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Cablegate: Third Term Referendum Takes a Second Small Step

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P 172108Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6168
INFO RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 1444
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ DEC 9837
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 6839
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 2800
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id: 183559
date: 12/17/2008 21:08
refid: 08BOGOTA4468
origin: Embassy Bogota
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 08BOGOTA4372
header:
VZCZCXYZ0005
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #4468/01 3522108
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 172108Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6168
INFO RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 1444
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ DEC 9837
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 6839
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 2800
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 7541
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4737
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY


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C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 004468

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/17/2018
TAGS: PGOV PINR CO
SUBJECT: THIRD TERM REFERENDUM TAKES A SECOND SMALL STEP
FORWARD

REF: BOGOTA 4372

Classified By: Political Counselor John S. Creamer
Reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (U) Summary: President Uribe called for a special
congressional session only 30 minutes before the normal close
of Congress on December 16, allowing his supporters to push
through the second of four required votes on the presidential
reelection referendum bill. The language in the bill would
allow for reelection in 2014, not in 2010--but GOC supporters
told us they will use the next two congressional votes to try
to amend the bill to allow for an immediate run. The U and
Conservative Parties succeeded in pushing through the vote
only after direct intervention by Uribe--marking the first
time the president has engaged to push for the third term
measure. Still, the bill will face strong resistance from
the opposition Liberal and Polo Democratico Parties, as well
as from the "rebel" coalition party Cambio Radical, when
Congress resumes in March, 2009. End Summary.

Third Term Proposal Half Way Through Congress
---------------------------------------------

2. (C) On December 16, the last day of the regular 2008
Congressional year, the House of Representatives approved in
full session a bill allowing for a possible second reelection
of President Alvaro Uribe. The December 16 session was
extended due to a extraordinary decree signed by Uribe and
read to the plenary attendees just 30 minutes before the
ordinary session was set to end at midnight. The
extraordinary House session resumed just after midnight on
December 17 to debate and vote on the referendum proposal.
Cambio Radical President German Vargas Lleras told us earlier
on December 16 that he expected the bill to fail given the
GOC's lack of lobbying effort on behalf of the referendum.
The proposal approved in the House would allow reelection in
2014, not in 2010. U Party leaders favor a 2010 run and U
Party members told us that in March they will try to change
the proposal's language to allow immediate reelection in the
two remaining votes in the Senate First Commission and later
the full Senate. The Liberals and Cambio Radical only
support a 2014 proposal.

3. (U) The vote and special session occurred only after
intense lobbying by GOC ministers and Uribe's direct
intervention--his first. The vote went forward as the
National Election Commission (CNE) continued an investigation
into the finances of the signature collection effort that
brought the proposal to Congress. In an unprecedented show
of support for the third term proposal, eight GOC ministers
attended the December 15 and 16 debates, led by Interior and
Justice Minister Fabio Valancia Cossio. Secretary General of
the House Jesus Rodriguez told us that Congress received
approval from the Registrar's Office to include the third
term bill in the December 16 session while the investigation
continued.

Attempts to Postpone Fail, but Criticism Continues
--------------------------------------------- -----

4. (U) The Liberals and Polo--as well as GOC coalition party
Cambio Radical--tried to delay the debate on the referendum
until March 2009 and questioned the legality of the
extraordinary session and vote. Liberal Party Spokesman
Carlos Piedrahita said the session was "irregular and
possibly illegal." Polo Representatives German Navas and
Wilson Borja claimed the vote was illegal, since the CNE had
not yet concluded their investigation on financing of the
proposal. An opposition/Cambio Radical attempt to postpone
the vote until March was soundly defeated. Cambio Radical
Representative and House President German Varon criticized
Uribe for intervening only at the last second. Cambio
Radical representatives reportedly said the Party may
consider breaking with Uribe's coalition.

Uribe Finally Shows His Cards
-----------------------------

5. (U) The Uribe and GOC intervention to push for the special
session represented the president's first formal display of

support for the new reelection effort. It began with
Valencia, who had previously been under presidential orders
to remain on the sidelines of the third term effort, pushing
for a vote on December 10, and culminated with the December
16-17 lobbying effort in Congress by eight ministers and the
presidential decree for a special session of Congress to
allow the vote. Still, Palace spokesmen and their supporters
claimed they only wanted to "facilitate the initiative of
millions of Colombians who signed a petition in favor of a
referendum on reelection."

NICHOLS

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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