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Cablegate: Scenesetter for Codel Coleman's Visit to Colombia

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

252222Z Aug 05

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 BOGOTA 008051

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SANTIAGO, PLEASE PASS TO CODEL COLEMAN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL CO
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR CODEL COLEMAN'S VISIT TO COLOMBIA


-------
Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Post warmly welcomes CODEL Coleman's visit to
Colombia. With USG assistance, Colombian President Alvaro
Uribe has made great strides in fighting drug trafficking and
terrorism. A nation-wide, multi-phased offensive by the
security forces has re-taken key territory from the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The peace
process with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC)
has already resulted in the demobilization of almost 9,000
paramilitaries with several thousand more expected.
Colombia's human rights record, although imperfect, is
improving. Executive-legislative relations have been tense,
but Uribe managed to push through some important legislation,
including a bill to allow presidential re-election. The
economy continues to improve and FTA talks have concluded the
eleventh round. Three U.S. citizens have been held hostage
by the FARC for two and a half years now; their safe recovery
continues to be one of our top priorities. Uribe is a strong
proponent of extradition. End Summary.

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--------------------------------------------
U.S. Assistance Key to Security Improvements
--------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) USG Assistance to Colombia (Plan Colombia) is
premised on combating the interrelated issues of drug
trafficking and terrorism and includes training, material
aid, and guidance to the security forces and other
institutions. President Uribe and Colombian Minister of
Defense (MOD) Camilo Ospina have characterized U.S.
assistance as key to the GOC's "Democratic Security Policy"
and acknowledged the United States as Colombia's most
important ally. Since taking office, President Uribe has
focused on establishing a state presence throughout national
territory.

-- Plan Patriota: The military's multi-phased campaign plan
to re-take areas dominated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia (FARC) is entering its third year. The first
phase, which focused on securing Cundinamarca Department,
which surrounds Bogota, pushed the FARC presence out of reach
of the capital and resulted in the deaths of at least five
mid-level FARC commanders. The second, much more complex
phase has reached the eighteen month mark and is focused on
the FARC's traditional stronghold in southeastern Colombia.
Infectious diseases - especially leishmaniasis, a parasitic
skin and intestinal infection - and landmines are the leading
causes of military casualties.

-- FARC Attacks: FARC violence in the first half of 2005,
although tactically aggressive, remained more a political
tool than military tactic.

-- Center for Coordinated Integral Action: With support from
the U.S. MILGRP, the GOC formed an interagency center to
facilitate social services in seven areas that have
traditionally suffered from little state presence and
pressure from illegal armed groups. The Center focuses on
providing immediate social services, including documentation
and medical clinics, and establishing longer term projects,
such as economic reactivation. Approximately 40,000
individuals have been enrolled in state health care, judges,
investigators, and public defenders have been placed in all
16 municipalities of the Plan Patriota area, and a public
library was recently opened in the town of San Vicente del
Caguan, which had long been dominated by the FARC.

-- Drug Eradication: Eradication and interdiction are at
record levels. As of August 2005, over 110,000 hectares of
coca and 1,500 hectares of opium poppy had been sprayed since
the beginning of 2005, and 15,500 hectares of coca and poppy
were manually eradicated. Ground fire against spray planes
is well below 2003 levels but remains problematic.

-- Plan Colombia II: The GOC committed to provide us with a
draft proposal of Plan Colombia II soon. Most of the program
areas outlined are a continuation of the same goals the US
has supported since Plan Colombia's inception in 2000.
Congress will be asked to consider one new program area,
which includes peace negotiations, demobilization, and
reintegration of illegal armed groups.

--------------------------------------------- -------
U.S. Assistance to Development and Democracy-Building
--------------------------------------------- -------

3. (U) The USAID mission in Colombia funds programs to
improve transparency of the justice system, assist farmers in
growing alternative legal crops and livestock production, and
supports more than 1.4 million Colombians displaced from the
internal violence. USAID is also strengthening a center to
support children who had been forced to serve as child
combatants. These programs help reinforce Colombian
society's democratic and social institutions.

----------------
Military Justice
----------------

4. (U) The Colombian military justice system has been
criticized for inefficiency and weakness. We have emphasized
the importance of creating a system that delivers credible
findings to ensure expeditious justice for both the innocent
and the guilty. In April, the Military Penal Justice
Director submitted a "shock" reform package to Congress as
the first step towards institutional streamlining. A second
reform package, slated for Congressional review in the next
few weeks, would improve the long-term functioning of the
institution.

-----------
Extradition
-----------

5. (SBU) President Uribe is a strong supporter of the
U.S.-GOC extradition relationship, and since taking office
has approved more than 250 extraditions to the U.S.
President Uribe, the prosecutor general and other senior GOC
officials have expressed concern about the impact of the Deal
Amendment in the Senate version of the Foreign Operations
Appropriations Bill.

-------------
Peace Process
-------------

6. (SBU) The GOC has been holding negotiations with the
United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) since 2002.
Almost 9,000 paramilitaries have demobilized thus far. The
GOC has said up to 10,000 more paramilitaries could
demobilize by the end of Uribe's term in August 2006. The
GOC has repeatedly stated that the peace process will not
damage the excellent U.S.-Colombia extradition relationship.

