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Cablegate: Millions of Colombians March Against the Farc

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #0470/01 0362351
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 052351Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1223
INFO RUEHSW/AMEMBASSY BERN 1399
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 8026
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 9916
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ FEB LIMA 5885
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 0105
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 1201
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 1211
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 6535
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL 4287
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC//USDP ADMIN/CHAIRS//

UNCLAS BOGOTA 000470

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER PHUM CO
SUBJECT: MILLIONS OF COLOMBIANS MARCH AGAINST THE FARC

REF: BOGOTA 376

-------
Summary
-------

1. On February 4, millions of Colombians in Bogota and
dozens of other cities marched against the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and kidnapping. As many as
two million marched in Bogota, in what leading daily "El
Tiempo" described as the largest demonstration in Colombian
history. No violence was reported. Organizers also
coordinated simultaneous marches across Latin America, in the
U.S., Europe, and Asia. The march captured international
attention after two hostages released in January shared
first-hand accounts of the FARC's inhumane treatment of
hostages. While a myriad of groups and causes jumped on the
event's bandwagon, organizers retained their original clear
focus against kidnapping and the FARC. Some hostage family
members, leadership of the opposition Polo Party, and Senator
Piedad Cordoba were heavily criticized for not supporting the
march. End Summary.

------------------------
Massive, Historic Crowds
------------------------

2. The February 4 march generated historically huge turnouts
in Colombia's major cities -- including an estimated one to
two million participants in Bogota and a half million in
Cali. Major thoroughfares in Bogota were thronged with
demonstrators shouting "No more FARC!" and "Liberty!" Crowds
in Bogota overflowed the Plaza Bolivar and surrounding
streets, and Bogota's Seventh Avenue leading to the Plaza was
a sea of people for miles. The Media reported that the march
was the largest demonstration in Colombian history, and
longtime Bogota residents were stunned at the level of
participation. Contacts told us the scale of the
demonstration represented a change in thinking since the late
1990s, showing a new sense of pride and civic duty. As one
observer said, "we are not afraid of the FARC anymore." El
Tiempo similarly hailed an "awakening of civil society" and
an "end to indifference."

----------------
Worldwide Echoes
----------------

3. Domestic protests were joined by smaller marches on
February 3 and 4 in cities around the world, from Tokyo and
Sydney to Paris and Istanbul. In Colombia and abroad marches
occurred in a total of 193 cities. In the U.S., events were
held in Washington, New York, and Atlanta, among others.
Venezuelans participated in Caracas and Maracaibo. Peruvian
President Alan Garcia saluted protesters singing the
Colombian anthem on the steps of the government palace in
Lima. In Rome, the Pope issued a plea for the hostages'
release. The marches were peaceful and there were no
reported incidents of violence or other trouble. Bogota
Police Chief GEN Rodolfo Palomino praised the crowd's
orderliness, saying, "Never have we seen such good behavior."

------------------
Noted Participants
------------------

4. The GOC encouraged its employees and officials to
participate, and President Alvaro Uribe joined the march in
Valledupar (Cesar), where he expressed "gratitude to all
Colombians who today have expressed with dignity and strength
the rejection of kidnapping and of the kidnappers."
Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. Carolina Barco lent her
support in Washington, D.C. Clara Rojas, one of the victims
released last month, joined in Bogota, saying it was a
historic moment to see all of Colombia united. She said she
hoped the FARC would hear their message and release all
hostages. In Bogota political leaders from across the
E
spectrum joined the march. Liberal Party leader and
former-President Cesar Gaviria said, "this is an expression
of civil society that the country has never seen."

------------------------
Criticism of the Critics
------------------------

5. Some hostage family members, leadership of the opposition
Polo Democratico Party, and Senator Piedad Cordoba explicitly
abstained from the march. Family members declined to
participate, they said, for fear of FARC reprisals. Polo
held a separate rally, ostensibly because the main march was
an endorsement of President Uribe. Still, Bogota mayor and
leading Polo politician Samuel Moreno praised the event as a
"march of hope." Leading Polo centrists including former
mayor Lucho Garzon and Senator Gustavo Petro broke with Polo
leadership and joined the march. The media and leading
politicians criticized the Polo, especially Party leader
Carlos Gaviria, and pointed out that a rejection of the FARC
need not imply support for any other forms of violence or
criminality. Senator Piedad Cordoba, speaking from Caracas,
reportedly called the event "a march of hate, of racism, of
classism, and of exclusion."


Brownfield

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