The Miami Herald
July 10, 1998

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 presidential
             sash Aug. 7 to lead a nation submerged in turmoil.

             But oddly, Pastrana struggles with an image as a lightweight, the son of an
             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 Bermudez, a
             19-year-old student.

             Favorable views

             Pastrana's supporters say he has been tempered and deepened by personal blows.
             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 his triumph
             and the flood of congratulatory calls from foreign leaders.

             ``Our image has changed in the world,'' he said. ``Did you see the headline in the
             Times of London? `Mr. Clean' Wins the Colombian Election.''

             It's quite a change of fortunes since his election loss to President Ernesto Samper
             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 as 80
             percent among his countrymen, according to pollsters.

             Publicly vilified

             The scandal left Pastrana distraught, recalled his older brother, Juan Carlos:
             ``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 to jail.
             Pastrana's credibility was restored.

             ``Do you remember when everyone called me a political corpse?'' Pastrana asked
             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 palace,
             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 family
             TV program, TV Hoy, and began the quest for interviews with renowned foreign

             Top-level lineup

             ``We spent a year trying to get an interview with Yasser Arafat,'' TV Hoy  director
             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 of
             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 lot of
             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 a week.
             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 easy to
             peg politically, despite his Conservative Party roots.

             ``Andres believes in the need for the state. He doesn't believe you should do away
             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 role in
             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.