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Cablegate: Ambassador's Visit to Putumayo Highlights Usg

VZCZCXYZ0008
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #0687/01 0562245
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 252245Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1509
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8061
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0005
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ FEB 9251
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 5937
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 1289
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 6577
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4302

UNCLAS BOGOTA 000687

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

FOR WHA/AND

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL PTER SNAR KCOM KAID EC CO
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR'S VISIT TO PUTUMAYO HIGHLIGHTS USG
ASSISTANCE

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

1. (SBU) Ambassador Brownfield visited Villa Garzon,
Putumayo on February 8, to inaugurate a major road pavement
project and survey a water treatment project funded by USAID.
Local officials touted the road as an important step to
reducing Putumayo's isolation, improving security, and
promoting prosperity. The Ambassador also met local police
and army commanders. The Colombian National Police (CNP)
reported progress in its aerial eradication operations due to
improved security, but cited growing coca production in
national parks and reserves. Military officials described
advances against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC), but noted growing FARC presence in border towns with
Ecuador. The Ambassador also met with indigenous and
Afro-Colombian leaders who thanked him for USG-supported
local-governance projects. End Summary.

-----------------------------
The Road to Putumayo's Future
-----------------------------

2. (U) The Ambassador inaugurated a USG-GOC joint road
project in Putumayo -- with USAID and the GOC providing USD
12 million each -- to pave 42 kilometers of road from Puerto
Caicedo to Villa Garzon. This is a critical stretch of the
Mocoa-San Miguel road makes up Putumayo's most important
connection to the rest of Colombia and Ecuador. The road
will improve commerce and overall security in this isolated
department, which has suffered from FARC activity, illicit
coca cultivation, and a lack of economic opportunities.

3. (U) Over 400 local residents attended the public
groundbreaking ceremony in Villa Garzon's community arena,
enthusiastically cheering the start of the road construction
project. Local and national government officials linked the
road project to a safer, more prosperous community. Luz Dary
Garcia, Mayor of Puerto Caicedo, said the road would
transition Putumayo to "progress and peace." Accion Social
director Luis Alfonso Hoyos and Representative Guillermo
Rivera underscored the road's impact in moving Putumayo from
illegality and violence to legal commerce and a sustainable
economy. Governor Felipe Guzman and Representative Orlando
Guerra conveyed similar messages of hope, but also called for
more social investment and an end to aerial eradication.
Guzman said local farmers were ready to pull coca out of
"their properties and their hearts" if provided alternatives.

4. (U) Under a delightfully refreshing steady downpour, the
Ambassador also visited a water treatment plant, a joint
USAID-U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project completed three
years ago. The plant provides clean water to 15,000 local
residents. The Ambassador also participated in a signing
ceremony between the USG and the departmental government,
initiating new support for the design and implementation of
departmental and municipal development plans in Putumayo.
USAID (USD 140,000) and the departmental and municipal levels
of government (USD 180,000) jointly funded the project.

--------------------------------------------- ----
Aerial Eradication Operations as a National Model
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (SBU) At the local CNP airbase, Colonel Gamboa briefed
the Ambassador on the success of the GOC's aerial eradication
operations. Gamboa said it represents the most
Colombian-intensive spray package of the three operating in
the country, serving as a "nationalization model." Still, he
said NAS equipment and technical funding remains critical to
continuing operations. Gamboa noted that Putumayo has a
strong FARC presence and remains a primary source of coca
production in Colombia. He reported that spray planes took
over 300 bullets in Colombia in 2007, which translates into
several hits per operating day. Gamboa outlined the GOC's
independent environmental auditing policy and compensation
program for accidental fumigation of licit crops. He said
the GOC faces three challenges in its anti-narcotics efforts
in Putumayo -- insufficient air bases, replanting of coca in
areas that have been eradicated, and growing coca production

in the department's national parks and indigenous reserves
where aerial eradication is prohibited.

------------------------------------------
Security Better but Border Concerns Remain
------------------------------------------

6. (U) Brigadier General Javier Fernandez, Commander of the
27th Brigade, reported improved security from the Colombian
military's offensive in Putumayo, citing zero terrorist
attacks in 2007, reduced kidnappings, increased tourism, and
safer roads. Military successes against the FARC in 2007
resulted in 299 captured, 44 demobilized, and 103 killed in
combat. He said 50 percent of the FARC's members in the
region are children, some as young as 12 years old. Many
deserter and captured female FARC describe horrific
conditions of coerced sex and forced abortions. He added that
once military forces secure an area, integrated GOC efforts
to provide schools, infrastructure, and economic
opportunities follow. Fernandez said the USAID-funded road
will allow the region's licit economy to "take off."

7. (U) Despite military successes, Fernandez said
significant problems remain. The FARC's "political war"
generates fabricated allegations of human rights violations.
FARC landmines continue to injure and kill civilians and
security forces. Fernandez called coca production "ecocide,"
comparing a 1979 satellite photo of a heavily forested area
with today's barren landscape.

8. (SBU) Fernandez voiced concern over the porous border
with Ecuador. The FARC has infiltrated Ecuadorian border
towns - where Colombians now comprise 50 percent of the
population - and even started constructing roads for their
drug routes. The FARC likely maintains its cocaine
production labs are likely located in Ecuador. Fernandez
reported progress in relations with his Ecuadorian
counterparts, who recently provided useful information on a
FARC camp they attacked and destroyed. .

-------------------------------------------
Aiding Indigenous and Afro-Colombian Groups
-------------------------------------------

9. (U) Local indigenous leader Luis Lopez said the
indigenous -- who make up 19 percent (45,515) of Putumayo's
population -- were taking strong steps to improve
self-governance and collaboration with local officials.
Lopez thanked the Ambassador for the USG's grant of USD
150,000 to OZIP, one of Putumayo's regional indigenous
grassroots organizations, to improve self-governance.
Indigenous self-governance has proven a successful
development model in conflict-prone areas with high levels of
illicit crops. Noting the indigenous' emphasis on
conservation, Lopez called for greater inclusion in the
region's development discussions. He conceded indigenous
reserves attract illegal crop production, since they provide
a "safe haven" from aerial eradication, but also noted the
indigenous community's commitment to manual eradication and
the destruction of coca "root by root."

10. (U) Afro-Colombian activist Jose Arly Quinonez outlined
plans to strengthen community-wide political engagement and
to produce sustainable economic opportunities, especially in
rural areas. Quinonez thanked the Ambassador for USAID's USD
98,000 grant for institution-building, which will train 400
community leaders and 20 municipal officials. He noted that
4.5 percent of Putumayo's population (11,690 people) consist
of Afro-Colombians. The Ambassador underscored the USG's
commitment to working with Afro-Colombians throughout the
country.

11. (SBU) Comment. Putumayo has received a great deal of
U.S. Plan Colombia assistance since 2000. Between the heat,

humidity, rain, and mud it is still not Colombia's favorite
tourist destination. But it is far better, safer, and more
prosperous than eight years ago. We are seeing some return
on our investment.
Brownfield

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