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Cablegate: Visit of Hdac Committee, August 27-31, 2007

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #6200/01 2352046
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 232046Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8316

UNCLAS BOGOTA 006200

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

H FOR CONGRESSMAN DAVID PRICE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM ECON ETRD OVIP OTRA PGOV PREL CO
SUBJECT: VISIT OF HDAC COMMITTEE, AUGUST 27-31, 2007

--------
Summary
--------
1. (SBU) Colombia's congress passed President Uribe,s top
legislative priorities in its latest session, and its members
look forward to developing institutional ties with the U.S.
Congress. Security has markedly improved with successful
military efforts to re-take areas controlled by the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) over the last
five years. Improved security helped lift the Colombian
economy to record growth in the first quarter of 2007. The
Uribe Administration seeks U.S. Congressional support for the
U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA) which
President Uribe considers key to spur economic growth,
attract international investors, and boost revenues to fund
social programs and the fight against narco-terrorism.
Eradication of coca and poppy crops and interdiction of
cocaine and heroin have reached record levels, but Colombia
remains the main supplier of cocaine to the United States.
Since taking office, President Uribe has approved well over
500 extraditions to the United States.

2. (SBU) In January, the GOC presented a Plan Colombia
consolidation strategy with increased emphasis on social
development and territorial control. Trade unionists
continue to suffer from violence, but the number of unionists
killed fell by over 60 percent from 2002-2006. The GOC also
continues to make progress on human rights cases. Over
32,000 paramilitaries have demobilized since 2002, and a
further 11,000 have deserted from all illegal armed groups
(about half from the FARC). The release of the three U.S.
contractors captured by the FARC in February 2003, the
longest held U.S. hostages in the world, is a top priority.
End Summary.

------------------
Colombian Congress
------------------

3. (U) Your visit will demonstrate our broad engagement with
Colombia, and serve as recognition of the country's strong,
independent institutions. Colombia's bicameral congress is
composed of 102 nationally elected Senate members and 166
House members ("Deputies") who are elected from party lists
in each department. The Congress has a functional committee
structure with seven standing committees in the Senate and
House. House committees have 18-33 members and Senate
committees have 13-19 members. Parties supporting President
Uribe have a majority in both the Senate and House. The
opposition left-of center Polo Democratico party and the
traditional Liberal party play an important role, by ensuring
Congress debates controversial issues fully.

4. (U) The 1991 Constitution made Congress a more important
player in the policy-making process by limiting the
president's power to issue decrees, demand urgent
consideration of legislation, and declare states of
emergency. The veto override margin was reduced from
two-thirds of Congress to a simple majority. A new party
reform law ("Ley de Bancadas" ) attempts to increase party
discipline by requiring that members vote with their parties
except on votes of conscience. Still, Congress is weakened
by the large number of parties (a 2003 political party reform
law effectively reduced the number of parties from 60 to
about ten by requiring a minimum threshold of votes to gain a
seat in Congress), infrequency of roll-calls, and annual
party leadership rotations.

5. (U) During its February-June session, Congress passed
the president's top legislative priorities, including the
U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA), a National
Development Plan for 2006-2010, and a critical bill reforming
federal and state revenue sharing. The reform bill,
considered key to the government's long-term fiscal health,
was highly unpopular and generated numerous protests. Its
passage represented a major victory for President Uribe.
Legislators have now focused on upcoming local elections in
October. Significant legislation before the elections
appears unlikely.

6. (U) Public approval of Congress has declined as a result
of the parapolitical scandal: so far, fourteen
congresspersons are in jail for para-links, and another
fifteen are under investigation. Public approval of
Congress, traditionally relatively high for Latin America,
has dropped from 55 percent in mid 2006 to about 35 percent
in recent polling due to the para-scandal.

--------------------
GOC Security Outlook
--------------------

7. (SBU) USG security assistance combats drug trafficking
and terrorism and includes training, material aid, and
technical assistance to security forces and other
institutions. The U.S. is Colombia's most important ally and
President Uribe appreciates that his government's
achievements on security would not have been possible without
U.S. help.

