Associated Press

Colombian peril: running for office

October 25--After agonizing a few months over a guerrilla pamphlet that named him as a "military target," Hermes Sanchez finally decided to quit the race for mayor of Leiva, a rural municipality in Colombia's lawless southwest.

25 de octubre de 2011

He had three excellent reasons: his children, aged 18 to 24. The rebels had made it clear, in "discussions" with Sanchez's adherents, that his family was also at risk.

The 48-year-old cattle trader said rebels wanted him out of the race because "I'm not the kind of person they can manipulate," something they apparently learned from his term as mayor from 2004-2006.

The truest barometer of Colombia's troubled democracy has always been its fate in the rugged, verdant countryside, and violence against rural political candidates has surged ahead of Oct. 30 regional and municipal elections. These days, illegal armed groups are increasingly deciding who gets elected.

At least 41 candidates have been murdered since February, nearly twice as many as in the same period four years ago, when the last such vote for mayors, governors and municipal councils was held.

"These are Colombia's most contentious elections because local power is the true power," said Alejandra Barrios, director of the independent electoral watchdog Electoral Observation Mission, which compiled the figures. 
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