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Cablegate: Cofan Indigenous Group Demands Consultations On

VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #2317/01 1772234
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY PARA 3 CLASS AD00AAF822/MSI0250 510)
P 252234Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3350
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8263
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0611
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ JUN 9522
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 6300
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 1914
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 6966
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4473

UNCLAS BOGOTA 002317

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (PARA 3 CLASS CORRECTED)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER PGOV PREL ECON SOCI CO
SUBJECT: COFAN INDIGENOUS GROUP DEMANDS CONSULTATIONS ON
MILITARY BASE

REF: BOGOTA 6535

SUMMARY
------
1. (U) The Santa Rosa del Guamuez Cofan Indigenous community
petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
(IACHR) to seek precautionary measures requiring the GOC to
consult with them on plans to build a military base near
their territory. The Santa Rosa representatives (who clash
with other Cofan tribes in the area) contend the base will
have adverse environmental and social impacts on their
community, and say the GOC is legally obligated to consult
with them prior to construction. The Ministry of Defense

(MOD) tells us the territory is not part of an indigenous
reserve, and consultations are not required. Still, the MOD
offered to meet the Cofan to discuss their concerns, but the
Cofan refused, demanding the completion of environmental and
social impact studies prior to a meeting. The MOD says the
base is needed due to the heavy presence of narcotraffickers
and illegal armed groups in the region. End Summary.

PRIVATE VS. INDIGENOUS LAND?
--------------------------
2. (U) On March 10, 2008 the Santa Rosa Cofan indigenous
community filed a complaint seeking precautionary measures
with the IACHR regarding the Ministry of Defense's (MOD)
plans to build a military base near their indigenous reserve.
The MOD notes that it purchased 173 hectares of land (Finca
Maraveles) in 1989 from Alfonso Sanchez. Sanchez had held a
valid title to the land since 1973. The Cofan allege that
Sanchez "invaded" their land, but have no maps or other
documents to prove this. They claim the GOC has lost maps
proving the land's connection to the Cofan, but have not
brought any legal action challenging Sanchez' ownership. The
Santa Rosa Cofan community has about 240 members--three other
Cofan reserves are in the area. They estimate the total
Cofan population in Putumayo is about 1500; other members
live in Ecuador.

3. (SBU) Ministry of Interior and Justice (MOIJ) Director of
Indigenous Affairs Edilberto Herrera told us the GOC promised
eight hectares of the Finca Maraveles land, which the Cofan
considers religious burial grounds, to the indigenous group
in the 1970's. He said the policy at that time was to
promise first and confirm proper titling of the land later.
Although no written documentation of this promise has been
found, Army Commander Mario Montoya tells us the military has
agreed to create an eight hectare buffer between the base and
the community. MOD sources added that the GOC is prepared to
grant unlimited Cofan access to the eight hectares or to even
sell back that part of the property. The dispute over
construction of the military base dates from 2006.

CONSULTATIONS HINGE ON ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
---------------------------------------
4. (U) International treaties, the Colombian constitution,
and court decisions (see reftel) require the GOC to consult
with indigenous groups about actions that affect them. The
MOD says consultations are not required in this case, because
the property was privately purchased and was not part of an
indigenous reserve. Herrera confirmed this was true, with
the caveat that consultations are needed if there are
"environmental or social impacts" on an indigenous community.
The Cofan fear the planned 200-soldier base will adversely
affect them. In addition to helicopter noise and
"indiscretions" by young soldiers, they claim patrols
improperly enter their homes. An additional concern is the
contamination of the headwaters of the river they use for
fishing, traditional ceremonies, and washing. The Cofan say
a waste pipe currently flows directly from the base
construction site to the river, with no visible filtration
system.

5. (U) MOD Human Rights Office Director Colonel Juan Carlos
Gomez told us he visited the military base on June 21, and
saw a small creek in the area, not a river. He denied there
would be any environmental impact, claiming the waste
produced by the base is properly filtered. Gomez said the
MOD has completed the list of studies the Cofan requested and
was prepared to present the information to the community on
June 21, but the Cofan refused to meet with him--they wanted
to see the studies first. Instead, he met with the mayors of
San Miguel and Hormiga who support the base opening and the
new road it will bring, noting the economic benefits to the
70,000 people in their communities. The Santa Rosa Cofan


leaders concede that local residents, as well as various
tribes within the Cofan nation, are divided on the base issue.

HALTED DIALOGUE
-----------------

6. (U) Carlos Salinas, director of the U.S. human rights
group Healing Bridges, and his lawyer Juan Pablo Berrios
legally represent the Cofan and filed the complaint with the
IACHR. They told us the community requested that the IAHCR
ask the GOC to halt construction of the base, and provide: 1)
plans for the construction of the base, to include a list of
machinery and chemicals to be used, and any plans to move the
earth, 2) environmental impact study, in particular related
to water sources, and 3) political, cultural, social, and
economic impact studies. They are concerned about on-going
construction at the site.

7. (U) The Putumayo region is a strategic drug-production
and transport area, and has a strong FARC presence. Illegal
armed groups and narcotraffickers often exploit locals in
their efforts to continue operations. The Cofan elders
acknowledged the presence of narcotraffickers and criminal
groups in the region, but complained that military presence
would attract more violence.

8. (U) Accion Integral indigenous expert Fanny Romero told
us that although their office does not usually conduct the
consultations, they could assist the MOD to start a dialogue
with the Cofan and could also help address the Cofan's
environmental concerns. In addition, they could provide
sensitivity training to the military. Post forwarded Cofan
complaints to Accion Integral, and they have begun to
coordinate with the Human Rights Office in the MOD on this
issue. Post is also facilitating an exchange of information
between the MOD and the Cofan in an effort to start a
meaningful dialogue.
BROWNFIELD

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