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Cablegate: Uribe Third Term Setback: 2010 Reelection Rejected

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INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA IMMEDIATE 8531
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RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA IMMEDIATE 6784
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id: 180401
date: 11/26/2008 22:47
refid: 08BOGOTA4261
origin: Embassy Bogota
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 08BOGOTA4201
header:
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OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #4261/01 3312247
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 262247Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5773
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA IMMEDIATE 8531
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS IMMEDIATE 1370
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA IMMEDIATE 6784
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA IMMEDIATE 2727
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO IMMEDIATE 7472
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHMFIUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL IMMEDIATE


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C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 004261

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/25/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PTER PHUM CO
SUBJECT: URIBE THIRD TERM SETBACK: 2010 REELECTION REJECTED
IN FIRST CONGRESS VOTE -- 2014 REELECTION APPROVED

REF: BOGOTA 4201

Classified By: Acting Political Counselor David M. Zimov
Reasons 1.4 (b and d)

SUMMARY
-------
1. (U) The First Commission of the Colombian House of
Representatives rejected in a razor thin vote on November 26,
a proposal to change the constitution to allow President
Uribe to run for a third term in 2010. The Commission later
approved language that would allow Uribe to seek reelection
in 2014. The votes in First Commission--the first of four
votes in Congress required to pass a referendum
proposal--followed intense lobbying against immediate
reelection from the opposition and Cambio Radical Party
leader German Vargas Lleras, and the last minute abstention
of two key coalition members critical of Uribe's management
of a recent pyramid scheme collapse. In the wake of the
setback, Uribe's supporters announced they will try to change
the proposal language again in upcoming congressional debates
to allow a 2010 run. Still, the legality of such a maneuver
remains questionable, and could be time consuming or
challenged in court. Barreras told us the First Commission
vote makes immediate reelection in 2010 more unlikely--though
still possible. End summary.

CONGRESS VOTES AGAINST 2010 THIRD TERM--FOR 2014
--------------------------------------------- ---
2. (U) The First Commission of the Colombian House of
Representatives on November 26, voted against a proposal to
hold a referendum to change the constitution to allow
President Alvaro Uribe to run for a possible third term as
president in 2010. In a razor thin vote of 17-16, the First
Commission rejected the immediate reelection language. The
Commission then immediately voted 29-4 in favor of different
referendum language to allow a possible 2014 run, in the
first of four votes in Congress that would be needed to move
the referendum forward. If passed in all four votes, the
revised 2014 measure would then move to the Constitutional
Court for approval, and finally to a referendum requiring a
majority--with a required 25% turnout of registered voters
(approximately 7.2 million).

3. (C) Representative Nicolas Uribe announced that supporters
of an immediate Uribe reelection would again try to modify
the referendum language in the second congressional vote (in
the full House in early December) to allow for immediate
reelection. Representative Oscar Arboleda, who favors
immediate reelection, told us coalition members could legally
modify the language in subsequent debates. Still, Barreras
and Second Commission Secretary General Emiliano Rivera told
us such a maneuver would probably be illegal, and could
require time consuming Constitutional Court review if
challenged. Barreras said the Commission vote made immediate
reelection more unlikely, though not impossible since Uribe
supporters in Congress will look for creative ways to reverse
the Commission vote.

4. (C) Barreras told us there was no pressure from the Palace
to vote for the 2010 measure, but intense pressure from
Cambio leader German Vargas Lleras to oppose immediate
reelection. Barreras said he met with President Uribe on
November 20, pleading with Uribe to publicly state his third
term intentions. When Barreras asked Uribe how he should
vote, Uribe refused even in private to state whether he was
interested in a third term--whether in 2010 or 2014.
Barreras said Uribe and Interior Minister Fabio Valencia
Cossio (the GOC's main lobbyist in Congress) were "completely
absent" from the third term debate.

5. (C) Meanwhile, Barreras said Vargas-Lleras--who has
already begun his own presidential campaign--publicly
threatened to sanction Barreras for not supporting Cambio's
position against a third term in 2010. Barreras told us
Vargas offered other swing voters (especially Rep. Edgar
Gomez) "anything they wanted" to kill the referendum. Gomez
was later absent from some votes with a "medical problem."
Separately, both the Inspector General (Procuraduria) and
National Election Council have begun investigations into the
signature collection process that began the referendum

process. The media is reporting that collapsed pyramid
scheme company DMG may have supported the effort.

URIBE INSIDERS PESSIMISTIC ON 2010 RUN
--------------------------------------
6. (C) Presidential Communications Advisor Jorge Mario
Eastman told us Uribe had not decided whether to run again,
nor had he instructed Secretary of Government Bernardo Moreno
or Interior Minister Valencia to lobby Congress to pass the
constitutional amendment required. Uribe Advisor Bernardo
Moreno, who is under investigation for his contact with
former Congresswoman Yidis Medina (convicted of accepting
bribes during the first reelection effort), was not
authorized to get involved without Uribe's instructions.
Eastman said the amendment effort was being directed by U
Party Secretary General Luis Giraldo and presidential advisor
Jose Obdulio Gaviria.

7. (C) Eastman told us he had been pessimistic that Congress
would pass a constitutional amendment allowing Uribe to run
in 2010. Cambio Radical opposed the measure and the U Party
lacked influence. Members of Congress remained focused on
trying to extract concrete benefits from the presidency in
exchange for votes on political reform and the referendum.
The danger, Eastman said, was that no one had started to
develop a process to select a unified Uribe coalition
presidential candidate if Uribe did not run in 2010. Uribe
continues to believe there is a capable successor within the
coalition.

URIBE CONFIDANT URGES URIBE NOT TO RUN
--------------------------------------
8. (C) Separately, Uribe confidant Fabio Echeverri told us he
urged Uribe to step down in 2010 and to set up a foundation
that would advocate for democracy and free markets in the
hemisphere. Echeverri--who has known Uribe since childhood
and managed his two previous presidential campaigns--told us
he opposed a second Uribe reelection because it would
endanger Uribe's legacy as well as his health. Moreover,
Colombia needed a break from Uribe's frenetic governing
style.

9. (C) Echeverri added that Uribe also had the luxury in his
first two terms of focusing on one issue--security. The
current problems facing Colombia, including the economic
slowdown and financial crisis, were not Uribe's forte.
Echeverri said he has explained his opposition to reelection
to Uribe on several occasions. Uribe had listened, but had
not given a clear signal of his intentions.

"UNFAVORABLE CLIMATE" FOR THIRD TERM
------------------------------------
10. (C) Jorge Londono, head of leading Colombian polling firm
Invimar-Gallup, told us the third term effort was moving
ahead at a difficult time for Uribe. By the first quarter of
2009, Londono expects the slowing economy and financial
crisis, the collapse of a series of large pyramid schemes,
and scandals over alleged extrajudicial killings by the
military to cut into Uribe's approval ratings.

11. (C) Eastman added that Uribe and his Cabinet remained
worried over the pyramid scheme crisis, especially the fall
of the largest of the schemes, DMG (reftel). Polo Party
President Carlos Gaviria told us DMG--which Eastman said "was
winning the public relations battle" over the GOC--had used
the media to turn many previous Uribe supporters against the
president in regions like Putumayo where security used to be
"the only issue." Eastman added that the GOC needed to move
fast to limit the damage from the DMG scandal. Two
Conservative Party coalition members of the First Commission,
previously rock solid supporters of a 2010 Uribe reelection,
abstained on the vote due to constituent protests against
Uribe's management of the pyramid crisis.
BROWNFIELD

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

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