest for interviews with renowned foreign
``We spent a year trying to get an interview with Yasser Arafat,'' TV Hoy
Aris Vogel said. ``We were in Beirut in the middle of the war.''
The interview finally came through, as did others with Gen. Augusto Pinochet
Chile, Lech Walesa of Poland, Maurice Bishop of Grenada and Shimon Peres of
Israel. Pastrana became a familiar face to TV viewers.
Politics eventually beckoned, and Pastrana served as a Bogota council member
from 1982 to 1986. In 1988, he decided to run for mayor. Ten days before the
registration deadline, kidnappers linked to the Medellin Cartel snatched him.
Pastrana was given one phone call. He called his father, who mentioned that he
would probably not be freed in time to file for the elections.
``At the end, he said, `Andres, I know this is going to be long. Have a
strength. You will have a lot of opportunities to be mayor of Bogota. This is not
the only one.' And I said to him, `No, I'm going to be the mayor.' ''
Authorities stumbled on the kidnappers' hideout and freed Pastrana after
He went on to win City Hall, then on to the Senate in 1991.
Doesn't fit mold
A fluent English speaker and devout fan of open markets, Pastrana is not
peg politically, despite his Conservative Party roots.
``Andres believes in the need for the state. He doesn't believe you should
with the state,'' said Jaime Ruiz, an urban planner and childhood friend tapped by
Pastrana to become national planning director.
In the interview, Pastrana made clear that he'll take on Colombia's economic
tycoons, who often sponsor politicians and win favors, and stressed that his
government will enforce anti-monopoly laws.
``I don't think monopolies are so good for the country,'' he said.
It's the issue of peace, though, that may determine Pastrana's eventual
history. A civil war launched by two major rebel groups has cost more than
30,000 lives since the early 1960s. Today, rightist militias also simmer in the brew.
On Thursday, Pastrana announced that he had held a surprise meeting with
legendary Marxist guerrilla leader Manuel Marulanda to set the stage for peace
talks. Rebel leaders had refused to talk with Samper, saying he was weak, elected
with questionable money and prone to arm-twisting by the United States.
``Why will the guerrillas talk with Andres? Because he will form a legitimate,
autonomous government with the power to make decisions,'' said Sen. Claudia
Blum, a Pastrana supporter.
Herald special correspondent Lesly Zambrano contributed to this report.