8. (SBU) The increased military effort to establish
Colombian government control in areas dominated by the FARC
has been successful over the last five years. The FARC has
failed in its efforts to mount a major attack against Bogota
and its environs since November 2003, although they have
tried repeatedly. The military now operates in the historic
heartland of the FARC and in the main coca growing regions in
the country. Landmines, disease, logistic issues, limited
airlift, and distance, and difficult terrain all restrain the
public forces, but they are making progress. Nevertheless,
the FARC can launch attacks on isolated or smaller government
targets.

9. (SBU) With USG support, the GOC formed in 2005 an
interagency body, the Center for Coordinated Integral Action
(CCAI), to link the delivery of social services and
establishment of a civilian presence to military efforts.
CCAI delivers social services in nine key areas, with a
combined population of almost two million, that traditionally
fell under the control of illegal armed groups. The Center
provides immediate social services once the Colombian
government has secured an area.

-------------------------
Fighting Narcotrafficking
-------------------------

10. (SBU) President Uribe is committed to defeating
narcotrafficking, and the GOC has invested substantial
resources in this effort. The eradication of coca and poppy
fields and the interdiction of cocaine and heroin reached
record levels in 2006. The GOC is increasing its manual
eradication program, but understands manual eradication
cannot replace aerial spraying. The GOC seeks a
complementary approach using both methods. Security forces
seized a near-record 203 metric tons of cocaine and coca base
in 2006, and destroyed a record 200 cocaine laboratories. We
are working with the GOC to refine the eradication strategy
and determine how to transfer key tasks from the USG to the
GOC. The GOC is also fighting narcotrafficking through
extradition. President Uribe has approved over 500
extraditions to the United States, including 87 cases so far
in 2007. Colombia remains the main supplier of cocaine to
the United States, but eradication and seizures have taken
some USD 400 million out of the hands of the FARC and
Colombian mafias.

------------------------
Plan Colombia Next Steps
------------------------

11. (SBU) In January, the GOC presented a Plan Colombia
consolidation strategy. The proposal contains a heightened
emphasis on social development, assigning new resources to
consolidate governance, promote human rights, and to help
displaced people, Afro-Colombian, and indigenous communities.
It also aims to reintegrate 42,000 demobilized ex-combatants
and deserters and to promote Colombia's licit exports. The
GOC seeks funding from the United States and European
countries to support the consolidation strategy.

12. (U) Increased emphasis on social development dovetails
with USAID programs. USAID currently funds programs in four
key strategic sectors in Colombia: alternative development
and economic policy reform; justice reform, human rights and
strengthening governance; demobilization and reintegration of
illegal armed groups, and; assistance to internally displaced
persons (Colombia has between 2 and 3 million displaced
persons), Afro-Colombians and other vulnerable populations.

-------------------------
Positive Economic Outlook
-------------------------

13. (U) Improved security helped boost the Colombian
economy. 2006 GDP growth was 6.8 percent, while 2007 first
quarter growth reached 8.1 percent, the highest in Colombian
history. Both exports and imports grew more than 20 percent
in 2006. The United States remains Colombia's largest trade
partner (approximately 40 percent of exports and 28 percent
of imports). Colombian exports to the U.S. have grown USD 1
billion per year since the inception of the Andean Trade
Preferences and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) in late 2002;
U.S. exports to Colombia increased approximately USD 2
billion. The largest U.S. investors -- Drummond (coal),
ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil -- plan considerable expansion
due to the improved investment climate and security
situation. Foreign Direct Investment increased to USD 8.9
billion in 2006, quadruple the FDI in 2002.

14. (SBU) The CTPA remains the GOC's highest economic
priority. The Colombian Congress approved the CTPA in June.
The Uribe administration introduced the modification protocol
signed in June in the Colombian Congress on July 20. GOC
officials expect to vote on the protocol in October. The
U.S. Congress has extended trade preferences for Colombian
exporters under the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA), the
successor to the ATPDEA, through February 2008. The
Colombian government will seek your guidance on next steps to
help it achieve ratification of the CTPA in the U.S.
Congress.

