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Cablegate: Colombia's Efforts to Ensure Fair Elections In

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C O R R E C T E D COPY TEXT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KJUS PGOV PINR PREL PTER CO
SUBJECT: COLOMBIA'S EFFORTS TO ENSURE FAIR ELECTIONS IN
SUCRE & CORDOBA


-------
SUMMARY
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1. During a pre-elections visit to Sucre and Cordoba
departments, politicians, local authorities, and victims,
groups all told us the safer environment created by the
demobilization of paramilitaries resulted in a dramatic
increase in the participation of newer political parties.
However, some victims, groups and candidates said they still
feel unsafe when conducting their campaigns because of
activity by the FARC and new criminal groups in the area. A
culture of vote-buying persists, and questions remain about
the sources of financing for some local campaigns. To
address these concerns and create the right environment for
free and fair elections, the GOC and local authorities are
investigating denouncements of fraud and corruption,
providing protection to candidates, and monitoring polling
places. END SUMMARY.

---------------------------
NEW SPACE FOR PARTICIPATION
---------------------------

2. Col. Jorge Rodriguez, the Commander on the National
Police (CNP) in Sucre, said the demobilization of
paramilitaries accomplished through Colombia,s Justice and
Peace process created a much safer environment for political
participation in an area formerly plagued by violence,
extortions, and intimidation. Uriel Toro at the national
police office in Cordoba said the same was true for his
department. As a result, newer political parties like Polo
Democratico Alternativo (PDA) are now openly opposing the
traditional parties that have long held power in the region.
Newer parties are differentiating themselves from elected
officials that were arrested under charges of cooperation
with former paramilitaries. PDA's mayoral candidate in San
Onofre, Adil Jose Melendez, said this is a dramatic change
from previous elections, in which only one candidate, backed
by paramilitary groups, ran for office, while nobody else
dared to challenge him. Alicia Pinzon, the current Registrar
for elections in Cordoba, said this increased participation
represents a major advance for democracy in the region.

-----------------
SOME FEAR REMAINS
-----------------

3. Conservative Party Senator for Sucre, Julio Manzur,
said intimidation and threats no longer exist in his
department, but Melendez said conducts his campaign under
fear of reprisals from new criminal groups that are active in
the area. Melendez said those new criminal groups have great
interest in the local elections because the winner will have
the power to enforce controls along a major route used for
the illegal narcotics trade (or to look the other way).
Alvaro Emiro Petro, the PDA candidate for Governor in
Cordoba, said that while he had not received any direct
threats from new criminal groups, people working on his
campaign and running on the PDA ticket for city council in
Sincelejo had received written threats from the new criminal
group that calls itself the Aguilas Negras. Patricia
Rodriguez, Director of the Organization of American States,
Special Mission to Support the Peace Process (MAPP/OAS) in
Monteria, said a political organizer who was recruiting
campesinos to campaign for Alberto Lizardo Gomez Revollo, the
Liberal candidate for mayor of San Onofre, was killed in a
rural area outside of San Onofre. She said his killers were
probably FARC guerrillas who opposed Revollo. Jackeline
Moguea, a victims' group leader and candidate for the City
Council of San Onofre said local people report feeling
intimidated by former paramilitaries who are now working as
campaigners, since their history of violence is well-known in
the area.

-------------------------------------------
CULTURE OF VOTE-BUYING, CORRUPTION PERSISTS
-------------------------------------------

4. Bishop and community leader Nel Beltran said extreme
poverty in the region, coupled with a general lack of
education about the democratic process, has created a culture

in which people look to politicians for handouts. PDA
candidate Luis Benitez said the traditional party candidates
distribute bags of cement, food, and even cash at the main
marketplaces in Monteria. Campaign workers for Liberal Party
candidate for Mayor of Monteria, Juan Carlos Lengua, admitted
keeping petty cash on hand at their campaign headquarters and
distributing small sums of money to about 300 campesinos per
day. They also said they keep a physician on hand to tend to
the peoples' health needs during campaign season, but claimed
none of these benefits obligated people to vote for them.
One campaign worker said all the parties distribute these
benefits as "demonstrations that they care," and claimed that
any candidate who did not do so would come in last. For this
reason, few expect newer parties with less resources to
capture a large percentage of the vote.

5. Petro said his campaign simply does not have the funds to
compete with his wealthy opponents from traditional parties.
He claimed the Liberals and Conservatives in Monteria were
outspending his campaign by ten to one on publicity, not
counting the additional cash payments and other goods they
are distributing. PDA representatives also claimed the local
newspaper, ZZZ, refused to sell them advertising space or
give them any kind of coverage. Melendez said he must
conduct his campaign on foot, as he doesn't have funds for a
car. Both of these PDA candidates said the first goal of
their campaign is to convince people they should vote for
candidates based on their platforms, rather than their
pocketbooks.

6. Questions also remain about the financing of some local
campaigns. A September 9 article in Colombia's leading daily
newspaper, El Tiempo, reported that several candidates in
Cordoba and Sucre are receiving political (and possibly
financial) support from former officials who have been jailed
because of suspicion of links with former paramilitaries.
The article accused the jailed officials of trying to
hand-pick their successors in order to continue exerting
influence in the region. U party candidate Jorge Carlos
Barraza did not deny meeting with jailed officials, claiming
it was his "Christian duty" to visit those in prison.
Liberal party candidate for Governor of Cordoba, Marta Saenz
even published a full-page ad in the local newspaper stating
her alliance with the jailed Cordoba officials. She told us
she believed them to be innocent of any wrong-doing and that
there was nothing wrong with receiving support from them,
since they have not yet been proven guilty.

----------------------------------------
GOC TAKES STEPS TO ENSURE FAIR ELECTIONS
----------------------------------------

7. PDA and U Party candidates accused incumbents of using
government subsidies to obtain votes by threatening people
they would lose their unemployment or housing benefits if
there was a change in the ruling party. However, ZZZ at the
Inspector General's office (Procuraduria) in Monteria, said
she had received no official denouncements of such activity.
She said the Procuraduria will investigate any official
denouncements it receives regarding government officials
currently in office, while the Attorney General's office
(Fiscalia) investigates all claims of vote-buying by aspiring
candidates.

8. The national police in both Sucre and Cordoba said they
collaborate with local military forces to organize security
for political candidates while they are campaigning. Col.
Rodriguez said the police accompany candidates when they
travel to smaller towns, and coordinate with the military to
provide increased protection. Toro, like Rodriguez said his
office is committed to keeping the candidates safe during
elections, and that so far, there have been so problems
regarding the candidates.

9. In order to assure unbiased enforcement of voting
procedures, the National Registrar re-assigned local
registrars from their home departments to posts in other
departments. These newly arrived registrars are currently
training elections workers to be vigilant for voting fraud
and to enforce strict controls. Each registrar's office will
be checking records to ensure that everyone votes only in
their designated district. In order to avoid complaints that

people are using cell phone cameras to take photos of their
ballot and receive payments later for their votes, the
registrars will be requiring all cell phones be turned off
before entering the voting booth.

10. Also in order to investigate charges of illicit funding
and over-spending in political campaigns, the National
Elections Commission assigned three special magistrates to
each department to analyze financial records of all political
campaigns. These new investigative units were created on
August. 28, 2006, and they plan to issue reports of their
findings every month. The three magistrates recently
assigned to Sucre said it may be difficult to reach any
conclusions prior to the October 28 elections, but they will
report any evidence they do find. These new measures
demonstrate the new level of commitment the GOC is placing on
ensuring free and fair elections in October.

Brownfield

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