Belisario Betancur Cuartas: President-elect of Colombia

Belisario Betancur Cuartas, the first Conservative politician elected to the Colombian presidency in 36 years, inherits an array of economic and political difficulties.

He united Conservative and independent voters to defeat the formidable political machine of Liberal candidate and former President Alfonso Lopez in Sunday's election.


A presidential candidate four times before, Betancur, 59, will assume the post Aug. 7, and with it an assortment of economic and political problems in the South American nation of 26.5 million.

Colombia, one of four South American democracies, is beleagured by high unemployment, inflation, illiteracy, infant mortalty and poverty - and subsequent political unrest and a thriving leftist guerrilla insurgency.

A state of siege, a modified form of martial law, frequently has been used to quell political unrest since the 1948 assassination of Liberal Party leader Jorge Gaitan.

Betancur has vowed to stimulate private investment and to build confidence in national and foreign investors. But he will have to push any economic recovery measures througha congress controlled by the Liberal party. The president-elect was born to a low-income family in Amaga, a small coal-mining town in the southwestwern province of Antioquia. He graduated from law school in 1947.


Betancur ran for the presidency in 1962, 1970, 1974, and 1978. He is a former minister of labor and ambassador to Spain.

He later studied sociology in Paris and economics in the United States.

He is married and has three children.

With nearly 85 percent of the 7 million votes tallied, Betancur had 47 percent in comparison to Lopez' 40 percent. Betancur took a big lead shortly after polls closed Sunday but Lopez did not concede defeat until Monday.

Luis Carlos Galan, a first-term senator who broke with Lopez to form the 'New Liberalism' movement, had 12 percent. The fourth candidate, Gerardo Molina, had slightly more than 1 percent of the vote.

Betancur, who lost the 1978 election by 140,000 votes to current president Julio Cesar Turbay, vowed during his latest campaign to sponsor programs to alleviate unemployment and subsequent political unrest.

'I will work day and night, without rest, to help the weak and the poor,' Betancur, the nation's 77th president, said in a victory speech.

The last Conservative to occupy the presidency was elected in 1946, shortly before the nation erupted into a decade of civil war.

To end the conflict, the Liberal and Conservative parties in 1958 formed the National Front and alternated governments for the next 16 years. Lopez' 1974 victory made him the first openly elected president in 20 years.


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