Cablegate: Senator Frist's Meeting with President Uribe
date: 1/8/2004 17:06
origin: Embassy Bogota
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BOGOTA 000153
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/07/2014
TAGS: PREL PHUM PTER SNAR ECON CO EC MX GOV
SUBJECT: SENATOR FRIST'S MEETING WITH PRESIDENT URIBE
REF: BOGOTA 85
Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood, Reasons: 1.5 B & D.
1. (C) Summary: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and
Ambassador Wood met with President Uribe in Cartagena on
January 4. Uribe made a pitch for additional helicopters and
more efficient delivery of spare parts and inquired about the
possibility of A-10 Warthogs for the counternarcotics fight.
Uribe described a vastly improved security situation and
reiterated the GOC's commitment to respecting human rights.
He described relations with Ecuador as improving and welcomed
the arrest of FARC leader Simon Trinidad (reftel).
Ambassador Wood stressed the importance of the Special Summit
of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico. End Summary.
2. (U) On January 4, Senator Frist and Ambassador Wood had a
working lunch with President Uribe at the latter's official
residence in Cartagena. Participating (at the principals'
table) were Senate Sargeant-at-Arms William Pickle and
Majority Leader National Security Advisor Steve Biegun as
well as Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno, Interior and Justice
Minister Sabas Pretelt, and Presidential Advisor Fabio
Echeverri for Colombia. Prior to the lunch, Admirals
Mauricio Soto and Guillermo Barrera, Commander of the Navy
and Commander of the Navy's Caribbean Fleet, respectively,
participated in an expanded discussion with the principals
and other members of Senator Frist's delegation.
3. (C) Uribe lamented the USG's travel advisory against
cruise ship calls to Cartagena. Ambassador Wood noted that
the USG and GOC have discussed the issue on numerous
occasions and the USG would continue to consider Colombian
concerns. Senator Frist promised to keep the issue on the
front burner but noted that the Department of State had the
lead on the issue. In response to a question from Senator
Frist, Uribe lauded the capture of FARC leader Simon Trinidad
in Quito (reftel) and described relations with Ecuador as
good, particularly at the presidential level, and improving.
Continuing with security issues, Uribe called attention to
the peaceful and transparent nature of elections and
referendum voting last October. He stressed his and the
GOC's commitment to safeguarding human rights. Ambassador
Wood praised Uribe for a 50 percent reduction in the number
of displaced persons during 2003.
4. (C) Turning to socioeconomic issues, Uribe noted that tax
collection as a percentage of GDP had risen from 16 to 19
percent during 2003. He felt additional legislation was
needed to address the budget burden caused by pensions and
health care. Senator Frist inquired about the public health
care system in Colombia and access to care, particularly in
rural areas. Uribe indicated progress had been made in
ensuring coverage countrywide via the public hospital system.
On trade, Ambassador Moreno noted that Colombian exports to
the U.S. had increased by 30 percent during 2003. Uribe
stressed the untapped agricultural potential of central
Colombia and hoped for productive and efficient FTA
negotiations. Senator Frist stated he shared Uribe's desire
for a mutually beneficial FTA.
5. (C) Uribe asked for additional helicopter resources and
improved spare parts delivery to assist with the
counternarcotics fight. He also called attention to problems
with existing OV-10 aircraft. In response to Uribe's request
for A-10 Warthogs, Ambassador Wood noted the suspension of
production and that the U.S. needed those being called back
into service for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ambassador
Wood expressed concern about the lack of resources for
evacuating Colombian military and police personnel injured in
clashes with drug traffickers and/or guerrillas. Senator
Frist stated he would be a strong advocate of enhanced
counternarcotics and military assistance to the GOC.
6. (C) Ambassador Wood stressed the importance of the
Special Summit of the Americas in Mexico (January 12-13) and
requested that Colombia work with us to ensure that the final
document is practical and focused. He also took the
opportunity to inform Uribe that USG experts had determined
that there was no legal impediment to earlier provision of
flight information under the Air Bridge Denial (ABD) program.
7. (U) In a follow-on press conference with President Uribe,
Senator Frist confirmed his and the Congress' commitment to
Colombia's fight against terrorism and drug trafficking. and
praised the GOC for the capture of FARC leader Simon
Trinidad. Uribe welcomed Senator Frist as an ally of
Colombia. He also expressed a desire to increase American
tourism to Colombia, in particular Cartagena.
8. (U) Senator Frist did not have an opportunity to clear