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Cablegate: Overview of Congressional Session

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

id: 22390
date: 11/2/2004 18:31
refid: 04BOGOTA13217
origin: Embassy Bogota
classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
destination: 04BOGOTA12860
header:
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


----------------- header ends ----------------

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BOGOTA 013217

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SOUTHCOM FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: DNG: UN 12/30/2014
TAGS: PGOV ECON KJUS CO
SUBJECT: OVERVIEW OF CONGRESSIONAL SESSION

REF: A) BOGOTA 12860

B) BOGOTA 9325
C) BOGOTA 8856
D) BOGOTA 7424

1. (SBU) Summary: Passage of presidential reelection
reform and implementing legislation for a new criminal
procedure code were the principal accomplishments of the
last session of Congress. Political wrangling prevented
the Congress from dealing effectively with key pension and
tax reform bills. Media coverage claiming Congressional
indolence, a circus-like appearance before Congress by
paramilitary leaders, and a decision by the Constitutional
Court to strike down anti-terrorism legislation based on
procedural irregularities were low points. President
Uribe has continued to maintain high approval ratings in
spite of tension with the Legislative Branch. Congress is
ignoring public opinion at its own peril. End Summary.

2. (U) The most notable accomplishment of the July-
December Congressional session was passage of
Constitutional reform to permit presidential reelection
(ref A). That issue occupied a large portion of the
Congressional agenda during the period. In addition,
Congress passed (and the President signed) a new criminal
procedure code (ref B), which will bring an accusatory
(oral) criminal justice system into force on January 1 in
Bogota and the Coffee Region Departments (Caldas, Quindio,
and Risaralda). Congress also passed legislation to
implement the new penal code and organizational law of the
Prosecutor General's Office (Fiscalia) and completed the
first two of the required four rounds of approval of
pension reform legislation, including measures to end
additional monthly payments and special pension regimes
and cap the highest pensions at 25 times the minimum wage.

3. (SBU) Congress was unable to pass legislation on tax
reform, a key component of President Uribe's domestic
agenda, and the prolonged impasse over the issue
negatively impacted the session's productivity. Working
together with the GOC, various proposals were floated in
Congress concerning changes to the value added tax (VAT).
Debate centered on expanding the basket of taxable items
at a lower rate, or raising the VAT on currently taxed
items. Toward the end of the session, lawmakers from the
Conservative (normally allied with the President) and
Officialist Liberal Parties, and several small left-of-
center movements, walked out, killing fiscal reform for
2004.

4. (SBU) Uribista (pro-Uribe) Liberals reneged on earlier
commitments to Conservatives, Officialist Liberals, and
center-left movements to support a so-called "Opposition
Statute," which would have mandated that the second-place
party in presidential elections be awarded the
directorships of governmental watchdog agencies such as
the Inspector General's Office (Procuraduria) and the
Comptroller (Contraloria). The backlash from
Conservatives over this issue torpedoed other key pieces
of legislation. The "Bancadas" law, geared toward
strengthening internal party discipline within the
Congress, is under consideration by the House but has made
little progress. The legislation, which would require the
naming of whips and would strictly allocate debate time
based on party size, has met with resistance from the
small center-left parties, Officialist Liberals, and even
some Uribistas.

5. (SBU) Media attention on empty plenary sessions, early
suspension of planned debates, and other signs of
procedural wrangling caused a deterioration of the
public's already low opinion of Congress. Of all public
institutions in Colombia, the Congress is consistently
viewed in the most negative light in major polls.
Congress' standing with the public and leading media
outlets also suffered from the circus-like atmosphere of
an appearance in Congress by paramilitary commanders in
July (ref D). In addition, the Constitutional Court's
decision to strike down controversial anti-terrorism
legislation passed by Congress (ref C) called the
institution's deliberative mechanisms into question. The
Court overturned the legislation based on alleged coercion
and fraudulent vote counting. Tension between the
Congress and high courts--including draft legislation to
abolish the Constitutional Court--could spill over into
2005 as the Court hears suits brought against various
pieces of legislation.

6. (SBU) Comment: With Congressional and Presidential
elections scheduled for March and May 2006, respectively,
the relationship between the executive and legislative
branches will grow more politicized. Some of the proposed
tax measures would affect middle and upper-middle class
Colombians, and are a difficult sell. In addition,
members of Congress are starting to focus on their
reelection prospects, and their voting will become even
more focused on local issues, including patronage and
pork, two areas in which Uribe has not been willing to
accommodate legislators. Uribe's integrity may have
earned points with voters, but not with the legislators,
who would benefit from more political largesse.

WOOD

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

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