Colombia's Presidential Race : Candidate Knows 'Witch' Way to Vote

May 18, 1986|PATRICIA WALSH | United Press International

BOGOTA, Colombia — Next week, voters in Colombia will have an opportunity to elect a witch as president. If they do, she promises to use her broom to sweep corruption from government.

Regina Betancourt de Liska is known to her followers as "Regina 11"--and to her opponents as a "witch."

She is a self-proclaimed faith healer, mentalist and levitationist who says she has mentally tuned in to a future Pope, cured her infant daughter of a fatal illness and trained disciples to "magnetize" the masses who come to her for good luck.

And come to her they do. Hundreds of scribbled requests are left at the feet of nude plaster statues of her that she has placed behind her auditorium--a three-story brick building in an industrial area.

'People Love Me'

"Here the people love me, they admire me," Regina said in an interview. "I've never spent one cent on politics."

Regina, 49, first learned of her "powers" at age 4 when she says she rose through the air to touch a light bulb. "My mother saw me and screamed. She took me to a priest to be exorcised," she said.

During her youth, she said, she spoke through mental telepathy with an Italian priest named Angelo Roncalli, who told her: "One day you will be known by the number 11 and I by the number 23."

She says she never actually met the future Pope John XXIII, but nevertheless took his words to heart and began calling herself "Regina 11."

Husband Is a Believer

Her husband, Nebraska-born Danny Liska, said he first witnessed his wife's power when their daughter was born with a fatal lung defect. He said Regina massaged or "magnetized" the tiny girl, who is now a healthy 16-year-old.

He also swears to his wife's other powers. "She does levitate from a table and lights emanate from her. I've been all over the world, and I don't know anything that compares with it."

Although it may take witchcraft for her to win, she is not without a following. Colombians who seek her gifts commonly are among the poor and unemployed in a nation with 14% unemployment and 22% annual inflation.

And she is not a political novice.

Had 19,000 Votes

In the March elections, she received almost 19,000 votes in a losing bid for Congress.

Nevertheless, the more traditional candidates in the nation of 27 million are unconcerned. The two main parties, Conservatives and Liberals, have dominated Colombian politics since Simon Bolivar won independence from Spain in 1819.

Veteran politician Virgilio Barco, 64, has received the Liberal nomination while lawyer-journalist Alvar Gomez, 66, is running for the Conservatives. The election is May 25.

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