Cablegate: Scenesetter for Visit of Senator Hagel And


DE RUEHBO #3093/01 2381859
P 251859Z AUG 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: With U.S. support, Colombia finds itself
safer, economically stronger, better governed, and more
democratic than it has been in decades. Murders, kidnapping,
and violence are down nationwide. Increased security has led
to an economic boom that has reduced poverty by 20 percent
since 2002, lowered unemployment by 25 percent, and attracted
record levels of investment. Almost 48,000 combatants,
mostly paramilitaries, have laid down their arms and are
participating in GOC reintegration programs. The captures or
kills of key leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia (FARC), the July 2 rescue of 15 hostages held by the
FARC including three Americans, and rising desertions have
weakened Colombia's largest terrorist group. Consolidating
recent gains and making further advances on human rights,
security, and poverty reduction -- while also managing tense
relations with Venezuela and Ecuador -- represent the
greatest challenges in the remaining two years of the Uribe

2. (U) The GOC is one of our strongest strategic partners in
the world, and shares our commitment in the Americas to
greater regional economic integration, security cooperation,
and democracy. Colombia cooperates with the USG on
counternarcotics and counterterrorism operations, and has
already ratified the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Act
(CTPA). Our continued commitment to Colombia will help to
further consolidate recent security and governance gains as
well as promote economic growth and regional stability. End

CTPA Solidifies Advances:
Investment, Poverty, and Security

3. (U) President Uribe's democratic security policy and free
market economic reforms have spurred the economy. GDP growth
reached 8.2 percent in 2007 after averaging more than five
percent annually since 2003. The economy is slowing this
year, with recent growth at just over four percent.
Colombia's trade volume grew more than 65 percent in the same
period. The United States remains Colombia's largest trade
partner (approximately 37 percent of exports and 26 percent
of imports), though Colombia could shift to greater
agricultural imports from Canada, which concluded free trade
negotiations in June 2008, and the European Union when free
trade negotiations with them conclude in 2009. In 2007, the
United States exported some USD 1.2 billion in agricultural
products to Colombia. Nearly 93 percent of Colombia's
exports already receive duty-free access to the U.S. under
the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA), which expires
December 31, 2008. U.S. exports to Colombia face an average
tariff of 12 percent. Investors from around the world have
boosted investment in Colombia in anticipation of the CTPA.
In 2007, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) exceeded $7.5
billion, 350 percent greater than FDI in 2002.

4. (SBU) The Colombian Congress ratified the CTPA in 2007 by
a substantial margin, and it remains the Colombian
government's highest economic priority. U.S. rejection of
the accord would deal a political and economic blow to Uribe
and his policy of strong ties with the United States.
Venezuela is Colombia's second largest trade partner, but the
political and economic relationship has been strained.
Venezuela has tightened its import regime, blocking some
Colombian exports, such as autos and clothing.

5. (U) Analysts estimate the agreement with the United States
would add between one and two percent annual GDP growth to
the local Colombian economy. This growth would help create
the new, formal sector jobs that President Uribe needs to
meet his goal of cutting the poverty rate from 45 percent to
35 percent by 2010. Trade-based formal sector growth will
also provide the GOC with additional fiscal resources to
shoulder a larger portion of its security costs as USG Plan
Colombia support falls.

Democratic Security

6. (U) The establishment of greater Colombian government
territorial control and the paramilitary demobilization have
created the space for civil society and political parties to
operate more openly than ever before. The GOC maintains a
police presence in all 1099 municipalities for the first time
in history. Increased security on roads and highways has
allowed for greater freedom of movement for people and
commerce. Murders fell from almost 29,000 in 2002 to 17,000
in 2007, and kidnappings fell from over 2,800 a year to less
than 600 during the same period. Local elections in October
2007 reflected the improved security with over 86,000
candidates participating. The leftist Polo Democratico Party
(PDA) won 1.2 million more votes than in 2003, and its
candidate won the key Bogota mayoral race.

U.S. Hostages

7. (U) A bold Colombian military operation on July 2 led to
the rescue of three U.S. contractors and twelve Colombians
held by the FARC. The three Americans were captured by the
FARC in February 2003, and were the longest held U.S.
hostages in the world at the time of their rescue. The GOC
worked closely with us on hostage issues, and U.S. training
of Colombian military personnel contributed to the
operation's success. The FARC continues to hold 25 Colombian
"political" hostages, as well as an estimated 700 economic
hostages. The FARC is believed to continue to hold a U.S.
citizen who was kidnapped in Panama in April 2008, and
perhaps a Colombian-American dual national kidnapped in 2003,
although it has never provided proof of life.

Labor Violence

8. (U) Labor violence and impunity remain major concerns, but
the GOC has made dramatic progress. Since 2002, labor union
data shows that murders of unionists have fallen by nearly 80
percent. In January, 2007, the GOC launched a special $1.5
million labor sub-unit to prosecute those who commit acts of
violence against trade unionists. The unit has 19
prosecutors and 74 investigators. Since 2001, the Attorney
General's Office has prosecuted 94 cases, leading to the
conviction of 188 perpetrators. The new sub-unit on labor
crimes, which began operations in November 2006, resolved 49
cases, convicting 90 individuals.

9. (U) In addition to gains stemming from its democratic
security policy, the GOC has taken specific steps to protect
labor leaders and other vulnerable individuals. In 2008, the
Ministry of Interior and Justice's $44 million Protection
Program helped protect more than 9,444 human rights
activists, journalists, politicians, and other threatened
individuals, including 1,959 trade unionists. The murder
rate for unionists is now lower than that for the general

U.S. Assistance

10. (SBU) In January 2007 the GOC presented a Plan Colombia
"consolidation strategy" pledging a Colombian investment of
$78 billion through 2013. The proposal emphasizes the
importance of building social cohesion, and allocates
substantial resources to help strengthen local governance,
protect human rights, and assist displaced people,
Afro-Colombians, and indigenous communities. It also aims to
reintegrate more than 48,000 demobilized ex-fighters and
deserters and to promote Colombia's licit exports. The GOC
seeks funding from the United States and European countries
to complement its own resources.

