Cablegate: Scenesetter for the January 24-25 Visit Of

DE RUEHBO #0260/01 0221354
O 221354Z JAN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (U) Your visit is well timed. Colombia is in the midst of
a dramatic transformation, one in which U.S. assistance is
playing a powerful role. The Colombia of 2008 is safer,
economically stronger, better governed and more democratic
than it has been in decades. Murder rates have declined over
40 percent since 2002, and kidnapping rates have plummeted 76
percent. Murders of union members fell 70 percent during the
same period, and civil society and political parties enjoy
much greater political space. Increased security has led to
an economic boom that has reduced poverty by 20 percent since
2002. More than 40,000 combatants, mostly paramilitaries,
have laid down their arms and most are participating in GOC
reintegration programs.

2. (SBU) Colombia remains a work in progress. Consolidating
recent gains and making further advances on human rights,
security, and poverty reduction--while also managing
increasingly tense relations with Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez--represent the greatest challenges for the remaining 2
1/2 years of the Uribe Administration. Our continued
commitment to Colombia--through Plan Colombia support and
approval of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Act
(CTPA)--will help lock in Colombia's democratic security
gains, promote regional stability, and contribute to a
Colombia that provides security and opportunity to all its
citizens. End Summary.

CTPA Solidifies Advances:
Investment, Poverty, and Security

3. (U) President Uribe's democratic security policy and free
market economic reforms have spurred the economy. GDP growth
approached seven percent in 2007 after averaging more than
five percent annually since 2003. Colombia's trade volume
grew more than 65 percent in the same period. The United
States remains Colombia's largest trade partner
(approximately 40 percent of exports and 26 percent of
imports), though Colombia's trade with Venezuela has soared
in the last two years, and Colombia could shift to greater
agricultural imports from Canada and the European Union, when
free trade negotiations with them conclude in 2008. Most of
Colombia's exports already receive duty-free access to the
U.S. under the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA), which
expires February 29, 2008, while U.S. exports to Colombia
face an average tariff of almost 20 percent. Investors from
around the world boosting investment in Colombia in
anticipation of the CTPA. In 2007, Foreign Direct Investment
(FDI) exceeded $7.5 billion, 350 percent greater than FDI in

4. (SBU) The Colombian Congress ratified the CTPA in 2007 by
a substantial margin, and it is the Colombian government's
highest economic priority. Delays in U.S. approval or
rejection of the accord would be a severe political and
economic blow to Uribe and his policy of strengthened ties
with the United States -- especially given recent tensions
with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela is
Colombia's second largest trading partner, and Chavez has
already begun commercial retaliation over Uribe's decision to
end Chavez' formal facilitator role in a humanitarian
exchange with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC). Venezuela has restricted automobile imports from
Colombia and deployed troops to the border to stop unofficial
cross border trade in food stuffs.

5. (U) Analysts expect the agreement with the United States
would add between one and two percent annual GDP growth to
the local economy. This increased growth is key to
generating the formal sector employment necessary for Uribe
to meet his goal of cutting the poverty rate from 45 percent
to 35 percent by 2010. Trade-based formal sector growth will
also provide the GOC with additional fiscal resources to
shoulder a larger portion of its security costs as USG Plan
Colombia support falls.

Democratic Security

6. (U) The establishment of greater Colombian government

BOGOTA 00000260 002 OF 004

territorial control and the paramilitary demobilization have
created the space for civil society and political parties to
operate more openly than ever before. The Government
maintains a police presence in all 1099 municipalities for
the first time in history. Increased security of roads and
highways have allowed for greater freedom of movement for
people and commerce. Murders fell from over 29,000 in 2002
to less than 17,000 in 2007, and kidnapping fells from over
2800 a year to less than 600 during the same period. Local
elections in October reflected the improved security with
over 86,000 candidates participating. The leftist Polo
Democratico Party (PDA) won 1.2 million more votes than in
2003, and its candidate won the key Bogota mayoral race.

Labor Violence

7. (U) Labor violence and impunity remain major concerns, but
the government has made greater progress than some give it
credit for. Since 2002, labor unions report that murders of
unionists for political reasons or common crime fell more
than 75%. A resident International Labor Organization (ILO)
representative arrived in Colombia in January 2007 to help
implement the tripartite agreement committing the GOC to
provide $4 million to finance the ILO Special Technical
Cooperation program and to provide $1.5 million a year to the
Prosecutor General's Office (Fiscalia) to prosecute cases of
violence against trade unionists. The additional funding
enabled the Fiscalia to create a special sub-unit with nearly
100 prosecutors and investigators to investigate 187 priority
cases. Since 2001, the Fiscalia has resolved 56 cases of
labor violence, leading to 118 convictions. For 2008, the
Fiscalia has received an additional $40 million in GOC funds
that has allowed it to add 1,072 new positions, including 175
prosecutors and 200 investigators.

