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Cablegate: Codel Price Meets with President Uribe


DE RUEHBO #6697/01 2561516
P 131516Z SEP 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: In an August 28 meeting with Codel Price,
President Uribe explained the Justice and Peace Law and
reiterated his commitment to extradite former paramilitaries
who violate their peace process obligations. He reviewed GOC
efforts to reintegrate former paramilitaries -as well as FARC
and ELN deserters- into civilian life, and discussed GOC
efforts to combat the emergence of new criminal groups.
Uribe recognized the GOC needs to do more to reduce labor
violence, but cautioned that the failure of the U.S. Congress
to approve the bilateral Free Trade Agreement would represent
a serious political blow. He stressed bipartisan U.S.
support for Plan Colombia remains key to forcing the FARC to
negotiate, and outlined GOC attempts to engage the ELN. In
response to Chairman Price's query, Uribe said he had
significant differences with President Chavez but preferred
to discuss them in private rather than to confront him
publicly. End Summary

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2. (U) U.S. Participants:

Representative David Price
Representative David Dreier
Representative Wayne Gilchrest
Representative Jeff Miller
Representative Rush Holt
Representative Adam Schiff
Representative Sam Farr
DAS Christopher McMullen
CDA Brian Nichols
POLCouns John Creamer

Colombian Participants:

President Alvaro Uribe
Ambassador Carolina Barco
Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos
Trade Minister Luis Plata
Presidential Trade Advisor Sandra Suarez
Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Adriana Mejia
National Planning Director Carolina Renteria

3. (U) House Democracy Assistance Committee Chairman David
Price and his delegation called on President Uribe August 28
for nearly two hours. Rep. Price reviewed the Codel's
meeting with their Colombian Congressional counterparts and
asked if the GOC had considered strengthening the Colombian
Congress' role in the budget process. Representative Dreier
said the Codel is considering helping the Colombian Congress
develop its own budget analysis capability and asked
President Uribe if such a project would be useful.

4. (SBU) Uribe said in contrast with some of its neighbors,
Colombian democracy has a long history of respect for
independent institutions. Colombia has four independent
judicial institutions -the Constitutional Court, Supreme
Court, Superior Judicial Council, and the Prosecutor
General's Office- as well as two independent disciplinary
bodies. He acknowledged the executive controls the
initiative on economic legislation, but said Congress had
significantly modified all three tax reform packages proposed
by the GOC. Moreover, Congress recently passed a bill making
it easier for Congress to censure a cabinet member, over
executive branch objections. Defense Minister and former
Finance Minister Santos said Colombia's tradition of
macroeconomic stability stems in part from the current budget
process, saying "if it's not broke, why fix it." Still,
Uribe and Santos agreed it would be helpful to improve
Congress' analytical capacity. They would also support
congressional intern exchanges with the United States.

5. (SBU) Price recalled several opposition legislators had
criticized the Justice and Peace Law for favoring
reconciliation at the cost of justice, and asked for Uribe's
view. Uribe replied the Justice and Peace Law breaks with
past Colombian practice of giving former guerrillas a
complete amnesty. Several members of the current Congress
had benefited from pardons for their past guerrilla activity.
In contrast, the Justice and Peace Law provide for reduced
5-8 year sentences for former paramilitaries guilty of gross
human rights abuses who confess their crimes and compensate
their victims. These paramilitaries are also banned from
participating in politics. Uribe said the GOC would expel
paramilitaries who failed to comply with these requirements
from the process and would extradite them if requested. He
had removed a paramilitary ringleader from the process for
continuing criminal activity, and was reviewing the case of
another for possible extradition to the United States.

6. (SBU) Uribe explained that the leftwing ELN and FARC
reject the JPL as too harsh and demand a complete amnesty or
pardon for their crimes. Many opposition legislators
criticizing the Justice and Peace Law as too soft support
amnesty for the two guerrilla groups. Uribe continued the
GOC position believes that both the paramilitaries and
leftwing guerrillas should receive equal treatment. In the
event of an ELN or FARC peace process, reconciling these
different views would be difficult.

