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Cablegate: Paramilitary Demobilization Creates Greater

VZCZCXYZ0088
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #0902/01 0662107
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 062107Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1811
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8076
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0059
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ MAR 9285
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 5984
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 1353
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 6636
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4321

id: 144638
date: 3/6/2008 21:07
refid: 08BOGOTA902
origin: Embassy Bogota
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination:
header:
VZCZCXYZ0088
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #0902/01 0662107
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 062107Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1811
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8076
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0059
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ MAR 9285
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 5984
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 1353
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 6636
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4321


----------------- header ends ----------------

C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 000902

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/06/2018
TAGS: PTER PGOV PREL ECON SOCI CO
SUBJECT: PARAMILITARY DEMOBILIZATION CREATES GREATER
POLITICAL SPACE IN MEDIO MAGDALENA REGION, BUT SECURITY
CHALLENGES REMAIN

Classified By: Political Counselor John S. Creamer.
Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d).


--------
SUMMARY
--------

1. (C) Local civic and Catholic church leaders said the
paramilitary demobilization and parapolitical investigations
created new political space in the Medio Magdelena region,
noting the triumph of reformist mayors in southern Bolivar
department and Barrancabermeja in the October local
elections. Still, they cautioned that the security situation
remains in flux, with the FARC, some former paramilitaries,
and narcotraffickers cooperating on specific drug deals and
resisting efforts to promote economic alternatives to coca.
Local leaders advocate a stronger GOC civilian presence in
rural areas, especially in southern Bolivar, as well as
better coordination between eradication and alternative
development programs. A local military commander conceded
many peasants continue to view the Army with suspicion, but
said the military is making an effort to improve relations
with rural residents. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Polcouns visited Barrancabermeja in the Medio
Magdalena (MM) region on February 13 and met with local
military commanders, human rights and development groups, and
union leaders. The Medio Magdalena region consists of 30,000
square kilometers surrounding the central Magdalena river,
and includes parts of four departments--western Northern
Santander, western Santander, southern Bolivar, and Eastern
Antioquia. Medio Magdalena has 800,000 inhabitants --
roughly 40% of whom live in rural areas.

--------------------
NEW POLITICAL SPACE
--------------------

3. (C) Father De Roux, a Jesuit priest and head of the Peace
and Development Program in Medio-Magdalena (PDPMM), said the
paramilitary demobilization--coupled with the parapolitical
investigations--created new political space in the region,
leading to greater participation in the October local
elections and the defeat of many candidates affiliated with
the former paramilitaries. He said the victories of Carlos
Contreras and Jose Zendale in the Barrancabermeja and Santa
Rosa del Sur mayoral races were especially significant.
Contreras comes out of the regional peace process movement,
and is committed to combating public corruption through
implementation of transparent, participatory budget
practices. Zendale, whose campaign manager was killed a week
after the election, campaigned against local narcotraffickers
and corruption. De Roux said both will need technical and
political support to overcome an entrenched system of
kickbacks, clientism, and narco penetration of public
institutions.

4. (C) Local OAS Mission in Support of the Peace Process in
Colombia (MAPP/OAS) XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed the
exception to the overall trend toward greater political
openness in the MM is the area around Puerto Berrio and
Puerto Boyaca. Paramilitary groups established control over
this region in the early 1980s, and their political allies
continue to dominate local politics. Lopez said the region's
para-affiliation is literally "written on the wall" -- a
billboard outside the city of Puerto Boyaca proclaims it "The
Anti-subversive Capital of Colombia." XXXXXXXXXXXX
said the MAPP/OAS may propose that the billboard be
removed to symbolize political change, but recognizes
that a substantial part of the local population views the
billboard with pride.

