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South FL. Colombians Political Civil War

Colombian Americans, like many others, seek the grail of Cuban-American style political power. But without a galvanizing figure like the exiles’ hated Fidel Castro to unite them, and marked by decades of civil war in their homeland, they have yet to get behind one consensus agenda.

”The leadership and capacity exists to have more Colombians elected in different places, but up until now, many have put their own individual interests before the greater good,” said Jaramillo. “One of the most important tasks [of the think tank] is to help Colombians get out of each other’s way.”

Infighting has left its scars.

In 2000, Colombian-American Jose Luis Castillo ran against Zapata for Miami-Dade County District 11 commission seat — splitting the Colombian-American vote. When Andrade, a Republican, unsuccessfully ran for state Senate in 2004, Zapata, also a Republican, campaigned for Andrade’s Democrat opponent Nan Rich.

Zapata insists the feuds between Colombian candidates did not affect the outcome of those elections.

”I wasn’t elected by the Colombians, I was elected by the Cubans,” he said. “Physically, the Colombians are here, but their hearts and minds are still in Colombia.”

Zapata points to the gap in campaign fundraising as evidence of that dynamic: South Florida Colombians have been consistently reticent to give to compatriots running for local office, yet they raised more than $400,000 for Colombian president Alvaro Uribe during his 2002 race.

Zapata recently revived the Colombian American National Coalition, an organization that seeks to mobilize state and local groups on free trade and other issues. ”I can either do nothing, and become those Colombians I criticize, or I can get a few people together and try to do something,” he said.

The Colombian-American community has flirted with politics before.

Starting in the late 1990s, Colombians united behind two failed proposals that would have given thousands of undocumented Colombians the right to stay in the United States legally.

By 2001, activists had created two national organizations that drew hundreds to back-to-back conferences in Atlanta and Houston to strategize on a national political agenda — including a goal to elect a Colombian American to the U.S. Senate by 2008.

Fast forward six years, and those organizations — the political action committee, the two national alliances, and a local umbrella group — have faded.

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