8. (U) In addition to gains stemming from its democratic
security policy, the GOC has taken specific steps to protect
labor leaders and other vulnerable individuals. In 2007, the
Ministry of Interior and Justice's $34 million Protection
Program helped protect more than 6,900 human rights
activists, journalists, politicians, and other threatened
individuals, including 1720 trade unionists. The murder rate
for unionists is now lower than that for the general

Human Rights Record

9. (SBU) The Uribe Administration continues to make progress
on human rights cases involving military abuse or
collaboration with paramilitaries. All members of the
military and police receive mandatory human rights training.
In October 2006, Defense Minister Santos named the first
civilian -- and the first woman -- as director of the
Military Criminal Justice System. Santos has strongly backed
initiatives to deter extrajudicial killings, changing
promotion criteria to favor demobilization or capture of
illegal fighters and ordering military personnel to
facilitate civilian investigations of all combat deaths.
Human rights groups allege that security forces committed 955
extrajudicial killings over the last five years.

10. (U) The Fiscalia has made advances in prosecuting
military personnel alleged to have committed human rights
abuses. In August, a court convicted three military
personnel for the murder of three unionists in Arauca in
2004. In November, the Fiscalia ordered the detention of Army
Captain Guillermo Gordillo for his participation in the
massacre of eight civilians near San Jose de Apartado in
February 2005. The Fiscalia has set up a special
prosecutorial team to investigate cases of alleged
extrajudicial killings.

U.S. Assistance

11. (SBU) In January 2007 the Colombian government presented
a Plan Colombia "consolidation strategy" pledging a Colombian
investment of $78 billion through 2013. The proposal
emphasizes the importance of building social cohesion,
assigning substantial resources to help strengthen local
governance, protect human rights, and help displaced people,
Afro-Colombians, and indigenous. It also aims to reintegrate

BOGOTA 00000260 003 OF 004

more than 45,000 demobilized ex-fighters and deserters and to
promote Colombia's licit exports. The Colombian government
seeks funding from the United States and European countries
to complement its own resources.

12. (SBU) Under Plan Colombia, the USG has provided more
than $5 billion in assistance, including $800 million in
economic and social assistance. USG security assistance
combats drug trafficking and terrorism through training,
equipment, and technical assistance. It supports Colombian
military aviation, essential for all programs - civilian or
military - outside Colombia's major cities. U.S. social and
economic aid focuses on alternative development, displaced
and other vulnerable communities, human rights and democratic
institutions, and reintegration of demobilized fighters.

Drug Eradication and Interdiction

13. (SBU) Eradication of coca and poppy crops and
interdiction of cocaine and heroin reached near-record levels
in 2007. President Uribe supports greater manual
eradication, but understands that manual eradication cannot
replace aerial eradication without a sharp increase in
spending. He seeks a complementary approach using both
methods. In 2007, the National Police and military forces
seized almost 150 metric tons of cocaine and coca base, and
destroyed 200 cocaine laboratories. We continue to work with
the Colombian government to refine our eradication strategy
and determine how best to transfer key tasks from the USG to
the Colombian Government.


14. (SBU) Since taking office, President Uribe has approved
over 571 extraditions to the United States, including a
record number of 164 in 2007. Among those extradited in 2007
were 11 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC) and three members of the United Self Defense Forces of
Colombia (AUC).

Demobilization and Peace Process

15. (SBU) Over 32,000 former paramilitaries have demobilized
since 2002, and a further 14,000 have deserted from other
illegal armed groups (about one-half from the FARC). The OAS
estimates there are 30 emerging criminal groups with a
combined membership of over 3000 persons. Reintegration
programs and targeted law enforcement are working to counter
these groups. Under the Justice and Peace Law (JPL) process,
over 50 former paramilitary leaders have been jailed, and
many are confessing their participation in violent crimes.
To date, the JPL process has revealed the location of the
graves of almost 1200 paramilitary victims and provided
information on 3600 crimes. Almost 90,000 victims have
registered under the JPL, and the GOC is working on measures
to accelerate the payment of reparations. The Supreme Court
and the Fiscalia--with GOC support--continue to investigate
politicians with alleged paramilitary ties. Fifty-two
Congressmen, 19 mayors and 11 governors have been implicated
in the scandal.

16. (SBU) The National Liberation Army (ELN) has negotiated
with the Colombian government for over two years on a
ceasefire agreement, but ELN infighting and FARC pressure
have prevented a deal. The ELN kidnap civilians to fund its
operations, but its military capability is declining. The
FARC has rebuffed GOC initiatives to engage in any meaningful
peace talks, and killed eleven state legislators held hostage
in July 2007. The GOC authorized Venezuelan President Chavez
to facilitate peace talks between the Colombian government
and the FARC and ELN in late August 2007, but subsequently
suspended his role after Chavez intervened in Colombia's
internal politics. The GOC issued a communiqu on January 16
urging Chavez to "stop his aggression towards Colombia" after
Chavez proposed that the international community grant the
FARC "belligerent status" and remove the group from worldwide
terrorism lists. Chavez subsequently announced the
militarization of Venezuela's 2200 kilometer border with


BOGOTA 00000260 004 OF 004

U.S. Hostages

17. (SBU) The three U.S. contractors captured by the FARC in
February 2003 are the longest held U.S. hostages in the
world. A November 2007 video seized by the GOC from a FARC
urban cell showed proof-of-life of the three Americans.
Their safe release remains a top priority. President Uribe
has assured us that any humanitarian exchange will include
the U.S. hostages. On January 10, the Colombian Government
authorized the International Committee of the Red Cross --
working with Venezuela -- to recover FARC-held hostages Clara
Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo.

© Scoop Media

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