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Cablegate: U/S Burns Meets with President Uribe

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

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 BOGOTA 007402


E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/27/2015


Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood; reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (U) July 26, 2005, 4:00-5:30 pm, Casa de Narino, Bogota

2. (U) Participants:


R. Nicholas Burns, U/S for Political Affairs
Ambassador William B. Wood
Cynthia Echeverria, P Special Assistant
Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Polcouns (notetaker)
Luis Guio, Interpreter


Alvaro Uribe Velez, President
Camilo Ospina, Minister of Defense
Acting Foreign Minister Camilo Reyes
Presidential Communications Director Jaime Bermudez
Francisco Gonzalez, MFA (notetaker)


3. (S) During a warm, productive and candid meeting, U/S Burns told President Uribe that President Bush would deliver a message of strong, continued support in Crawford on August 4, in particular regarding GOC counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism efforts. At the same time, noting differing views among some members of Congress, Burns pressed for more progress on several long-standing human rights
cases, including on San Jose de Apartado and Mapiripan, to strengthen the human rights certification, and urged Uribe to rigorously and energetically implement the new justice and peace law. He cautioned that, unless addressed, these negative perceptions could affect ongoing U.S. support for Colombia. He called on the President to make a public, renewed commitment to expeditiously adjudicate the human rights cases in question, and to do everything under his executive powers to accelerate progress. He also urged the GOC to respond to concerns that the justice and peace law impededextraditions. He encouraged Uribe to visit Washington en route to the UNGA to make his case directly to the Congress on both issues. Uribe assured U/S Burns that his government remained committed to protecting human rights and that implementation of the new law would be accelerated and rigorous. He had already urged the Prosecutor General to make a public statement on GOC efforts to complete its
investigation on San Jose de Apartado. On counter-narcotics efforts, Uribe said he was looking for new ways to encourage families to abandon growing illicit drugs and engage them in crop substitution programs. Burns encouraged newly-appointed Minister of Defense Ospina to also visit Washington soon for discussions at DOD and State. Ospina quipped that he was Secretary Rumsfeld's deputy in Colombia, "coordinating his SIPDIS third front of the war on terrorism." Burns thanked Uribe for GOC efforts to secure the release of the three U.S. hostages. While acknowledging that the French had launched a
new campaign to pressure him to negotiate the release of Colombian-French hostage Ingrid Bentancourt, Uribe was emphatic that he would make no deal that did not include the three Americans. On Venezuela, Uribe was particularly candid. He called Chavez a mix of someone with imperial sentiments and drunk with socialism. He said Chavez has
dreams of an hemispheric television station and a unified oil company, and was looking to create a new coalition to confront the U.S. He urged the U.S. to reach out to those in the hemisphere Chavez believes are his friends. Uribe, in resignation, lamented that, given Chavez's efforts to create a "new socialism," his total domination over Venezuelan institutions, the lack of opposition and checks and balances, and the prospects of hyper-inflation, political unrest was probably inevitable. End Summary.

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IDB and Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. Luis Alberto Moreno
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4. (C) Uribe arrived a few minutes late, explaining that he had just finished a telephone call with the president of Guyana, lobbying for Ambassador Moreno's candidacy for president of the IDB. The election was the following day and Moreno needed one more country to secure a win in the first round of voting. Uribe was convinced that if voting went into a second round, Brazil and Venezuela would form a coalition on behalf of the Brazilian candidate. U/S Burns said the U.S. was fully behind Moreno and had lobbied extensively as well (reftel). Uribe stressed that he would do a terrific job at the IBD but it would be extremely difficult to find a suitable replacement for him as ambassador to the U.S. In the middle of the meeting, Uribe took a call from his counterpart from Ecuador who pledged to support Moreno. President Palacio told Uribe that Chavez had called him earlier in the day asking Ecuador to support the Brazilian candidate.

U.S. Support for Colombia

5. (C) Uribe expressed appreciation for U/S Burn's visit as well as for ongoing support from the U.S., including the Congress and theembassy. "With the difficulties we face on a daily basis, U.S. assistance has been critical and I have no words to express my gratitude." U/S Burns underscored that the GOC had made tremendous progress fighting drugs and terrorism under Uribe's leadership, and U.S. support would continue as a result. Uribe acknowledged that the numbers of kidnappings, homicides, and drugs eradicated or seized
remained high in absolute terms, but the numbers were decreasing in relative terms and the trend lines were good. That said, while the reduction in coca production was positive, he wanted to make an even greater effort in 2005 to achieve an even steeper decline. We are winning the war, he said, but have not won yet and need to stay the course. The Ambassador noted that 100,000 hectares of cocaine had been sprayed in 2005 so far, putting us 25 percent ahead of last year when total hectares sprayed reached 135,000. U/S Burns noted that the Afghans in comparison had destroyed only 216 and a half hectares thus far. Our aim is to destroy drugs, said Uribe, and the GOC was also ready to provide Afghanistan technical assistance and experience.