-- Aid to Demobilizations: Almost 9,000 paramilitaries have
demobilized since Uribe took office, and he plans to
demobilize the rest of the paramilitaries by year's end.
Colombia has requested U.S aid for the demobilization and
reinsertion process, including police aid to prevent FARC
inroads in areas formerly under paramilitary domination.

-- Deserters: Since Uribe took office, almost 8,000 illegal
armed group members have deserted and entered the
government's reinsertion program. The program has limited
funding and logistical problems, but is slowly improving.

7. (SBU) The Mexican government was facilitating peace talks
between the GOC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), but
the ELN has refused to suspend kidnapping. The ELN
unilaterally ended the facilitation process on April 18. The
FARC has shown no willingness to have peace talks or hold a
"humanitarian exchange" to swap prisoners, but the GOC
continues to attempt talks with both groups. President Uribe
accepted the Catholic Church's offer to broker a cease-fire
with the ELN and the FARC on August 23.

8. (U) President Uribe approved the Justice and Peace Law in
July and established mechanisms to hold demobilized
terrorists accountable for their crimes. The law offers
demobilized terrorists a five to eight year sentence followed
by a 2.5 to four year parole period only if they fully
demobilize, turn over all illicit assets, release all
hostages and child soldiers, and give reparations to victims.
Individuals or groups organized for drug trafficking or
illicit enrichment would not be eligible for reduced
sentence. Only crimes committed during membership in, and in
the service of, the illegal armed group would be eligible.
The law has been criticized since the debate phase about
being too soft on criminals, but implementation will be the
key to ensure that both the goals of peace and justice are
realized.

-----------------------------
Human Rights Record Improving
-----------------------------

9. (SBU) The Uribe Administration continues to make progress
on human rights. Homicides fell by 16 percent, kidnappings
by 42 percent, and forced displacements by 37 percent in
2004, building on 2003's trends. The GOC increased its
dialogue with NGOs, the UN, and foreign governments, hosting
meetings with local and international human rights
organizations that included over 40 hours of discussions on
the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights' 27
human rights recommendations for Colombia. Human rights
training is mandatory for all members of the military and
police. Less than two percent of human rights violations are
attributable to government security forces, according to GOC
statistics. Recent credible allegations of violations by
members of the armed forces demonstrate the need for further
improvement.

10. (SBU) On February 20 or 21, eight civilians, including
three members of the San Jose de Apartado peace community,
were killed by unknown actors. The Colombian government
immediately condemned the killings and initiated an
investigation. On February 25, a commission of civilian
prosecutors, investigators, ballistics experts, and others
arrived at the remote gravesites in La Resbalosa where they
recovered 18 types of ballistic evidence, biological
evidence, personal effects, and other items. The team was
then ambushed, allegedly by FARC guerrillas, on March 2 and
one policeman was killed. In April, 2005, the commission
returned to the site to collect additional ballistics,
topographic, and photographic evidence. During this
investigation, the Prosecutor General's Office determined
that a powerful object, possibly a mortar, was detonated in
the kitchen of one of the victims. In addition, the
commission went to the headquarters of the 17th Brigade to
obtain aerial locations and operations orders for the region
near the massacre site, took two declarations, and
investigated the types of arms and munitions used by a
battalion of the Brigade during the period of February 17-23.
The commission returned to the massacre site the week of
August 8.
-----------------
Internal Politics
-----------------

11. (SBU) Executive-legislative relations have been tense
over the last two years. A major issue has been Uribe's
break with traditional pork barrel projects and patronage for
members of Congress, and many have exacted payback on the GOC
as a result. Uribe's presidential reelection reform
initiative, however, was passed by Congress in December. The
Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the reform, and
it remains to be seen if it will strike the measure down.
Uribe's popularity is over 70 percent and he is expected to
win an additional four year term if the Constitutional Court
upholds the reelection law. Other major issues before
Congress include pension and tax reform, both controversial
proposals that face tough sledding.

12. (SBU) Elections for Congress and President will be held
in March and May 2006, respectively. The current
Congressional session began on July 20 and will likely center
around campaigning and the upcoming Congressional elections
in March 2006.

-------------------------
Positive Economic Outlook
-------------------------

13. (U) Tremendous gains in security have helped the
Colombian economy. In 2004, Colombia's gross domestic
product (GDP) increased by 4.1 percent to nearly USD 90.8
billion. Colombian exports grew 26 percent in 2004 to USD 16
billion. Exports to the U.S. grew by USD 1 billion. The
Colombian Congress recently passed a pension reform package
that will improve the long-term sustainability of the
country's retirement system. Although the International
Monetary Fund has recommended that Colombia revamp its tax
system, fiscal reform was not addressed during this session
of Congress. Unemployment remains high, near 12 percent, but
the rate has been declining since the beginning of the Uribe
administration.

14. (U) The eleventh round of negotiations toward a free
trade agreement with Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru took place
in Miami last month. The talks are progressing slowly, with
agricultural issues representing the biggest stumbling block.
As the Colombian political season approaches, negotiators
are concerned that significant delays in completing the
agreement this year could put the FTA on hold until late
2006, at the earliest.

-------------
U.S. Hostages
-------------

15. (SBU) In February 2003, a DOD plane carrying four USG
contractors and a Colombian military representative crashed
in FARC-controlled territory in southern Colombia. The three
surviving hostages' safe release continues to be one of our
top priorities.
WOOD

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