-----
Labor
-----

15. (U) Trade unionists continue to be victims of violence,
but the number of unionists killed fell by over 60 percent
from 2002-2006. This drop reflects the GOC,s success in
reducing violence across the country (overall homicides fell
by over 40 percent during the same period), as well as
increased funding for special protection programs for
unionists, human rights activists, journalists, and other
threatened groups. The GOC's Protection Program assisted
over 10,000 people, including unionists, in 2006. The GOC
expects to spend some USD 34 million on protection in 2007.
The Prosecutor General's human rights unit is investigating
204 priority labor violence cases. The GOC will add USD 40
million to its 2008 budget to add nearly 500 prosecutors,
staff and investigators to working labor cases and other
human rights cases.

--------------------------------------------- ----
Military Justice and Improved Human Rights Record
--------------------------------------------- ----

16. (SBU) The Uribe Administration continues to make slow
progress on human rights cases involving military abuse or
collaboration with paramilitaries. Minister of Defense
Santos has identified military justice reform as a top
priority; in October, he named the first civilian -- and the
first woman -- as director of the Military Criminal Justice
System. Santos also recently set up a high-level commission
to address a troubling up-tick in alleged extrajudicial
killings by the military. Human rights training is mandatory
for all members of the military and police.

--------------------------------
Demobilization and Peace Process
--------------------------------

17. (SBU) Over 32,000 former paramilitaries have demobilized
since 2002, and a further 11,000 have deserted from all
illegal armed groups (about half from the FARC). FARC
desertions increased significantly in 2007. The GOC has
developed a reintegration program to meet the demobilized
needs -- the largest such reintegration program ever
attempted. The effort continues while the GOC battles the
FARC and ELN. A small percentage of renegade paramilitaries
have joined new criminal groups, which have shed all
political pretensions to focus on drug trafficking,
racketeering, and other crimes. Job creation is a priority,
but many of the demobilized have few employable skills and
need intense psycho-social and vocational training before

they can enter the labor force.

18. (SBU) The Justice and Peace Law process -- which
provides reduced 5-8 year sentences for paramilitaries guilty
of human rights abuses in exchange for truth and reparations
-- is exposing the full extent of paramilitary penetration of
Colombian society and government. It has helped solve over
200 murders and led to the exhumation of over 800 bodies of
paramilitary victims. President Uribe strongly supports the
Justice and Peace process, as well as the Supreme Court's
investigations into links between paramilitaries and
legislators.

19. (SBU) The smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) has
negotiated with the GOC in Cuba for two years without
success. Talks have stalled largely because the ELN
overestimates its leverage, insisting on substantive
political reforms (rejection of FTA, greater regional
autonomy, etc.) that are unacceptable to the GOC. The ELN
also rejects GOC terms for cease-fire monitoring and hostage
release verification. The ELN continues to kidnap victims to
finance its operations, but their military capability has
been sharply degraded. The FARC had refused to engage in any
meaningful peace talks, and recently killed eleven state
legislators that had been held hostage for five years.
President Uribe recently authorized opposition Senator Piedad
Cordoba to serve as a go-between with the FARC. Cordoba took
a group of relatives of FARC-held hostages to Caracas to meet
with President Chavez. Chavez offered to act as an "observer
and guarantor" for a humanitarian exchange of FARC-held
hostages for FARC terrorists held by the GOC, and suggested
Venezuela as a possible site for talks.

-------------
U.S. Hostages
-------------

20. (SBU) The three U.S. contractors captured by the FARC in
February 2003 remain the longest held U.S. hostages in the
world. Their safe release remains a top priority. The
Colombian government continues to provide full assistance.
President Uribe has assured us that the U.S. hostages will be
included in any humanitarian exchange.

Nichols

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