Cablegate: Colombia Scenesetter for Assistant Secretary Of


DE RUEHBO #2925/01 2541633
P 111633Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) We welcome the visit of Paul Stockton, Assistant
Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere. Your visit
comes as a regional debate over a U.S.-Colombia Defense
Cooperation Agreement (DCA) has heated up and amidst
significant political developments. The Government of
Colombia (GOC) and the U.S. Embassy are working together to
consolidate the successes of Plan Colombia through a new
Embassy follow-on strategy called the Colombia Strategic
Development Initiative (CSDI), which complements the GOC's
recently completed National Consolidation Plan (PCN).

2. (SBU) In ten years, Colombia has progressed from a near
failed state and terrorist haven to an economic, political
and social leader in Latin America. Colombia has made major
progress in its fight against illegal armed groups and set
records in the eradication and interdiction of drugs. Murder
and kidnapping rates have dropped dramatically, while rule of
law has strengthened through major judicial reforms.
Improved security and economic reform has grown the economy,
reduced poverty and attracted record levels of investment.
The GOC has looked to leverage these successes beyond its
borders by offering troops in Afghanistan and providing
counterterrorism and counternarcotics training to Mexican,
Panamanian and other law enforcement agencies in the region.

3. (SBU) Significant challenges remain--especially related to
human rights abuses within the military. Drug trafficking
organizations and illegal armed groups continue to operate in
large parts of the country, including border areas. Colombia
has over three million internally displaced persons, and deep
social divides still prevent millions of citizens, especially
in rural areas, from benefiting fully from security and
economic gains. Despite progress on human rights, some
elements of the security forces continue to violate human
rights, and the military has been accused of numerous
extrajudicial killings of innocents. We hope you will be
able to reiterate to the military leadership the importance
of human rights and the need for continued and significant
progress on these cases. Violence against trade unionists
continues even as the GOC has stepped up prosecutions and
boosted its protection programs for unionists, human rights
activists and other vulnerable individuals. USG support is
critical to help the GOC confront these persistent
challenges, even as we continue our dialogue on how best to
transfer key security tasks from the USG to the GOC. End

Democratic Security Advances

4. (SBU) Colombia has achieved successes in its fight against
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), National
Liberation Army (ELN) and emerging criminal groups. The
rescue of 15 high-profile FARC hostages in July 2008,
including three Americans, and the deaths of key FARC leaders
highlight Colombia's progress in security. Colombian
security forces have captured or killed a number of mid-level
FARC leaders, and reduced the space in which terrorists can
operate freely. A record number of FARC members deserted in
2008--including mid- and high-level commanders. Total
demobilizations of illegal armed groups reached 3,461 in
2008--primarily from the FARC-- making it the highest level
of demobilizations in Colombia's history. In the first 6
months of 2009, there were a total of 1,371 demobilizations
of illegal armed group members.

5. (SBU) With USG help, in 2008, Colombia again set records
in eradication and interdiction of drugs, while further
reducing murder and kidnapping rates. Colombia extradited a
record 208 criminals, narcotraffickers and terrorists to the
United States in 2008, including 15 senior ex-paramilitary
leaders. Colombia has already extradited more than 132
suspected criminals in 2009. The number of homicides fell
for the sixth consecutive year, dropping to 16,140 (or 33 for
every 100,000 habitants), 45% lower than 2002 levels.

Serious Challenges Ahead

6. (SBU) Despite advances in security and development,
challenges related to violence, narcotrafficking,
displacement, human rights, labor rights, and minority groups
remain. We estimate the FARC has some 9,000 fighters in the
field, and organized narcotrafficking groups continue to
cause violence. Internal displacement due to the armed
conflict remains serious, with more than three million
displaced by violence since 1995. Deep historical social
divides make it difficult for millions from the
Afro-Colombian and indigenous populations to benefit fully
from security and economic gains. These minority groups
suffer from limited education, health care, employment
opportunities, and disproportionate forced displacement in
the mostly isolated rural areas where they reside.

