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Cablegate: Codel Price: Colombians Emphasize Defense Cooperation, Free

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #2923/01 2541413
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 111413Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0597
INFO RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 0062
RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 0011
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 2886
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 0059
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO 0649
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 4326
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 9132
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS BOGOTA 002923

CODEL
SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OREP EAID PGOV PREL SNAR PTER ETRD PHUM CO
SUBJECT: CODEL PRICE: COLOMBIANS EMPHASIZE DEFENSE COOPERATION, FREE
TRADE AND REELECTION

REF: A)BOGOTA 2563 B)STATE 80752 C)07 BOGOTA 6697

Summary
-------

1. (U) The House Democracy Assistance Commission (HDAC) visited
Colombia from August 20-23. Led by Chairman David Price, HDAC met
with President Uribe and Colombian Congressional leadership,
including the Senate and House Foreign Affairs committees.
President Uribe highlighted the successes of Plan Colombia and
explained his recent trip through the region to reduce tensions
caused by the pending U.S.-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement
(DCA). Colombian Congressional leaders emphasized the DCA, Free
Trade Agreement, state of their Congress, and the referendum for
President Uribe's possible third term. In Cartagena, the delegation
visited USAID programs for demobilized child soldiers and income
generation activities for internally displaced populations. The
delegation also met with the Mayor of Cartagena regarding her
development vision for the city and witnessed the Colombian Maritime
counter-narcotics interdiction work on the Caribbean Coast. END
SUMMARY.

2. (U) In addition to HDAC Chairman David Price (D-North Carolina),
the HDAC delegation included: ranking Republican David Dreier
(R-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Lois Capps (D-CA), Lucille
Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Brian
Bilbray (R-CA). This visit followed up on HDAC's visit in 2007 (ref
C) to assess the need for continuing HDAC technical assistance to
the Colombian Congress.

PRESIDENT URIBE ADVOCATING IN REGION FOR U.S. COOPERATION
----------------------------------------

3. (U) President Alvaro Uribe recited the achievements of ten years
of Plan Colombia, a model example of how the United States can help
others in the region facing similar threats, and profusely thanked
the United States for being Colombia's only constant friend in the
fights against drugs and terrorism. He called the pending Defense
Cooperation Agreement (DCA) "a new standard" in such cooperation and
summarized the results of his whirlwind tour to consult with seven
UNASUR presidents. His common refrain in those encounters was that
Plan Colombia has not harmed any country, but rather has been an
indirect benefit to the region. Chairman Price thanked President
Uribe for his hard work in negotiating the agreement and in
defending it throughout the region.

4. (U) Asked about the pending U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
(FTA), President Uribe assessed that many businesses are awaiting
its fate before choosing to invest in Colombia. He called the FTA
"the benchmark" for convincing many other countries to sign FTAs
with Colombia. Queried by the CODEL about violence against labor
unionists, Uribe described his government's efforts to solve such
crimes and to prevent future occurrences of violence, including
investing 44 million U.S. dollars in protection programs that
include 2,000 unionists. President Uribe told the delegation he was
confident that President Obama would press for a vote on the FTA
once he received the right indications from Congress.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEES PRESS FOR
FTA APPROVAL IN LIGHT OF DCA BACKLASH
-------------------------------------

5. (SBU) The Foreign Affairs committees of the House and Senate
raised the DCA and the FTA, two key issues of concern in the
Colombian Congress. The presidents of those committees emphasized
that passage of the FTA is more important than ever due to the
regional backlash from the DCA, tense trade relations with
Venezuela, and Colombia's fight against guerrillas and
narcotrafficking. House Committee President Manuel Jose Vives added
that Colombia has made improvements with respect to human rights,
decreasing homicides of labor unionists, and controlling
extrajudicial killings. Regarding delays in FTA approval,
Representative Bilbray expressed concern that USG credibility has
been affected.

HDAC TRANSITIONS RELATIONSHIP WITH COLOMBIAN
CONGRESS BEYOND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE
-------------------------------------------

6. (U) The Delegation told Senate President Javier Enrique Caceres
and House President Edgar Alfonso Gomez in separate meetings that

technical assistance programs might not be well-suited for Colombia
given that the Colombian Congress already has a good staff
structure, committee system, and procedural rules. Caceres and
Gomez both agreed and the delegation suggested that the relationship
should transition into a broader dialogue and exchange of views on
more substantive and thematic issues, perhaps among counterpart
committees. In response to a question from Congresswoman Capps,
Caceres said there was a need to address the lack of adequate female
representation in the Colombian Congress in order to make it more
diverse and inclusive. On the reelection referendum that would
allow President Uribe to run for a third term, Caceres believed that
Congress should approve so as to not get in the way of what should
ultimately be a question for the Colombian people.

HOUSE PRESIDENT NOTES WEAKENED CONGRESS AND
THE NEED TO CONTINUE URIBE POLICIES AND FTA
-------------------------------------------

7. (U) House President Edgar Alfonso Gomez acknowledged that it has
been a difficult period for the Colombian Congress due to the
parapolitical scandal where many members have been investigated,
some indicted and convicted, for ties to paramilitary groups. He
added that Congress needs to rebuild credibility and regain the
confidence of the Colombian people, becoming more representative and
inclusive. Gomez said the re-election referendum has paralyzed
Congress, stalling important legislation, and ultimately Congress
needs to move past it and on to other important issues.

