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Cablegate: Popular Women's Organization Members Allege

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #0794/01 0631933
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 031933Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1637
INFO RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0037
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ MAR 9266
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 5968
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 1333
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 6610
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4311
RUEHUNV/USMISSION UNVIE VIENNA PRIORITY 0020
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCNDTA/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 1896
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS BOGOTA 000794

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PTER OAS CO
SUBJECT: POPULAR WOMEN'S ORGANIZATION MEMBERS ALLEGE
SECURITY REMAINS CONCERN IN BARRANCABERMEJA, BUCARAMANGA


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SUMMARY
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1. (SBU) Polcouns visited a Popular Women's Organization
(OFP) office in Barrancabermeja and also made remarks at the
inauguration of a new OFP office in Bucaramanga on February
13. Members of the group told Polcouns about the threats
against their group by so-called "paramilitaries" and other
criminal groups, their concerns about the new Barrancabermeja
Mayor's "militarized" approach to address the city's
increasing violence, and the need for more social programs in
the region. OFP appreciated the visit, stating international
recognition of the OFP helps their security. END SUMMARY.

--------------------
THREATS AGAINST OFP
--------------------

2. (SBU) At the OFP office in the northeastern,
working-class neighborhood of Barrancabermeja (Barranca),
PolCouns met with twenty women to hear their account of life
in Barranca. The women reviewed the OFP's history, noting
that paramilitaries targeted OFP offices and members during
the paramilitary "taking" of Barranca in December 2000 and
early 2001. Prior to the paramilitary operation, the ELN and
FARC controlled the city's working class areas. The women
said OFP has 3000 active members, and provides food,
counseling, vocational training, and legal services to women
in Barranca and rural municipalities in the Medio Magdalena
region. The women thanked Polcouns for the visit, stressing
that international recognition is important to ensure the
OFP's security.

3. (SBU) Polcouns gave three interviews with local radio and
television, stressing the importance of the OFP's work. OFP
President Yolanda Becerra left Barranca in November after two
armed men broke into her apartment and threatened her life,
as well as that of her family. Becerra receives protection
from the Ministry of Interior and Justice's protection
program for human rights activists, journalists, unionists,
and other at-risk individuals. She now splits her time
between Bogota and Bucaramanga.

4. (SBU) The women claimed the paramilitary demobilization
changed little in Barranca. Several said so-called
"paramilitaries" continue to patrol openly on motorcycles in
the city's poorer neighborhoods despite heavy police and
military presence. The criminal groups run extortion and
loan sharking operations, and also engage in "social
cleansing." The women acknowledged that new mayor Carlos
Contreras lacks ties to traditional, corrupt politicians,
but voiced skepticism that he would improve the city's
security. They said Contreras has held two municipal security
meetings in response to a recent increase in murders,
promising to build two new police stations and to increase
the number of police. (Note: President Uribe held a National
Security Council meeting in Barranca on February 25.) The OFP
leaders expressed concern that Contreras considers
"militarization" to be the solution to the city's problems.
They believe better social programs would be more effective
in improving the city's security.

5. (SBU) At Becerra's invitation, Polcouns also made remarks
at the inauguration of a new OFP office in Bucaramanga--a two
hour drive from Barranca. The local UN High Commission on
Human Rights representative also attended. Becerra said
Bucaramanga is where Barranca was two years ago in terms of
security. She noted the active presence of the Aguilas
Negras, a criminal group that runs drugs, loan shark
operations, and extortion rackets in the city. The local OAS
Mission in Support of the Peace Process in Colombia
(MAPP/OAS) representative agreed that GOC security operations
in Norte del Santander have forced narcotraffickers to shift
their activities to Bucaramanga, leading to an increase in
crime. Still, the representative said the Aguilas Negras and
other criminal groups focus on narcotrafficking and do not
exercise the political control held by the old paramilitary
groups.

Brownfield

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