Cablegate: Spilt Milk: Farc Attacks Against Nestle


DE RUEHBO #2995/01 1222209
R 022209Z MAY 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 002995



E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/02/2017

Classified By: Political Counselor John S. Creamer.
Reason: 1.4 (b,d)


1. (C) FARC attacks on Swiss multinational Nestle's dairy operations in Caqueta threaten the livelihoods of thousands of families. In January-February 2007, the FARC bombed Nestle plants and trucks in Caqueta, disrupting the most important legal sector in the department's economy. Nestle turned down GOC offers of security assistance, hoping local farmers will convince the FARC to leave Nestle alone. Even if Nestle achieves a de facto arrangement with the FARC, its future -- and the livelihoods of local farmers -- will remain subject to the group's whim. End Summary

Caqueta: Farming and the FARC

2. (U) The southern agrarian department of Caqueta has been a FARC stronghold since the FARC's inception. The area is still a battlefield. In the last six months FARC and COLMIL forces have clashed dozens of times. The departmental capital, Florencia, houses the COLMIL Sixt division's headquarters, and three Mobile Brigades are based at the
adjacent Larandia military base. The FARC's elite Teofilo Forero Castro mobile column operates just north of Florencia, and additional FARC fronts are also active in the area. Most of Caqueta's 450,000 residents work in cattle and agriculture.

Enter Nestle

3. (U) Nestle opened a milk condensing facility in Florencia in 1978, and later opened two large milk cooling plants in the northern towns of El Doncello and San Vicente de Caguan. Nestle's 40 year investment in Caqueta, includes having worked with ranchers to strengthen their technical capacity, improve soil quality and develop a hybrid dairy cow specifically bred for Caqueta. By 2006, Nestle was buying milk from 2,500 dairy farmers spread over an area larger than Switzerland. A fleet of 150 independently owned custom trucks collects milk from the farmers. Milk from southern Caqueta milk goes directly to Florencia, whereas milk from the north is first cooled in the El Doncello and San Vicente plants. After processing in Florencia, condensed milk is trucked to plants on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts for use in Nestle products.

4. (U) Company spokesperson XXXXXXXXXXXX said Nestle is the main source of "legal income" (as opposed to coca production) in the department, contributing 40 percent of the department's GDP. There are 4000 dairy producers in Caqueta, and the industry supports, directly and indirectly, the livelihood of about 10,000 families. Farmers are paid by check monthly, and can cash the checks with Nestle's offices. XXXXXXXXXXXX added that Nestle wanted to pay electronically, but farmers objected because Nestle checks act as legal tender throughout the department. They are safer than cash, since they can be canceled if stolen. XXXXXXXXXXXX said Nestle often receives checks that have been endorsed a dozen or more times.

Spilt Milk: FARC Attacks Nestle Plants

5. (C) The FARC has tried to dominate the dairy industry through attacks and extortion demands. On January 15, the FARC blew up a milk tank in the San Vicente de Caguan plant. Two days later, the FARC detonated a car bomb in the El Doncello plant that wiped out most of the plant and severely injured a worker. On February 1, the FARC attacked a milk truck on a remote road in northern Caqueta. The FARC also tried to destroy a Nestle milk cooling tank, but was dissuaded when the farm owner pointed out that the bomb would also destroy his house. Local sources told us the attacks were accompanied by warnings to dairy farmers not to sell milk to Nestle.

6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX of Nestle Colombia, said the most significant attack was the one on the milk truck. The economic value of the destruction of the El Doncello plant was far greater, but the milk truck attack hit Nestle where it is most vulnerable -- its collection routes. XXXXXXXXXXXX said it was all about money, explaining that the company refused a FARC extortion demand to stop the attacks for USD 400,000 per year. Military contacts also speculate that the FARC wants to force farmers back to coca cultivation, largely abandoned in favor of dairy production. The number of hectares under coca cultivation dropped by approximately 25 percent in 2004-2005.

--------------------------------------------- -------
Nestle Says "No Thanks" to Offer of Special Security
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7. (C) In a mid-March meeting, XXXXXXXXXXXX told President Uribe Nestle did not want any special security action from the GOC. Nestle also rejected the idea of participating in an interagency security committee of business leaders, government agencies, and security forces recently set up in Florencia under the auspices of Embassy MILGRP. XXXXXXXXXXXX pointed out that for 30 years Nestle co-existed with the FARC without interference. He thinks Nestle can return to the status quo if they do not antagonize the FARC by working closely with GOC security services.

8. (C) Nestle hopes dairy farmers in northern Caqueta will successfully pressure the FARC to leave Nestle alone. Drivers stopped collecting milk from the 1,000 plus farms in northern Caqueta after the truck attack, and Nestle is relying on the drivers to decide when it is safe to collect the milk. XXXXXXXXXXXX is optimistic about this approach. There have been no attacks since February, and milk is trickling in from the north in increasing amounts. Still, intake at the Florencia plant is down to 60 percent of the pre-attack level of 250,000 liters per day. This is sufficient to make a profit, and XXXXXXXXXXXX said Nestle has no plans to leave the area. XXXXXXXXXXXX added, however, that the El Doncello and San Vicente plants will not be reopened until the amount of milk from the north returns to pre-attack levels.

Livelihood of Thousands at Mercy of FARC

9. (C) The real victims of the attacks are the people of Caqueta. The incomes of dairy farmers in northern Caqueta, most of whom earn between USD 1,000-1,500 per month from Nestle, have dried up since the FARC attacks. Some are trying to eke out a living by making cheese, but quality is generally low, prices are dropping as the market is flooded, and producers face the same security and transport problems. With Nestle buying only 60 percent of the milk it used to, the department's entire economy has been hurt, and future investment is in jeopardy. Nestle had plans to expand all of its Caqueta plants, but those plans are now indefinitely on hold. Even if Nestle achieves a de facto arrangement with the FARC, its future -- and the livelihoods of local farmers -- will remain subject to the group's whim.


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