7. (U) Colombia has publicly committed to improving its human
rights performance, and we hope you will be able to reinforce
the human rights message with the GOC leadership. Fifty-one
members of the Colombian military were dismissed in 2008 due
to alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings, but
impunity for such abuses remains a serious problem. We are
working with the Ministry of Defense to improve rules of
engagement, and make sure that soldiers accused of human
rights abuses are investigated by civilian prosecutors.
Labor unionists and homicides declined 76% between 2001-2008,
yet in 2008 the number of labor homicides (for all causes)
increased from 39 to 46. Still, the murder rate for
unionists is well below the national homicide rate. As of
August 2009, 24 murders of unionists have been reported this
year by union sources. In 2008, the GOC reestablished a
government presence in all 1,098 municipalities and all the
country's mayors once again resided within their

8. (U) Through the Center for Coordinated and Integrated
Action (CCAI), the GOC is recovering a key stronghold
previously held by the FARC --La Macarena, in Meta
Department. During your visit there, you will witness GOC
efforts to establish a permanent military, police and
civilian presence in an area that has never seen a viable GOC
presence. Challenges remain, as resource, security and
staffing shortfalls continue to limit the initiative. The
United States, through USAID, MILGRP and NAS, provides
assistance to CCAI and is working to expand this concept via
the Colombia Strategic Development Initiative (CSDI) (see
paragraphs 18 and 19).

Regional Tensions Flare

9. (SBU) The rifts between Colombia and neighboring Venezuela
and Ecuador have widened over a March 1, 2008, Colombian
airstrike in Ecuadorian territory that killed the second in
command of the FARC, alias "Raul Reyes." After the raid,
Colombian forces recovered several hard drives that suggested
the terrorist group had received varying levels of assistance
from the Governments of Venezuela and Ecuador. The ensuing
diplomatic imbroglio resulted in a break in relations with
Ecuador, which persists to this day, and a temporary break in
relations with Venezuela. President Chavez again temporarily
recalled his ambassador to Colombia following press
revelations in July that Swedish-made anti-tank
missiles--originally sold to the Venezuelan military--were
discovered in FARC hands. The GOC has remained calm in the
face of Chavez's provocative rhetoric, which included threats
to deploy forces to the border, suspend trade ties and
nationalize Colombian owned businesses in Venezuela.

10. (SBU) A Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) that is
almost ready for signature with Colombia would provide U.S.
access to seven Colombian military installations to
facilitate cooperation to combat narcotics trafficking and
other transnational crime within Colombia. The DCA updates
existing agreements that date back to 1952, and would not
increase the U.S. military footprint in Colombia.
Nevertheless, Venezuelan President Chavez, joined by leaders
from Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, reacted to news of the
negotiations with harsh complaints over an increased U.S.
military presence in the region. Chavez expressed fears of
an American invasion of Venezuela and said he felt the "winds
of war blowing in the continent." Even moderate governments,
like Brazil and Chile, demanded an explanation.

11. (SBU) A special summit of the Union of South American
Nations (UNASUR) in Argentina on August 28--convened to
address the controversy--yielded mixed results. While
President Uribe was able to prevent the group from condemning
the DCA, many South American Presidents expressed
reservations about the regional implications of the
agreement, and the final UNASUR declaration included language
that foreign military forces cannot "threaten the sovereignty
or integrity of any South American nation and the peace and
security of the region." President Chavez also described the
"White Paper Air Mobility Command Global En Route Strategy"
as proof of the USG's hegemonic plans for the region. The
UNASUR leaders also directed their ministers of defense and
foreign affairs to study the impact of the agreement on the
region; that meeting is scheduled to take place on September
15 in Quito.

Uribe Third Term

12. (SBU) Your visit comes as the Constitutional Court
analyzes a law that would authorize a referendum on whether
the Constitution should be amended to allow President Uribe
to run for a third term in the May 2010 elections. His
possible re-election has become the touchstone of all
Colombian politics this year. Indeed, you will find that
your interlocutors are focused on the short timeframe
remaining in the second term given the uncertainty over the
third. If the referendum goes forward, at least 25% of
registered voters, or 7.3 million Colombians, must
participate and a majority of them must vote favorably.
President Obama told President Uribe on June 29 that, in the
United States' experience, two terms is enough for any
leader, though he emphasized that the final decision belongs
to the Colombian people.

