Cablegate: A/S Farrar's Visit to Choco Raises Concerns On


DE RUEHBO #0126/01 0101822
R 101822Z JAN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. On November 28, 2007, DRL Acting A/S Jonathan Farrar
visited Quibdo, Choco to discuss Afro-Colombian land and
social issues. Choco Governor Julio Ibarguen said weak
infrastructure, poor nutrition, and underdevelopment foster
violence and displacement in Choco, especially in
Afro-Colombian communities. UN Refugee Agency (ACNUR)
representative Giovani Salazar told Farrar poor
infrastructure and corruption do not permit the return of
internally displaced people (IDPs). Members of COCOMACIA
(Consejo Comunitario de la Asociacion Campesina Integral del
Atrato), a group of local Afro-Colombian activists, voiced
concern that new land use laws may threaten communal land
rights, and complained of increased violence due to fighting
among the FARC, narco-traffickers and Colombian military.
GOC officials conceded that the transfer of land titling
authority from Colombia's rural land development agency
(INCODER) to the Ministry of Interior and Justice (MOIJ) will
be delayed due to organizational issues. Farrar suggested
working with the GOC on a package of measures to address
these concerns. END SUMMARY.
--------------------------------------------- -------
Weak Infrastructure, Corruption Exacerbate Problems
--------------------------------------------- -------

2. Choco Governor Julio Ibarguen Mosquera told DRL A/AS
Jonathan Farrar on November 28 that weak infrastructure, poor
nutrition, and underdevelopment foster violence and
displacement in Choco, especially in Afro-Colombian
communities. Ibarguen said the lack of basic services,
including health care, education and running water, lead to
competition for resources among displaced communities,
demobilized paramilitaries, and local residents. Many
residents have migrated elsewhere in search of jobs.
Ibarguen said the GOC had lost track of all but around 50 of
the more than 1,000 ex-paramilitaries who had demobilized in
Choco. Local ACNUR representative Giovani Salazar told us
later that many had been recruited into a private security
firm and were providing protection and extorting funds from
Quibdo merchants. Members of COCOMACIA, a group of
Afro-Colombian community leaders, claimed the GOC's
encouragement of African palm production -- as an alternative
to drug cultivation in rural areas -- diverts resources that
should be used to provide basic services. (Note: The GOC
supports private development of African palm as part of its
biofuels strategy, but we are not aware that GOC funding for
local communities is being redirected to the palm industry.)
The leaders complained that African palm harms the land,
breeds corruption, and leads to human rights abuses.
COCOMACIA also complained that local communities' limited
access to resources reflects their lack of the right
"connections" to influence authorities.

3. ACNUR representative Giovani Salazar agreed weak
infrastructure prevents the proper return of IDPs. He said
Choco's leaders need to improve local infrastructure and
develop the political will to fight corruption. Salazar said
there are over 15,000 critical IDPs who will not receive
needed attention due to lack of resources, corruption and
mismanagement. International Office of Migration (IOM)
representative Soraya Mesa told us many civil society groups
provide assistance, but complained that local official do not
want to take over the management and cost of the projects.
She said IDP leaders are weak, politically inexperienced, and
do not represent their groups' interests, focusing instead on
personal gain or agendas. Salazar added that public forces
are frequently corrupt, noting that claims of extrajudicial
killings are increasing in Istmina and San Juan.

4. COCOMACIA leaders said education is a challenge, with
schools non-existent in many communities. Mesa highlighted
the IOM-built schools for the reintegration of demobilized
fighters, but said untrained soldiers fill many teaching
slots due to a teacher shortage. Salazar said most
demobilized have no more than a second grade education,
making it hard for them to find jobs. Most do not want to
work in the rural sector and are easily lured back to the
drug trade.

Confusion over Laws/Rights

5. Many COCOMACIA leaders told us confusion surrounds the
new Rural Development, Mining and Forestry Laws. The
communities fear these laws may undermine the communal land
rights established by Law 70. The communities said they need
more information about the reforms. COCOMACIA believes Law
70 makes clear that any collective title must include
development assistance. They cautioned that the collective
titling of land produced different challenges in different
areas. Development assistance should be tailored to meet the
needs of individual communities rather than delivered in
general, one-size-fits all programs.

