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Cablegate: Uribe Third Term Issue Dominates Reform Effort,

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P 171941Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3198
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8249
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0555
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 6273
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 1867
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 6941
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 002178

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/17/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PTER PHUM CO
SUBJECT: URIBE THIRD TERM ISSUE DOMINATES REFORM EFFORT,
PRESIDENTIAL CONTENDER PLANS, AND SCANDALS

REF: BOGOTA 1597

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

SUMMARY
-------
1. (C) Key presidential advisors told us President Uribe has
not decided whether to seek a third term, but agreed he would
have to make his intentions clear in the second half of 2008.
Several GOC coalition and opposition leaders plan to run in
2010, including Cambio Radical leader German Vargas Lleras,
former Defense Minster Rafael Pardo, and former Bogota Mayor
LuchoGarzon. Other GOC contenders, including Defense
Minister Juan Manuel Santos, await Uribe's decision. The
media speculated that former President Cesar Gaviria might
run, but Gaviria told us he would focus on building a broad
political movement to oppose a third Uribe term. The GOC
killed a political reform bill, fearing it would undermine
its control in Congress. Uribe repeatedly attacked the
credibility of former Congresswoman Yidis Medina, who has
testified that she received bribes in exchange for voting for
the constitutional amendment that allowed Uribe to run for a
second term. End Summary.

URIBE REELECTION DECISION PENDING
---------------------------------
2. (C) Presidential Advisors Bernardo Moreno, Jose Obdulio
Gaviria and Fabio Valencia Cossio told us President Uribe has
not decided whether to seek a possible third term. U Party
Senator Marta Lucia Ramirez said, "his head tells him not to
run, but his heart tells him yes." Moreno and Gaviria said
Uribe would delay any third term announcement for as long as
possible to avoid lame duck status, but agreed he would need
to state his intentions in the second half of 2008 so that
constitutional reform could clear Congress with time to
complete the rest of the amendment process. Uribe would
likely opt to amend the constitution via the referendum
process which requires a congressional vote on the referendum
question, Constitutional Court review, and the participation
of at least 25 percent of registered voters in the
referendum--approximately 7 million. Uribe's effort in 2003
to enact numerous constitutional reforms via referendum
failed due to low turnout.

3. (C) Gaviria said Uribe's indecision reflects his concern
that he has no qualified political heir. Defense Minister
Santos is the strongest option, but Gaviria and Moreno
stressed that Santos "is not a Casa de Narino insider."
Presidential Communications Director Jorge Mario Eastman told
us Santos' recent public announcement of FARC founder Pedro
Marin's death prior to notifying Uribe raised doubts about
his reliability. Gaviria mentioned Peace Commissioner Luis
Carlos Restrepo, AgriculturalMinisterAndres Arias, and
Colombian Ambassador to the U.K. Noemi Sanin as possible
candidates, but said all have weaknesses. Gaviria said at
one time Uribe considered independent and former Medellin
Mayor Sergio Fajardo as a possible successor, but the two
broke over Fajardo's refusal to identify fully with Uribe's
agenda. Ramirez told us Gaviria, Moreno, and Restrepo are
urging Uribe to run again.

CANDIDATES EMERGE FOR 2010
--------------------------
4. (C) Despite the uncertainty over Uribe's intentions,
politicians from the Uribista coalition parties and the
opposition have announced plans to run for president in 2010.
German Vargas Lleras (leader of Cambio Radical) resigned his
Senate seat in May to run. He told us he does not favor a
third Uribe term, and has hinted at a return to the Liberal
Party.Cambio Radical controls 15 seats in the Senate and 20
in the House, which could represent the swing votes in any
effort to allow a third term. Former Defense Minister Rafael
Pardo (Liberal Party) said he plans to run. Senator Gustavo
Petro (Polo Party) and formerBogota Mayor Luis "Lucho"
Garzon (Polo) are also candidates. Sergio Fajardo resigned
from his political commentator job in June to position
himself as a candidate. Polo President Carlos Gaviria, who
finished second to Uribe in 2006, told us he would not run
again, but far-left elements of the Polo will push hard for
Gaviria to enter the race since they have no other

high-profile standard bearer.

5. (C) The media has speculated that former President and
Liberal Party Chief Cesar Gaviria may seek a new term,
possibly in alliance with the Polo, but Gaviria told us he
did not intend to run and would focus instead on creating a
united political front to oppose a third Uribe term. GOC
officials -- including Defense Minister Santos and Interior
and Justice Minister Carlos Holguin -- have their possible
candidacies on hold pending Uribe's decision. They would
need to step down from the cabinet by May, 2009 to be
eligible to run in 2010.

POLITICAL REFORM BILL DIES
--------------------------
6. (C) The GOC killed a high-profile political reform bill
aimed at restoring Congressional legitimacy in early June.
The bill would have punished political parties with a loss of
seats if members were found to have ties to illegal armed
groups (reftel). Moreno said the legislation was part of a
radical opposition's effort to strip the GOC of its
Congressional majorities. He said the bill would have
enabled the opposition to block any third term effort, and
would have weakened Uribe's capacity to govern. Coalition
Senator Efrain Cepeda and Representative Roy Barreras told us
members remain concerned about Congress' legitimacy in the
wake of the para-political scandal, and were shocked at the
GOC's last minute decision to let the bill die in Commission.


7. (SBU) Moreno told us the GOC would introduce a new,
constitutional reform bill in the Congressional session
starting July 20 to maintain the political initiative and
address legitimacy concerns. Such a package would propose
changes in the electoral regime, new sanctions and
inhibitions for legislators, and congressional administrative
reform. Uribe installed a commission, comprised of academics
and former politicians, on June 16 to review and propose a
new reform package. Opposition leaders and some in the GOC
coalition dismissed the group as unrepresentative, and a
threat to congressional independence.

SCANDALS CONTINUE
-----------------
8. (C) The April wave of arrest orders and new investigations
from the Supreme Court in the para-political scandal slowed
in May and June, but allegations over alleged vote buying in
Uribe's first reelection effort by former Congresswoman Yidis
Medina continue to dog the GOC. Jose ObdulioGaviria told us
Medina's charges create doubts about the legitimacy of the
first reelection, complicating a second attempt. The
presidency issued six communiques the week of June 9
attacking Medina's credibility, and Uribe repeatedly and
personally criticized her character. Valencia said Uribe's
attacks had successfully destroyed Medina's credibility, and
predicted the scandal would not implicate Uribe directly.
Still, he warned that former-Interior Minister SabasPretelt
and Minister of Social Protection Diego Palacio -- accused of
managing the GOC bribery effort -- would have a difficult
period ahead as the investigation into her allegations
proceeds.
BROWNFIELD

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

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