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Cablegate: Scenesetter for February 29-March 3 Visit of Labor

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB ETRD FIXED NUMBERING FOR PARAGRAPH AND
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR FEBRUARY 29-MARCH 3 VISIT OF LABOR
SECRETARY CHAO AND CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION TO COLOMBIA

SIPDIS

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

1. (U) Your visit to Medellin comes at a crucial time in our
relations with Colombia. Labor issues have moved to the center
of our relations and form the heart of the debate on a Trade
Promotion Agreement with Colombia. Colombia finds itself safer,
economically stronger, better governed and more democratic than
it has been in decades. Rates of murder, kidnapping, and violence
nationwide, including against union members, have fallen
dramatically. Increased security has led to an economic boom
that has reduced poverty by 20 percent since 2002, lowered
unemployment 25 percent, and attracted record levels of investment.
More than 40,000 combatants, mostly paramilitaries, have laid down
their arms and are participating in GOC reintegration programs.
Desertions among the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
increased in 2007.

2. (SBU) Nevertheless, 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 2.5 years of the Uribe Administration.
Our continued commitment to Colombia--through approval of the
U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Act (CTPA) and support
for Plan Colombia--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. Nearly
93 percent 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 12.5 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 2002.

4. (SBU) The Colombian Congress ratified the CTPA in 2007 by
a substantial margin, and it remains the Colombian government's
highest economic priority. Delays in U.S. approval or rejection
of the accord would deal 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. Colombia's second largest trading partner, Venezuela, has
already begun commercial retaliation over Uribe's decision to end
Chavez' formal facilitator role in a humanitarian exchange with
the FARC. Venezuela has restricted automobile imports from Colombia
and deployed troops to the border to stop unofficial cross border
trade.

5. (U) Analysts estimate the agreement with the United States
would add between one and two percent annual GDP growth to
the local Colombian economy. This growth would add the new
jobs in the formal sector employment that Uribe needs 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.

----------------------------------
Continued Progress on Labor Rights
----------------------------------

6. (U) In response to concerns identified by the
International Labor Organization (ILO), the GOC has
introduced bills in Congress that would bring Colombia's
labor laws closer to ILO


standards. The proposed legislation would: transfer authority
for declaring strikes from the executive to independent labor
judges; make binding arbitration an option rather than a
mandatory process after a strike has lasted 60 days; require
workers' cooperatives to pay into the social security system and
benefits programs; and levy heftier fines for cooperatives that
do not comply with current laws. The GOC has made the bills'
passage a top priority in a special legislative session, which
began this month, with approval expected in April.

--------------
Labor Violence
--------------

7. (U) Labor violence and impunity remain major concerns,
with the government making greater progress than is regularly
reported. Since 2002, labor union data demonstrates that
murders of unionists for political reasons or common crime
have fallen more than 75 percent. 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). The Fiscalia operates
as an independent agency responsible for prosecuting 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
population.

-----------------------------------------
Pro-CTPA Unions Work to Support Agreement
-----------------------------------------

9. The three main Colombian labor confederations -- whose
members largely come from the public sector unions -- oppose
the CTPA, fearing that it will cost Colombian workers jobs.
However, a substantial number of private sector based unions
support the CTPA, believing it will foster economic growth and
FDI in Colombia. On February 14, representatives from over
60 unions who support the CTPA proposed forming a new labor group
(central) as an alternative to the three main labor confederations
that oppose the CTPA. The 60 unions -- which represent more that
45,000 workers -- said the existing confederations do not represent
all members' interests. They plan to lobby for permanent access to
U.S. markets and better workers' benefits. Leaders of the three
existing confederations dismissed the group, saying there was
"no room" in Colombia for another labor central. The pro-CTPA
group expects its central will include members from unions and
other labor federations, as well as individual workers. The
organizers hope to form the labor central by August.

-------------------
Democratic Security
-------------------

10. (U) The establishment of greater Colombian government
territorial control and the paramilitary demobilization have
created the space for civil society and political parties to
operate more openly than ever before. The GOC 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 kidnappings
fell from over


2800 a year to less than 600 during the same period. Local
elections in October 2007 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.

--------------------
Human Rights Record
--------------------

11. (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.

12. (U) The Fiscalia has made advances in prosecuting
military personnel alleged to have committed human rights
abuses. In August 2007, a court convicted three military
personnel for the murder of three unionists in Arauca in
2004. In November 2007, 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
---------------

13. (SBU) In January 2007 the GOC 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 communities. It also aims to
reintegrate more than 45,000 demobilized ex-fighters and
deserters and to promote Colombia's licit exports. The GOC seeks
funding from the United States and European countries to complement
its own resources.

14. (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
----------------------------------

15. (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 GOC.

-----------
Extradition
-----------

16. (SBU) Since taking office, President Uribe has approved
over 614 extraditions to the United States, including a
record number of 164 in 2007. Among those extradited in 2007
were 11 members of the FARC and three members of the
United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

---------------------------------
Demobilization and Peace Process
---------------------------------


17. (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 have confessed 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 100,000 victims have
registered under the JPL, with the GOC 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.

18. (SBU) The National Liberation Army (ELN) has negotiated
with the Colombian government for over two years on a
cease-fire 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 in January
2008 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
Colombia.

-------------
U.S. Hostages
-------------

19. (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. A February 26 FARC
communique referred to the three Americans as "spies" and
threatened to hold them for 60 years in retaliation for the
U.S. conviction and sentencing of FARC Commander Simon
Trinidad. President Uribe has assured us that any humanitarian
exchange will include the U.S. hostages. In January, the Colombian
Government authorized the International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC) -- working with Venezuela -- to recover two FARC-held
hostages. The FARC released four additional Colombian hostages on
February 27, again working with the ICRC and Venezuelan Government.


Brownfield

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