8. (SBU) Gomez stressed the importance of concluding the FTA. He
then stated that the FARC, who have been severely weakened during
the current administration, hope for a change of government or at
least a change in government policies. As such, although
perpetuating one man in power may have its risks for the country,
President Uribe's policies must be allowed to continue. According
to Gomez, the FARC is no longer an ideological, but rather a
strictly criminal-terrorist organization. He thanked the United
States for its support, which has played a critical role in
weakening the FARC.

PROSECUTOR GENERAL HIGHLIGHTS SUCCESS
OF U.S. SUPPORTED LABOR VIOLENCE SUB-UNIT
-----------------------------------------

9. (SBU) Acting Prosecutor General Guillermo Mendoza Diago thanked
the delegation for ongoing USG support to assist his office's
efforts to legally and efficiently confront Colombia's major
judicial challenges. Chairman Price noted the work of the
USG-supported special labor violence sub-unit was a particular focus
of the visit. Human Rights Unit Head Sandra Castro underscored the
sub-unit's progress in investigating and prosecuting labor crimes
since its creation in October 2006. Out of 207 convictions since
2000 in labor crimes cases, 76 percent or 156 convictions are the
result of the work of the sub-unit. The delegation was impressed
with Colombia's progress in prosecuting labor crimes, noting that it
could help the FTA's prospects in the U.S. Congress.

10. (SBU) Castro attributed the sub-unit's success to the Fiscalia's
(Prosecutor General's office) commitment, training, improved
technical capabilities of prosecutors and investigators, and
structural changes such as the move to the accusatory system.
Castro reported that 139 individuals--including intellectual
authors--are now incarcerated for labor crimes. She added that 70
convictions of the above 156 convictions are related to 185 priority
cases jointly identified by labor unions and the Fiscalia.
Representatives Price and Farr emphasized the importance of correct,
universally understood reports that demonstrate the sub-unit's
progress. (NOTE: The Fiscalia is working with the Embassy to
provide such a report based on Castro's presentation to share with
CODEL.)

MEMBERS EXPERIENCE THE BENEFITS
OF USAID PROGRAMS IN CARTAGENA
-------------------------------

11. (U) In Cartagena, the CODEL visited a USAID supported Colombian
NGO, Granitos de Paz, which provides support to internally displaced
families and vulnerable populations in a marginalized neighborhood
on the outskirts of the city. The delegation met with beneficiaries
of programs for vocational education; senior citizen health and
nutrition; and assistance to improve or construct homes and grow
productive backyard gardens. One beneficiary hosted members in her

new cement home and showed them a photo of the decrepit shack she
used to live in for years on the same plot of land before receiving
assistance. She cried as she thanked the delegation for its support
to Granitos de Paz, which she said had been instrumental in giving
her and her children a new life.

12. (U) The delegation also met with youth at risk of recruitment by
illegal armed groups and former child soldiers who have been
receiving assistance from Colombia's Escuela Taller, a vocational
skills training center for underprivileged kids, supported through
USAID's Child Soldiers Program. The program provides income
generation opportunities for participating youth, while
strengthening their ability to successfully reintegrate socially
into the community. Program operators told the delegation that over
31,000 members of the AUC paramilitaries have collectively
demobilized and the Ministry of Defense reports that its "Deserter
Program" has certified over 19,400 individuals who have individually
demobilized or deserted from different illegal armed groups between
August 2002 and July 2009. Furthermore, desertion rates from the
ranks of the remaining illegal armed groups increased dramatically
in 2007 (3,192) and 2008 (3,461) and have maintained a rate of over
200 per month in 2009, primarily from the FARC. The grateful youth
said the vocational training courses provide them with sufficient
knowledge to start their own business and pursue their personal
goals.

FAST BOATS LEADING TO SUCCESS IN INTERDICTION
---------------------------------------------

13. (U) HDAC visited the Colombian Navy Base which leads efforts to
halt drug traffickers' increasing seaborne shipments. Members
experienced a demonstration of the maritime counter-narcotics
interdiction through Fast Boats, an increasingly vital tool to
combating drug trafficking. The Fast Boats have led to unparalleled
success in 2008, with record seizures of cocaine on the high seas
complementing a record year in coca eradication.

MAYOR OF CARTAGENA HIGHLIGHTS DIVIDED CITY
------------------------------------------

14. (U) Cartagena's charismatic and dynamic mayor, Judith del Carmen
Pindeo, shared her message of reuniting the two Cartagena's--rich
and poor--divided by a social and economic gap that separates the
city. She added that the poor are predominantly part of the
Afro-Colombian population. Mayor Pinedo addressed the importance of
international cooperation reaching Cartagena and Colombia.

NATIONAL CONSOLIDATION & CSDI
-----------------------------

15. (U) Members also were briefed through the new Regional
Coordination Center based in Cartagena on the National Consolidation
Plan (PNC) and the Embassy's Colombia Strategic Development
Initiative (CSDI) regions. The Center provides a single entity to
coordinate multiple Government of Colombia institutions towards
guaranteeing a sustainable presence of the Colombian government in
conflict areas in order to defeat illicit crops, narcotrafficking
and terrorism.

16. (U) CODEL Price cleared this message.

BROWNFIELD

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