11. (SBU) Under Plan Colombia, the USG has provided more than
$5 billion in assistance, including $800 million in economic
and social assistance. USG security assistance combats drug
trafficking and terrorism through training, equipment, and

technical assistance. It supports Colombian military
aviation, essential for all programs - civilian or military -
outside Colombia's major cities. U.S. social and economic
aid focuses on alternative development, displaced and other
vulnerable communities, human rights and democratic
institutions, and reintegration of demobilized fighters.

12. (U) Congress increased economic and social assistance
from $140 million in FY 07 to $215 million in FY 08, while
security assistance was reduced in FY 08. With additional
resources, USAID is launching a new biodiversity program,
increasing its assistance for victims of the conflict,
enlarging its support to Afro-Colombians and indigenous
communities, and expanding its assistance to the GOC's effort
to consolidate its presence in areas previously controlled by
illegal armed groups. Food aid assistance is also increasing
from $6 million/year to $10 million in FY 08 through USAID's
Food for Peace support to the World Food Program.

Drug Eradication and Interdiction

13. (SBU) Eradication of coca and poppy crops and
interdiction of cocaine and heroin reached near-record levels
in 2007. President Uribe supports greater manual
eradication, but recognizes that continued aerial eradication
is also key. He seeks a complementary approach using both
methods. In 2008, the national Police and military forces
have set a brisk pace for cocaine, coca base and marijuana
seizures, and are on their way to record seizure totals. We
continue to work with the Colombian government to maximize
our scarce resources to achieve eradication and interdiction
targets. We continue our productive dialogue on how best to
transfer key tasks from the USG to the GOC.


14. (SBU) Since taking office, President Uribe has approved
over 750 extraditions to the United States, including a
record number of 164 in 2007. The Colombian Government is on
pace to break that record, having already extradited 119
criminals to the United States in 2008, including 15 former
paramilitary leaders.

Demobilization and Peace Process

15. (SBU) Over 32,000 former paramilitaries have demobilized
since 2002, and a further 16,000 have deserted from other
illegal armed groups (about one-half from the FARC). The
Organization of American States (OAS) estimates there are 30
emerging criminal groups with a combined membership of over
3000 persons. Reintegration programs and targeted law
enforcement are working to counter these groups. Under the
Justice and Peace Law (JPL) process, many former paramilitary
leaders have confessed their participation in violent crimes.
To date, the JPL process has revealed the location of the
graves of almost 1,200 paramilitary victims and provided
information on 3,600 crimes. Over 120,000 victims have
registered under the JPL, with the GOC working on measures to
accelerate the payment of reparations. The Supreme Court and
the Prosecutor--with GOC support--continue to investigate
politicians with alleged paramilitary ties. Approximately 70
Congressmen, 19 mayors, and 11 governors have been implicated
in the scandal.

16. (SBU) The National Liberation Army (ELN) has negotiated
with the Colombian government for over two years on a
cease-fire agreement, but ELN infighting and FARC pressure
have prevented a deal. The ELN kidnap civilians to fund its
operations, but its military capability is declining. The
FARC has rebuffed GOC initiatives to engage in any meaningful
peace talks.

A Strong Regional Ally


17. (SBU) Colombia shares our commitment to promoting
regional economic integration, security cooperation, and
democracy in the region. After Colombia's March 1 air-strike
killing FARC senior leader Raul Reyes at a camp in Ecuador,
Venezuela joined Ecuador in breaking relations and deployed
military forces to its border. Venezuela called off the
buildup after reaching agreement with Colombia on March 7 to
reduce tensions and reestablish commercial and diplomatic
ties. Computers found in Raul Reyes' camp have information
implicating Venezuelan and Ecuadorian government officials in
providing support to the FARC, as well as an international
support network for the terrorist group. President Uribe and
President Chavez met on July 11 and affirmed their commitment
to improve ties, but tensions remain over Venezuela's
ambiguous relations with the FARC. Ecuador and Colombia have
yet to restore relations.

Cartagena - Two Cities, Separate and Unequal

18. (U) You will see two Cartagenas; the beautiful, 450
year-old walled city which has emerged as a fashionable
tourist destination, and the impoverished and sometimes
lawless section, home to some of the poorest people in
Colombia. The predominantly Afro-Colombian population,
combined with its location on the Caribbean, gives the city a
markedly different culture and pace than land-locked cities
like Medellin and Bogota. Cartagena has one of Colombia's
principal ports, employing thousands, and would benefit
greatly from the CTPA. It also has one of the few Container
Security Initiative (CSI) secure ports in the hemisphere.
The city has undergone a construction boom, as a result of
the sharp drop in violence, with more than 40 high rises
currently under construction. International cruise ships
have quadrupled their ports of call in Cartagena over the
last three years.

19. (U) The other Cartagena remains mired in poverty, a
vestige of historic economic exclusion and the conflict. The
citizens in these areas, mostly Afro-Colombians and
internally displaced persons (IDPs), continue to wait for the
benefits of the economic boom. Over 50,000 registered IDP's
live in Cartagena, one of the largest concentrations in the
country. Your delegation will visit examples of the efforts
being undertaken by both the GOC and USAID to bridge the two
Cartagenas. Cartagena's newly elected Mayor, Judith Pinedo,
represents a break from the corrupt city governance that has
plagued the city for decades.

© Scoop Media

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