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Personality Spotlight Cesar Gaviria: Unwavering foe of cocaine cartels

By United Press International

A hail of bullets from cocaine cartel gunmen propelled Cesar Gaviria into the presidency of Colombia.

Gaviria, a 43-year-old economist who was elected Sunday to a four-year term, became the political heir of Sen. Luis Galan after the leading presidential candidate was cut down by cocaine hitmen at an Aug. 18, 1989, campaign rally.

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Since then, the father of two has been an unwavering foe of the cartels who control most of the world's cocaine trade.

'He's probably the most threatened man in Colombia right now,' said a U.S. official with expertise in narcotics.

Gaviria wears a bullet-proof vest whenever he appears in public, which was seldom in the last weeks of the assassination-ridden campaign. In Bogota, he travels in a caravan of armored cars and jeeps carrying bodyguards who hold submachine guns just below open windows, ready to shoot. An ambulance always brings up the rear.

He has spoken out strongly in public against the cocaine cartels ever since he became the candidate following Galan's assassination.

Galan's son, Juan, gave the Colombian and Liberal Party flags to Gaviria at his father's funeral, bestowing upon him Galan's challenge to confront the cocaine cartels who have invaded most of the nation's institutions and made a shambles of its justice system.

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'The country is facing the most powerful criminal organizations that any country has ever had to confront,' Gaviria said during the campaign. 'Never has any nation at any time in its history had to confront criminal organizations with billions of dollars at its service.'

Through a hail of bombs and assassinations of presidential candidates, Gaviria steadfastly refused to consider negotiations with the cartels despite alls for peace by his opponents trying to appeal to a war-weary public.

'Countries that make concessions to terrorism continue to have terrorism,' he said.

Gaviria was a former economy minister and interior minister, the top domestic policy position, in the Cabinet of President Virgilio Barco, whom he replaces. He temporarily assumed the presidency nine times during Barco's absence.

He became Galan's campaign manager after Galan brought his reformist New Liberal movement back into the party fold, then won the party's nomination on March 11, seven months after Galan's death.

He was a congressman since 1974 from the city of Pereira, the coffee-growing center where he was born on March 31, 1947, and where he served as a city councilman and mayor. Gaviria was president of the House of Deputies in 1983.

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Gaviria is a fan of rock music and is married to Ana Milena Munoz de Gaviria. They have two children, Mariapaz and Simon.

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