Economic Limitations

13. (SBU) Reacting to the economic slowdown in 2009, the GOC
cut the national budget by $1.4 billion, including a $190
million reduction to the defense budget. The proposal would
likely reduce future expenditures on ammunition, rifles,
communications equipment, infrastructure projects, fuel,
food, and uniforms. The cuts would not directly affect
defense expenditures funded by the wealth tax, which is
expected to raise approximately $3.7 billion between
2007-2011. Still, the GOC's ability to sustain current
levels of defense spending after 2011 could be in jeopardy if
the wealth tax is left to expire at the end of 2010. The
Colombian Congress is presently deliberating on a bill to
extend the wealth tax through 2013. Funding for social
programs, critical to addressing many of the catalysts for
the conflict, will be sustained, according to President
Uribe. Proposed increases for social programs, however, will
be put on hold until government revenues increase.

Eradicating, Training, Nationalizing

14. (U) The USG and GOC made real strides in battling
narcoterrorism in Colombia in 2008. The most recent U.S.
figures for cocaine production in Colombia show a 24%
reduction in production since the peak year 2001. In 2008,
Colombian security forces seized 245 metric tons of cocaine
and coca paste, eradicated 230,000 hectares of coca and
destroyed 3,667 drug labs. We kept hundreds of metric tons
out of the United States. We have reduced the funds
available to the FARC and other criminal groups for the
purchase of weapons and explosives, corruption of public
officials and coercion of local populations.

15. (U) The USG (through the Narcotics Affairs Section) and
GOC have made progress in eradication, as evidenced by a 25%
decrease in potential cocaine productivity since the peak in
2001. Increased coordination between manual and aerial
eradication improves our ability to deal with replanting.
Much of the success in battling narcotrafficking and
terrorism is due to air mobility capabilities provided by the
United States. Without helicopters, the GOC could not
project force or provide government presence in a country the
size of Texas and California combined. Colombia is
nationalizing our aviation assets, but still needs some U.S.
support. In the last two years, more than 50 aircraft have
been turned over to the GOC to fund, maintain and control.
Colombia's ability to confront narcotics and terrorism
depends in large part on its air mobility.

Aiming for Irreversibility

16. (U) Our support to the Colombian military is based upon a
three-phased approach. The first phase focused on building
Colombian military forces, projecting those forces into
ungoverned spaces and securing those spaces. It also
supported offensive operations against illegal armed groups
on an unprecedented scale. The second phase, currently being
executed, focuses on securing, consolidating and sustaining
those gains, increasing offensive operations against illegal
armed groups, and ensuring the irreversibility of those
gains. The third phase, to be initiated in 2011, will
promote a strategic partnership to sustain key Colombian
military capabilities.

17. (SBU) The MILGRP currently supports eight program areas:
joint rotary wing, ground operations, riverine operations,
governability, airpower, maritime interdiction, joint
intelligence and communications, and joint force initiatives.
Support to these programs is vital in both the short and
long-terms. In the short-term, we will assist Colombia in
controlling illegal armed groups and bringing peace and rule
of law to the Colombian population. In the long-term, we
will focus on building a strategic partnership with Colombia
and developing key Colombian military capabilities that can
support U.S. national security objectives worldwide.

Post-Plan Colombia Initiatives

18. (U) To consolidate the gains of Plan Colombia, we have
developed the Colombia Strategic Development Initiative
(CSDI), which meshes with Colombia's own National
Consolidation Plan (PNC). Our efforts initially focus on
three priority areas of on-going conflict, drug trafficking
and social marginalization. PNC/CSDI has prioritized
addressing the lack of state presence that enables coca
production and illegally armed groups, and seeks to establish
state presence in strategic, under-governed parts of the
country. The plan is centered on increasing territorial
control in these areas to provide security for communities;
to achieve permanent eradication; to transfer security
responsibility to the police; and to provide a wide range of
socio-economic services. CSDI's core assumption is that
security is the precondition for development, which gives
communities a stake in the long term future of their region,
which is in turn the surest way to long-term security in
traditionally marginalized rural and vulnerable populations.

19. (SBU) The civilian lead of the PNC has yet to take full
charge of consolidation efforts, leaving the Ministry of
Defense organizationally in front. This leadership vacuum
means that the USG is both partner and catalyst in this
effort, supplying planning and flexible funding to get
consolidation from concept to implementation. Other
obstacles include the need for a comprehensive GOC security
strategy to transition from military to police in
"consolidated" territories; more clarity on a
post-eradication strategy; stronger presence of the justice
sector in CSDI areas; and increased funding support for PNC
ministries in the GOC budget.

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