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Cablegate: Electoral Violence Down, but Still an Issue In

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SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR CO
SUBJECT: ELECTORAL VIOLENCE DOWN, BUT STILL AN ISSUE IN
SOME AREAS

REF: A. BOGOTA 6013 B. BOGOTA 5431 C. BOGOTA 5116

1. Summary: As the October 28 local elections draw near,
violence against candidates continues in specific
regions--though at lower levels than in previous elections.
Contacts from political parties across the spectrum expect
free and fair elections in spite of the limited violence.
The FARC and new criminal groups have reportedly murdered
forty-four candidates and kidnapped eight more this year,
with all parties affected. Colombian media and human rights
groups (including the US-funded Electoral Observation Mission
(MOE)) are highlighting the threats in specific regions, as
well as the GOC response. End Summary.

FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS, DESPITE VIOLENCE
-----------------------------------------
2. Colombian politicians from across the political spectrum
tell us violence is a problem in specific regions,
particularly in rural areas, but they expect the October
elections to be generally free and fair. Over 70% of voters
live in urban areas where violence is not a significant
issue. Andreas Mejia-Vergnaud, director for the Institute of
Liberty and Progress, voiced concern over the violence, but
told us the integrity of the elections will not suffer. Polo
Democratico Party President Carlos Gaviria pointed out the
significance of Polo candidates running in areas numerous
areas previously dominated by ex-paramilitaries (Cordoba,
Sucre, Cesar). An advance team from the OAS election
observation mission is expected in Bogota September 11. We
will meet with the team on September 13.

VIOLENCE INCREASES AS ELECTIONS APPROACH
----------------------------------------
3. News magazine "Semana" reported August 27 that forty-four
candidates have been assassinated and another eight have been
kidnapped in the run-up to the October 28 local elections.
The politically motivated attacks were mostly attributed to
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and new
criminal groups. In Aguachica in southern Cesar department,
threats have forced candidates to travel with body guards and
wear bullet-proof vests. Some candidates considered
withdrawing after the assassination of local Liberal Party
leader Anuar Yaver Cortes on August 16 at a town festival.
On August 18, Minister of Defense Santos visited Aguachica to
reassure candidates, leading them to continue their
campaigns. From March-June in Aguachica, sixty people were
injured in politically motivated attacks. The FARC and new
criminal groups were reportedly responsible.

4. In April-July, the FARC focused attacks in parts of
Antioquia, Meta, Valle and Caqueta. The FARC assassinated a
Cambio Radical candidate in Itagui, Antioquia department,
while new criminal groups threatened Polo Democratico
candidates in Bello, Antioquia. In Meta, the Conservative
party said it might withdraw its candidates after one was
killed in June. The FARC also murdered a mayor in Valle, and
four councilmen in Caqueta in the same period (ref C).

RISKS AND REMEDIES
------------------
5. Colombian daily "El Tiempo" highlighted potential threats
to the integrity of the upcoming elections and suggested
measures to mitigate them. "El Tiempo" said a lack of
transparency, possible voter intimidation, vote buying, drug
money influence, and electoral manipulation are problems in
many areas. New criminal groups are a concern in Catatumbo,
Narino and Meta. The editorial also raised concerns that
some politicians jailed in the para-political scandal were
trying to influence local elections in their home regions.

6. El Tiempo urged the GOC and international community to
prevent the threats from materializing. The paper recognized
the GOC has already taken strong actions to protect the
elections, including GOC civilian and security services
meeting weekly to address threats and an inter-agency group
established to respond to election issues as they arise (ref
A). El Tiempo recommended including new voting machines and
campaign finance reform for future elections. The paper also
highlighted the GOC's request for an OAS observation mission,
as well as civil society initiatives--including the US-funded
Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) and other groups--to
ensure free and fair elections.


WHO,S AT RISK?
--------------
7. MOE detailed the areas of the country most at risk for
possible problems (ref B) in an August 22 briefing,
identifying municipalities in Meta, Choc, Antioquia,
Bolivar, Arauca, Santander and Magdalena departments.
Potential problems included voter irregularities, voter fraud
and and violence. MOE also stressed the need for both
international and domestic election observers. MOE will
focus on voter education prior to elections and will also
mount a major observation effort, including 10,000 trained
observers, on election day.
Brownfield

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