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Cablegate: Goc Efforts to Protect Education-Sector Unionists

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #3187/01 2872029
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 142029Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0307
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0085
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 0408
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 0412
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS BOGOTA 003187

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
USTR FOR EISSENSTAT AND HARMAN
DOL FOR ZOLLNER AND QUINTANA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB EAID ETRD PGOV PHUM PREL USTR CO
SUBJECT: GOC EFFORTS TO PROTECT EDUCATION-SECTOR UNIONISTS

REF: BOGOTA 1120

SUMMARY

-------

1. (SBU) About 40% of murdered unionists in Colombia are
public-sector educators. Ministry of Education (MOE) officials and
labor leaders told us that armed groups and criminal gangs target
educators because of their involvement in community affairs and
politics. The Colombian Federation of Educators (FECODE) is a
potent political force, making its members targets. Protecting
Colombia's 310,000 educators remains outside the Ministry of
Interior and Justice (MOIJ) Protection Program's scope. Instead,
the GOC started a transfer system to remove threatened educators
from harm. So far, authorities have transferred 2,043 educators
out of dangerous situations, probably saving hundreds of lives.
Still, labor groups said the system is flawed. The GOC and civil
society are working on legislation that will refine the system, due
for completion before the end of the year. End Summary.

UNION MEMBER MURDERS BY SECTOR

------------------------------

2. (SBU) According to the National Union School (ENS), 24 unionists
have been killed so far in 2009. Of these, 9 worked in the
education sector; 6 in agriculture; 3 in the penal system; 2 in the
oil/mining sector; 2 in the healthcare/social security sector; and
2 in the food and fishing industries. This mirrors the breakdown
of the 49 murders of unionists in 2008: 41% (20) worked in the
education sector; 20% (10) in agriculture; 14% (7) in the penal
system; 8% (4) in the mining sector; 6% (3) in healthcare; and 4%
(2) in the environmental sector. The remainder (3) included a
public sector economist, a bank worker, and a lottery worker.

EDUCATORS TARGETED FOR LEADERSHIP/POLITICAL ROLES

--------------------------------------------- ----

3. (SBU) Adela Monroy Omana, Advisor in the MOE Office of
Decentralization, said armed groups on both ends of the political
spectrum target educators because they are visible, influential
community leaders, not necessarily because they are unionists.
They get closely involved in community issues and local government
in addition to teaching, which puts them at risk, she said. Rafael
David Cuello Ramirez, Vice President of FECODE told us that
Colombian educators are often the only literate members of rural
communities, and frequently take on greater civic responsibilities
than teaching alone. Both Monroy and Cuello said armed groups
pressure community leaders to choose sides, and threaten or kill
those who refuse or claim neutrality. Criminal gangs frequently
target community leaders who do not cooperate in their illicit
activities, they said.

4. (U) Education International (EI), the world's largest global
union (30 million members), concluded in a recent study entitled
"Colombia's Classroom Wars" that paramilitary groups or their
remnants target Colombian educators because they constitute a
potent, left-leaning political force. FECODE has 220,000 members
(26% of Colombian unionists) and extends from the national level,

where two former presidents are Congress members aligned to the
Democratic Alternative Pole party (PDA), down to the most remote
Colombian village. FECODE has a tremendous capacity to mobilize,
and has done so successfully. It halted decentralization and
privatization reforms in the early 1990s; forced changes in
educational funding in 2001; and defeated President Uribe's
15-point, political and fiscal reform referendum in 2004 (which
would have frozen public-sector salaries), the report said. It
also concluded that guerilla groups target educators for teaching
content that is contrary to their ideologies, and/or for
collaborating with GOC authorities.

GOC MEASURES TO PROTECT TEACHERS

--------------------------------

5. (SBU) Since 1997, the MOIJ has managed a successful protection
program for vulnerable social leaders/activists, including labor
leaders (reftel). The program currently protects 11,000 people,
including 7 educators who are also national-level labor leaders.
Still, it is beyond the program's scope and budget ($45 million in
2009) to protect Colombia's estimated 310,000 public-sector
educators (220,000 of whom are unionists).

6. (SBU) In 2003, the GOC created a transfer system to bridge this
protection gap. Decree 3222 established "Special Committees for
Threatened Public Educators" in each department to evaluate and
resolve threats to educators, Monroy said. Departmental-level
secretaries of education chair the committees, which include
representatives of regional inspector generals and prominent
unions. Educators who feel threatened submit transfer requests to
these committees, which must evaluate each situation and make a
recommendation to local authorities within three working days.

7. (SBU) The system employs a range of transfer options
(temporary/permanent; regional/national/international), depending
on the level of risk. Local authorities are responsible for
arranging and paying to transfer threatened educators and their
dependents, and the emitting institutions continue to pay
educators' salaries and benefits for one year, at which point the
parties convene to reexamine the situation and decide whether to
make the transfer permanent, extend it or terminate it. An
"inter-institutional" working group in Bogota composed of the MOE,
MOIJ, the Ministry of Social Protection, the Inspector General, the
Office of the Vice President, and FECODE also meets regularly to
discuss difficult cases and refine the system.

IS THE TRANSFER SYSTEM EFFECTIVE?

---------------------------------

8. (SBU) Committees have resolved 2,043 cases to date: 213 without
transfers; 315 with temporary transfers; 1,475 with permanent
transfers; and 40 with international transfers. In roughly the
same period, the annual number of murdered education-sector
unionists fell from 94 in 2002 to 20 in 2008 (ENS statistics), a
decrease of 78% (twice as fast as general homicides fell in the
same period). Monroy sees a direct link between the transfer
system and murder rates of educators, and by extension, unionists.
She said the system has saved hundreds of lives.

9. (SBU) Cuello agreed with Monroy's assessment, but said the
transfer system has lingering problems. First, the three-day
evaluation period is too long, leaving educators vulnerable while
committees carry out evaluations. Second, committees frequently
decline transfer requests, leaving threatened educators vulnerable.
Third, educators with short-term contracts do not have access to
the transfer system. Fourth, the MOE has been slow to incorporate
jurisprudence from Constitutional Court Decision T-976 of 2004,
which mandated a clearer delineation of risk-levels and
corresponding legal obligations of local authorities. Finally, he
said that the "inter-institutional" working group is not very
effective --it has only met once this year.

10. (SBU) Monroy told us that a new presidential decree replacing
Decree 3222 is due by the end of the year, and will mandate a
one-day (as opposed to three) turnaround on committee decisions.
It will also enumerate three levels of risk (ordinary,
extraordinary, and extreme) and corresponding legal obligations of
local authorities in accordance with the Constitutional Court
decision (T-976/04). She added that educators with short-term
contracts are in fact eligible, but only for territorial transfers,
not regional or international transfers. Finally, she said that no
educators who have been denied transfers have been killed, evidence
that the committees make sound judgments.

11. (SBU) Cuello could not provide evidence that any
education-sector unionists were killed while waiting for, or after
being denied, a transfer. According to ENS, one education-sector
unionist who was offered a transfer was killed. Ramiro Cuadros
Roballo, an educator and union leader in Rio Frio, Valle de Cauca,
received a death threat on March 3, 2009. The "Special Committee
for Threatened Public Educators of the Valle" urged him to accept a
transfer, but he refused, citing his belief that the threat was
baseless and that community members had requested he stay and
continue his work. He was gunned down on the morning of March 24,
2009, on the way to his office by unknown assailants.
NICHOLS

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