7. (SBU) Uribe stressed his support for extradition, noting
the GOC had extradited more than 500 criminals to the United
States during his presidency. The FARC, ELN and some
opposition legislators want to ban extradition, but he would
oppose such a move. Uribe said he had suspended the
extradition of 11 former paramilitary leaders due to their
participation in the peace process, but reiterated his
commitment to lift the suspensions if they violated their

8. (SBU) Representative Farr offered that the GOC effort to
demobilize and reintegrate into civilian society more than
30,000 former paramilitaries is extraordinary and asked if
any other countries are studying the program. Uribe welcomed
visits from any countries interested in learning from
Colombia's experience. Between the paramilitary process and
individual desertions from the FARC and ELN, the GOC is
reintegrating 46,000 former fighters into civilian life. The
recidivism rate among the demobilized is only 5%, but this
means more than 2000 individuals have returned to new,
emerging criminal groups. These criminal bands differ from
the former paramilitaries, since they have no political goals
and do not combat the FARC. Still, they contribute to
violence and undermine the rule of law. Uribe said the GOC
continued to combat these groups, with the security forces
capturing 1800 and killing 400 over the last year.

9. (SBU) Representative Dreier voiced support for the
bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA), saying he hopes the
United State Congress approves the accord. Representative
Holt explained the U.S. debate over the FTA centers largely
on issues, such as labor, human rights and environmental
standards, which have nothing to do with Colombia. Uribe
understood, but cautioned that if the United States Congress
approves trade deals with Peru and Panama but not Colombia,
the region will see it as a blow to Colombia.

10. (U) Uribe expected that the Colombian Congress will soon
approve the environmental and labor changes sought by the
United States in the FTA. The GOC also seeks to improve
protection of labor union members. Murders of unionists fell
over 60% between 2002 and 2006, and the GOC spent over $10
million in 2006 to protect 1500 union leaders. The GOC
recognizes it needs to do more, but the overall trend is

11. (SBU) Representative Schiff noted the progress in
Colombia, and asked what Uribe's endgame with the ELN and
FARC is. Uribe said the transition of the FARC and ELN from
ideological groups to narcotraffickers severely complicates
GOC peace efforts. Still, the GOC has held peace talks with
the weaker of the two -the ELN- for almost two years in an
effort to achieve a ceasefire. The talks have floundered,
because the ELN prefers to discuss abstract political issues
rather than specific elements of a ceasefire. Uribe said the
GOC remains open to talks, but fears it will soon have no one
to talk to if the process drags on. Each month, more and
more ELN fighters join the FARC.

12. (SBU) Uribe said GOC military pressure has succeeded in
reducing the FARC from 27,000 members in 2002 to 10,000
fighters today. The FARC faces substantial military pressure
but refuses to enter into serious peace talks. Uribe
predicted sustained military action -coupled with vigorous
counternarcotic programs- would drive the FARC to the
negotiating table by 2009 or 2010. However, the GOC would
need continued U.S. support under Plan Colombia to maintain
this pressure. In this regard, Colombia needs continued
bipartisan support in the United States.

13. (SBU) Representative Miller said he supports the FTA on
national security grounds and asked President Uribe how he
planned to handle the August 31 visit of Venezuelan President
Chavez. Uribe said Venezuela and Colombia have differing
ideologies, but share a 2200 kilometer border, growing
commercial ties, and strong people-to-people links.
Venezuela represents a key export market for Colombia,
especially for labor-intensive industrial goods, and Colombia
accounts for a large share of Venezuela,s non-oil exports.
When Chavez abandoned the Andean Community, he created
difficulties for many Colombian firms. The GOC wants to
persuade Venezuela to return to the regional group.

14. (SBU) Uribe said he tries to handle relations with
Chavez in a cordial way. He recognizes his ideological
differences with Chavez, but does not like to publicly
challenge him. He believes it is more effective to discuss
his concerns with Chavez in private. Referring to Chavez,
role as a facilitator in a possible humanitarian exchange
with the FARC, Uribe attributed it to his authorization of
opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba to help with the FARC.
Cordoba immediately went to Caracas and asked for Chavez'

15. (SBU) Uribe said Chavez subsequently called him and
offered his assistance. Uribe accepted, but on two
conditions. First, he said the GOC would never accept the
FARC's demand for a demilitarized zone to hold talks on an
exchange. Second, any FARC prisoners released as part of an
accord could not return to criminal activity. Uribe said he
would use Chavez' visit to reiterate these two conditions, as
well as to explain past GOC efforts to engage the group. In
addition, Uribe stressed the GOC had communicated to the FARC
that the three U.S. hostages must be part of any humanitarian

16. (U) Representative Price has cleared this message.

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