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Cablegate: Congress Delivers Results Despite Para-Political

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #4786/01 1861706
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 051706Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6755
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 7618
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 9137
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 5209
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 0429
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 5806
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4004
RUEAWJC/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS BOGOTA 004786

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON PREF PREL PTER PINR CO
SUBJECT: CONGRESS DELIVERS RESULTS DESPITE PARA-POLITICAL
SCANDAL

REF: REF A) BOGOTA 1169 AND PREVIOUS

1. Summary. The Colombian Congress passed the GOC's top
legislative priorities during its February-June session,
despite the distraction of the para-political scandal.
President Uribe's governing coalition lacks discipline and
programmatic coherence, but was able to unite on votes that
mattered, passing the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement
(CTPA) and a critical bill reforming federal and state
revenue sharing. The GOC also killed a last minute attempt
to insert a provision into ethics legislation limiting GOC
authority to investigate Congress. When Congress resumes on
July 20, GOC and party leaders will focus on legislation to
protect the October local elections from armed and criminal
groups. End summary.


Congress and Uribe Coalition Get the Job Done
=============================================
2. Despite the distractions of the para-political scandal
(Ref A) and local elections scheduled for October, President
Uribe's Congressional coalition passed his top legislative
priorities in the February-June session. The Uribe
coalition--which controls nearly 70 percent of the Senate and
64 percent in the House--lacks discipline and programmatic
coherence, and coalition parties used every vote to squeeze
favors out of the president. Still, as U Party President
Carlos Garcia told us, the bottom line was that the coalition
mustered the votes needed to pass the key items on Uribe's
legislative agenda.

CTPA Passed:
============
3. The CTPA easily passed on June 13 with the support of all
coalition parties. Only the leftist Polo Democratico Party
opposed the CTPA. Congress held 19 heated debates and
numerous public hearings from March-June on the CTPA.
Members of all parties told us their constituents had been
concerned about possible future U.S. requests for changes to
the CTPA, as well as with CTPA provisions on agriculture,
medicines, and intellectual property. The Congress will have
to review and vote on the protocol to the CTPA signed on June
27 containing changes to the text as requested by the U.S.
Congress. It is unclear when the GOC plans to present the
Protocol for approval.

Key Legislation Passed
======================
4. Congress also passed a bill reforming the system of
federal to state budget transfers. The reform is considered
key to the federal government's long-term fiscal health.
Since the "transfers" measure was considered a constitutional
change, it had to pass through a second round of votes in the
February-June session (in addition to four in the
July-December 2006 session) to become law. The bill was
highly unpopular, and generated numerous protests throughout
Colombia in May-June. Its passage was hailed as a major
victory for Uribe and a sign that Congress remained focused.

Other key legislation passed:
--A National Development Plan for 2006-2010 provides funds
for local projects, stepped-up infrastructure development for
Afro-Colombian and indigenous development projects, and
additional funds and personnel for the Prosecutor General's
Office (Fiscalia) to facilitate investigation and prosecution
of human rights, labor rights, and paramilitary cases.
President Uribe has objected to specific tax provisions in
the bill, meaning it will be returned to Congress on July 20
for adjustment (expected by mid-August).

--A Military Justice Reform Law amends the military criminal
justice code to clarify that torture, genocide, and forced
disappearances fall under the jurisdiction of the civilian
justice system. The UN High Commissioner's Office on Human
Rights noted the reform could place some violations of
international humanitarian and human rights law within the
military court's jurisdiction, and is seeking changes;

--A Rural Development Law--with input from the
USG--consolidates a wide range of existing laws and
regulations related to land use, reduces the role and
increases the transparency of land titling agency INCODER,

adds protections for vulnerable groups including displaced
persons and Afro-Colombians, and improves land use regimes.

Challenges Remain
=================
5. The para-political scandal which landed 13 members of
Congress in jail was a distraction during the February-June
session, and some lower-priority bills stalled. A bill
providing rights to homosexual couples that passed the four
needed votes in the Congress was torpedoed by opponents at
the eleventh hour by a procedural maneuver. A complex
election reform bill presented in March--also requiring
constitutional change--ran out of time. The GOC will seek
passage of the bills in the Congressional session which
begins July 20.

Effort to Weaken Investigations of Congress Fails:
============================================= =====
6. A last minute attempt to sneak through an article in an
ethics reform bill sharply reducing the Inspector General's
Office (Procuraduria) authority to investigate Congress
passed, but President Uribe vetoed the bill and sent it back
to Congress where the GOC expects the article to be removed.
The measure, which was inserted into the bill in the last
days of the session by an independent representative, would
have given the Congress "exclusive" jurisdiction to
investigate certain accusations against members, effectively
striping the Procuraduria of its authority to investigate
Congress. The Procuraduria has more than ninety
investigations against members of Congress pending.

Local Elections Near:
=====================
7. Legislators are now focused on October local elections,
making progress on new legislation unlikely until at least
November. GOC officials and party leaders, content that
Congress passed the most important elements of the GOC
legislative agenda, tell us they will use the July
congressional session to focus on election reform and to
introduce additional mechanisms to guard against the
influence of armed and criminal groups in local elections.
Drucker

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