6. (C) Uribe reviewed GOC strategy for fighting narcotraffickers. This included using aerial and manual eradication, extradition, and crop substitution (i.e. alternative development initiatives). The GOC had the
political will to make adjustments to be even more effective. For instance, this year GOC officials had accelerated manual eradication to complement aerial efforts. So far, they had eradicated 11,000 hectares with prospects to achieve 30,000 hectares by the end of the year.

7. (C) Uribe said he wanted to reward communities who assisted military and police forces discover illicit drug storage facilities hidden in the jungle. He was also looking at ways to encourage families to abandon growing illicit drugs and engage them in a program of crop substitution. (Note: Uribe reportedly made ad hoc comments during a town hall discussion last weekend in the department of Meta that
the GOC would buy illegal crops of coca directly from farmers in exchange for a promise from them to never grow coca again. This has met with criticism from the Colombian Congress and presidential candidates. GOC officials subsequently clarified Uribe's remarks by saying the GOC would pay for information from farmers about the production and storage of cocaine.) Uribe understood the idea was controversial but believed it could provide results. The Ambassador responded that a reward for information that helped locate and seize
drugs was a solid proposal but purchasing drugs from growers
was another matter. The UN was already prepared to publicly criticize the idea. He told Uribe the USG would think about innovative ways to encourage small farmers to abandon growing illicit drugs and come back with some proposals. Perhaps a credible non-governmental organization could help. U/S Burns said he would also alert the President and Secretary that this was on Uribe's mind.

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August 4 Meeting at Crawford/Split View from Washington
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8. (C) U/S Burns said the President was looking forward to the meeting in Crawford and he had come to Colombia, in part, to discuss how to ensure a positive result. Uribe would hear a message of strong, continued support from President Bush, in particular regarding GOC counter-narcotic and counter-terrorism efforts. Uribe repeated that he wanted even better results.
9. (C) Burns noted that the view was different from some on Capitol Hill and in the human rights community. Concern over the lack of progress on several prominent, longstanding human rights cases, coupled with a perception that the new Law on Justice and Peace governing AUC demobilizations was too lenient, was raising questions about GOC commitment to improving human rights in the country. Burns cautioned that these negative perceptions in the Congress could affect ongoing U.S. support for the successor to Plan Colombia. He suggested Uribe arrive in Crawford with a sense of his strategy over the next five to six years for Plan Colombia follow on. Beyond the concerns on human rights and the law, the budget for foreign assistance would be leaner in coming years. Multi-year commitments would not be possible. The
case for ongoing support at similar levels would have to be made annually.

Concern about Progress on Human Rights

10. (C) Burns reiterated the concern of some that the GOC was not acting quickly and concretely enough in adjudicating outstanding human rights cases, in particular regarding Mapiripan, now seven years old, Arauca, and the February massacre in San Jose de Apartado. He recommended Uribe authorize a public statement that the GOC would make a renewed effort to act quickly in successfully bringing these cases to conclusion. While recognizing that several were being adjudicated in the courts, Burns also urged Uribe do everything under his executive powers and discretion to accelerate progress. The Secretary still had to certify to Congress on the human rights situation and had already delayed it in the hopes further progress could be reported. Without a credible certification, there was a danger that
some members of Congress would attach additional restrictions
to future aid to Colombia. The Department needed "to see in your statements and actions a renewed determination and commitment to address these cases," he said.

11. (C) Uribe said he understood the situation. He was confident the new Fiscal (Prosecutor General) would do everything he could to accelerate the ongoing investigations. He had already asked the outgoing Fiscal to make a public statement in the next few days on the status of the GOC investigation on San Jose de Apartado. He also defended his Administration's record, noting that the number of such incidents had been dramatically reduced under his presidency and that the GOC response had been thoroughly transparent. He again committed to call the Prosecutor General to ensure a statement on San Jose de Apartado was released before Crawford.

Law for Justice and Peace

12. (C) Uribe told the U/S that he had met with Spanish judge Balthazar Garzon and other leaders for three hours during his recent visit in Spain to discuss the law. Garzon had said the law was too lenient because there was no balance between the gravity of the crime and the length of the sentence. Uribe agreed but told Garzon it was the price of a peace process. It had to be compared to previous demobilization
laws in Colombia which had no justice component, and laws dealing with other peace processes around the world. For the first time, the GOC secured approval of a law for peace with justice, he insisted. There was no pardon for atrocities; the concept of justice and reparations was on the books in Colombia for the first time. Uribe also insisted that the law would apply to all illegal armed groups who wanted to demobilize. He stressed that many complained the law was too
tough for the guerrillas and too weak for the paramilitaries. The guerrillas continued to insist they would accept only amnesty and no jail time. In his view, the law struck a balance equally applicable to all illegal armed groups. At the same time, he acknowledged that compromises had to be made. The investigatory scheme set out in the law was satisfactory to get to the truth, but in a country which used
to average over 30,000 assassinations a year, to investigate
everything was an unrealistic dream.
13. (C) U/S Burns said he had met with human rights NGOs earlier in the day. Many were critical of the law and believed it endorsed impunity. He had responded that the U.S. supported the law, and was convinced it would be effective with rigorous and energetic implementation. The GOC had to ensure the law was aggressively applied. Uribe agreed and per U.S. suggestions, would demand that the law's implementation be accelerated and rigorous. He had already
communicated this to Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo. Ambassador also suggested that, as the GOC defines the process, it make its decisions public. The GOC had to be pro-active in explaining how it intended to implement the law. Critics were filling the void while the GOC remained silent. For example, a local NGO told U/S Burns there would be no meaningful investigation under the law. You can answer this, said the Ambassador. U/S Burns also encouraged Uribe
to come to Washington on his way to the UNGA in mid-September
to make his case to the Congress. Uribe agreed.