6. COCOMACIA leaders added that the consultation process
(consulta previa), which requires the GOC to consult with
communities before approving private mining/oil projects or
the location of military bases on Afro-Colombians' land, is
often biased. Mining companies, their lawyers, and the
Ministry of Mines and Energy manipulate the consultations to
the companies' advantage. They complained that under their
interpretation of Law 70, subterranean mineral rights should
be the property of the communities, citing the "historical
practices" language in the bill. (Note: This interpretation
conflicts with Colombia's Constitution and Constitutional
Court rulings awarding ownership of minerals and other
sub-soil rights to the national government.) COCOMACIA plans
to push for new legislation that will clarify the rights of
collectively titled communities under Law 70.

"Ruled by Fear, Under the Control of the Gun"

7. Leaders from COCOMACIA told us Choco is "ruled by fear"
created by the FARC, corrupt officials, and
narco-traffickers. COCOMACIA said GOC protection programs
are "useless." None of the activists had requested
protection; most said protection of rural Afro-Colombian
communities was a more pressing issue. Salazar said most
Afro-Colombian communities are situated near rivers, areas
contested by the FARC, new criminal groups such as
Organizacion Nuevo Generacion and Rastrojos, and the
military. Illegal groups label some communities as
"sympathizers" of rival organizations, making them targets of
military action. Locals call Istmina a "death zone" because
over 70 murders were reported between September and November
2007. MOIJ Vice Minister Maria Nieto acknowledged that
MOIJ's protection program has difficulties working in Choco
due to weak infrastructure and local corruption. Nieto also
said that land titles for the Afro-Colombian communities of
Curvarado and Jiguiamando, which together total 25,000
hectares, were ready but would not be delivered until
February or March 2008 to allow time to improve protection
before titles are turned over.

8. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegate
Barbara Hintermann told us the ICRC covers Choco from its
Medellin office, largely due to security concerns.
Hintermann said security on the Choco river systems had
deteriorated in 2007. The ICRC has noted pressure on IDP
leaders to sell to, or allow the use of collective lands by,
illegal groups.

Transfer of Land Titling Authorities

9. As of January 1, 2008, land titling authority will be
transferred from INCODER to Accion Social and the Ministry of
Interior and Justice (MOIJ). Salazar said INCODER is not
prepared to transfer its authority, partly due to the
confusion over how the transfer will take place. Decisions on
land claims are slow and would likely remain so after the
transfer. Local INCODER office director Carmelo Negrete
conceded difficulties in transferring authority, but said it
would be done. He that all titling disputes go to INCODER,s
central office in Bogota, so the effect on the ground would
be little to none.

10. Nieto said the MOIJ has included Afro-Colombian issues
as part of its internal restructuring plan. The Ministry
will create new offices for Afro-Colombian and indigenous
issues in early 2008. A/AS Farrar suggested this new office
could participate in the consultation process to better
defend Afro-Colombian communities' rights. (Note: The MOIJ's
existing Afro-Colombian affairs office with a staff of six is
already supposed to play this role.) Nieto agreed this could

be a possible solution but said the Ministry would need time
to fully staff the new offices. MOIJ is developing best
practices for working with Accion Social on land issues, but
the hand-over of responsibilities from INCODER will be
delayed by up to six months as the MOIJ staffs up to meet
these new requirements.


11. In a subsequent meeting with the Ambassador, A/AS Farrar
offered for DRL to work with the Embassy, AID Mission, and
WHA on a package of measures that GOC could take to address
Afro-Colombian concerns. Some initiatives already are in
preparation (e.g., creation of MOIJ Directorate for
Afro-Colombians, delivery of Curvarado and Jiguiamando land
titles); others would require new GOC action (e.g., issuance
of Law 70 regulations on financing for collective land
titles, appointment of an Afro-Colombian representative to
the committee that evaluates risk for GOC protection

12. A/AS Farrar has cleared on this message.

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