--------------------
SECURITY CONDITIONS
--------------------

5. (C) De Roux and Lopez said MM is both a coca growing and
transshipment route, attracting the "big leagues" of
organized crime such as the FARC, demobilized paramilitary
leaders who have returned to crime such as Miguel and Victor
Mejia ("los Mellizos"), and remnants of the Wilber Varela
narcotrafficking group. The result is continuing
instability, particularly in Southern Bolivar. Lt. Col. Ivan
Herrera, commander of the Nueva Granada Batallion which


operates in Bolivar, said despite their supposed ideological
differences, the various criminal groups cooperate on
specific drug shipments and deals. Local peasant leader
Miguel Daza--a strong proponent of alternative development in
Santa Rosa del Sur in Bolivar--was murdered on February 16.
Santa Rosa Mayor Zendale blamed the murder on a FARC alliance
with local narcotraffickers. De Roux said the FARC has
declared it will tax peasants in the region even if they
abandon coca cultivation for alternative crops.

6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX the Union Sindical
Obrero (USO) which represents petroleum workers (largely
employees of state-owned Ecopetrol), noted some advances in
the protection of union leaders and members. Still, he said
from 1989-1999, 80 USO members were killed, and 33 were
detained on spurious criminal charges. He claimed the GOC
continues to try to link the USO to the ELN, alleging the
military use "false" intelligence reports to jail union
members on rebellion charges. XXXXXXXXXXXX opposes the FTA, but
appreciated USG efforts to tie it to strengthening union
freedoms. He said the unions recognize the importance of
"internationalizing" labor issues. XXXXXXXXXXXX added that
Ecopetrol's outsourcing of jobs to subcontractors poses a
major challenge to USO, as does privatization. The local USO
affiliate has 1180 members who work for Ecopetrol in
Barrancabermeja, plus 220 employed by subcontractors.

-------------------------------------------
COUNTERNARCOTICS IN A CHANGING ENVIRONMENT
-------------------------------------------

7. (C) De Roux noted the need to combine eradication efforts
with alternative development projects for peasants. Current
manual and spray eradication is implemented with no effort to
explain to peasants what comes next. He noted that the
Minister of Agriculture prefers large, agribusiness projects,
when what is needed is technical assistance and credit
programs for small producers growing cacao and African palm.
Herrera said eradication is necessary to reduce the finances
of illegal groups, but added that it generates recruits for
the FARC and other criminal bands. He said the GOC's Accion
Social is trying to strengthen local civilian institutions
and to promote economic alternatives to coca, but added that
the agency's efforts are in an incipient stage. Lopez noted
that to some extent, PDPMM's development programs fill the
gap left by GOC civilian agencies. PDPMM receives funding
from the European Union, USAID, the GOC, and other donors.

-----------------------------------
MILITARY AND CIVILIAN RELATIONSHIP
-----------------------------------

8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX complained that security forces do not
recognize the realities that peasants face. In many areas,
peasant leaders are not FARC supporters, but must deal with
local FARC commanders to survive. The military frequently
believes all peasant organizations are tied to the FARC,
leading to harassment and arrest of peaceful community
leaders. For example, XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that 12 leaders of the
Peasant Association of Cimitarra Valley charged with
rebellion, including six detained by authorities, are
innocent. He added that narcotraffickers' corruption of
police and military officials in the region, especially in
the Santa Rosa area, also remains a serious problem. Still,
XXXXXXXXXXXX said an increased GOC military presence in the area
is key to providing the security needed for economic and
democratic development.

9. (C) Herrera conceded that many peasants still view the
Army as the "enemy." In the past, soldiers mistreated
peasants, engaging in petty theft and viewing them as
"guerrillas." These tensions are exacerbated by some human
rights groups that exaggerate military abuses. Still,
Herrera said the military has mounted a major effort to
improve relations with the local residents. He had
participated in the UN High Commission on Human Rights'
visits to the regions to review extrajudicial killings
case-by-case with military commanders. Herrera said the
visits were positive, and helped the military to institute
better controls to address this issue. He stressed that his
unit makes an effort to ensure that the Prosecutor General's
Technical Investigative Corps (CTI) investigates the scene of
all combat deaths. Asked about the detention of the
Cimitarra peasant leaders, he said the military has evidence


of their ties to the FARC, but stressed that the civilian
justice system would determine their guilt or innocence.
Brownfield

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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