14. (C) U/S Burns said the impact on extraditions was another concern on the law. It would be useful for the GOC to respond to NGO assertions that law impeded extraditions. Uribe insisted that it did not/not impede extraditions and the GOC would continue extraditing criminals to the U.S. He acknowledged, however, that there would be some instances when he would delay extraditions, in particular for
paramilitary "ringleaders," as a lever for their future behavior. U/S Burns insisted that the U.S. wanted to see anyone who violated U.S. law or harmed U.S. citizens remain subject to extradition.

MOD Visit to Washington

15. (C) U/S Burns said the U.S. was ready to discuss enhanced mil-to-mil relations when GOC officials were ready. He encouraged newly-appointed Minister of Defense Camilo Ospina to visit Washington soon for discussions at DoD and State. Ospina readily agreed and Burns said he would take back Ospina's interest to Secretary Rumsfeld. (Note: In a subsequent conversation with the Ambassador, Ospina said
Colombia wants the deepest possible defense relationship, but
that there continued to be a dispute within the government as
to timing. In general, the GOC is of the view that nothing
important should happen before the Constitutional Court on
re-election, mid- to late-September. President Uribe and
Ospina expect to have their thinking sorted out before the
meeting with President Bush in Crawford.)

U.S. Hostages/Humanitarian Accord

16. (C) U/S Burns thanked President Uribe for ongoing GOC efforts to secure the release of the three U.S. hostages held by the FARC for over two years. Anything more the GOC could do would be greatly appreciated. Burns said the U.S. would continue to rely on the GOC's guidance and wisdom and was prepared to help in any way. Uribe responded that the GOC continued to work closely with the Embassy. If there were any military operation the U.S. believed should be undertaken to secure the hostages' release, his forces would "stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.S." in carrying it out.

17. (C) Uribe said he was scheduled to meet the mother of Colombian-French hostage Ingrid Betancourt later in the day. French Prime Minister Dominique De Villepan was pushing him hard to negotiate Betancourt's release as part of a humanitarian exchange. He stated emphatically that he would not go forward with any deal that did not include the three Americans. Uribe stressed that he would refuse any exchange that included GOC-held FARC members guilty of crimes under the Colombian Constitution. He would also insist that FARC
prisoners released as part of an humanitarian exchange be immediately deported to France with GOF guarantees that they
did not return to Colombia and re-join FARC ranks. Uribe promised to keep Ambassador Wood apprised of all details on any negotiations that could affect the U.S. hostages. He also predicted that the FARC would be more inclined to negotiate seriously now for such an exchange if the
Constitutional Court approved presidential re-election. However, the FARC would wait until a new government was in place if re-election was shot down by the court.

18. (C) U/S Burns told Uribe that the Secretary appreciated
hearing his views on how to handle Chavez during her April
visit. She was determined not to make Chavez into something
bigger by responding to every jab. President Bush was also
focused on Venezuela and looked forward to a discussion at
Crawford. The U.S. had no ministerial contact with the GOV
at this point and welcomed Uribe's insights.

19. (S) Uribe noted that Chavez had been quieter in the last two months and had, for example, agreed to extradite FARC leader Chiguiro to Colombia without a formal GOC request. Nonetheless, he did not trust Chavez. He never talked to him alone; he always brought along Foreign Minister Barco or some other witness. On GOV links to the FARC, Uribe said Chavez has told him that he does not protect the guerrillas but could not deny that some in his political organization supported them. Uribe complained that Chavez had little opposition now. There was no balance of power within the government. All decisions were ultimately made by him. Uribe stressed that Chavez had an effective stump speech: he claims to be distributing the country's oil wealth through subsidies to the populace while previous governments stole it. This was a powerful message and hard to contradict. Uribe also expressed surprise that the Venezuelan business community was not more jittery, given Chavez's efforts to create a "new socialism." The Venezuelan economy could also move into hyper-inflation, he predicted. Already, inflation had increased to 17-20%, compared to 5% in Colombia.

20. (S) According to Uribe, Chavez was a mix of someone with
imperial sentiments, drunk with socialism. He believed that Chavez, with presumed support from President Lula, hoped to create a new coalition to confront the U.S. He has may dreams, said Uribe, including a hemispheric television station (Telesur) and the unification of oil companies on the continent into a regional "petrosur." He encouraged the U.S. to improve relations with Uruguay and others in the region Chavez believed were his supporters.

21. (S) Finally, Uribe said he was becoming more and more resigned to the notion that, given the current situation in Venezuela, political unrest was inevitable.

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