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Cablegate: Lack of Clarity and Increasing Polarization As Elections

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #3408/01 3011607
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 281604Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0537
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0129
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 0459
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 0485
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS BOGOTA 003408

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
USAID FOR LAC/SA EDWARD LANDAU & DAVID JOHNSTON, LAC/RSD ERIC KITE, AND DCHA/DG MARISSA LEMARGIE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV EAID PREL PREF PHUM OAS CO
SUBJECT: Lack of Clarity and Increasing Polarization as Elections
Approach

Summary:

1. (SBU) USAID carried out an elections assessment in September in
anticipation of the upcoming 2010 presidential and congressional
elections in Colombia. The main conclusions were: there is a lack
of clarity surrounding the elections that has contributed to a
sense of paralysis among key actors; political debate has been
reduced to whether or not President Uribe will run for a third
term, which has contributed to a climate of polarization within the
country; there is the perception that the Uribe Administration is
actively campaigning and that power has been consolidated with the
executive branch to the detriment of democratic institutions; and
access to free and fair voting, particularly for vulnerable
populations, remains problematic. End Summary.

2. (U) The USAID Elections Assessment Team met with over 30
representatives of NGOs, the media, Congress, the business sector,
academia, internally displaced persons (IDP) organizations, student
groups, political parties, donors and international organizations,
and several GOC entities involved in the electoral process. The
assessment report will be completed by November 1, 2009.

Uncertainty & Polarization

3. (SBU) A lack of clarity on the regulatory rules governing the
presidential reelection referendum and recent legislative changes
governing political party affiliation have created uncertainty
regarding the "rules of the game" and a sense of paralysis among
key actors. For example, those surveyed generally agree that there
is not enough time for the Constitutional Court to review and rule
on the proposed referendum for a third term for President Uribe.
Nevertheless, most believe that some kind of accommodation will be
made to ensure it goes forward. Likewise, it is unclear whether
and when the "Ley de Garantias," which establishes that the
President must announce his candidacy six months before the
elections (November 30, 2009) and limits the way public funds and
media can be used, will apply given that the referendum will not
have occurred.

4. (SBU) Public debate is generally viewed to have been reduced to
whether or not the referendum will pass, whether or not President
Uribe will run and whether individuals or entities are "pro" or
"anti" Uribe. The perception among civil society groups and some
media outlets is that the space for public debate is increasingly
limited and this could lend itself to election-related violence.

Government in Campaign Mode

& Weakening of Institutions

5. (SBU) There is a general perception that President Uribe is
using public forums (Consejos Comunitarios) and public funds (e.g.,
Accion Social programs) to conduct a campaign. At departmental and
municipal levels, people believe that public officials are aligning
themselves with Uribe's "U" Party to ensure they receive vital
public funds and benefit from Uribe's popularity.

6. (SBU) There is a general perception that President Uribe has
consolidated state power within the executive and that democratic
institutions have either been co-opted or are at risk of being
co-opted. Likewise, the strength of traditional political parties
has deteriorated. Many people perceive Uribe as the State and the


only option for the future success of Colombia, particularly given
rocky relations with Venezuela and Ecuador.

Illegal Armed Groups & Corruption

7. (SBU) There is a variance of opinion regarding the extent to
which illegal armed groups will try to influence these elections.
However, tactics are likely to include illegal campaign
contributions, coerced voting, abstention campaigns, and targeted
violence. It is believed that corruption will be a prevalent theme
in these elections, particularly at municipal and departmental
levels.

Access

8. (SBU) Access to free and fair voting, particularly for
internally displaced persons (IDPs), remains problematic. There
are long delays in obtaining national identification cards and, in
poor communities, vulnerable populations are either threatened or
offered bribes to vote for specific candidates.

Planned USG Assistance

9. (U) USAID will provide, through the National Democratic
Institute (NDI), a sub-grant of $100,000 to the NGO Mision de
Observaci????n Electoral (MOE) to conduct observation in 12
departments on the day of congressional elections and a sub-grant
of $40,000 to Transparencia por Colombia (TPC), the national
representative of Transparency International, for the development
of a new version of its Clear Accounts software. This software
will be used by political parties to prepare and file financial
disclosure forms for the elections. Finally, USAID is supporting a
campaign, through the International Republic Institute (IRI), to
encourage Afro-Colombians and IDPs to participate in the elections.

10. (U) The Political Section is planning to organize U.S. Embassy
delegations to participate in electoral observations, in
conjunction with OAS and other international donors where possible.
The Political Section is also closely monitoring the development of
election-related reforms and the reelection referendum process, and
is in constant communication with all national political parties
and their candidates.

11. (U) The international community's "Friends of Democracy" group
in Bogota plans to organize periodic meetings with the GOC and
other stakeholders to discuss elections-related issues. The
Swedish Government and the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF) are providing
funds for MOE's operational costs. Currently, USAID is the only
donor providing assistance to MOE for elections observation.
However, it is expected that other international donors will step
up to provide support.

12. (SBU) USAID is considering dedicating funding to the following
activities through NDI and IRI:

a) increase capacity of election watchdog groups, in particular to
monitor campaigns and media usage;

b) strengthen the capacity of political party poll watchers;


c) provide funds to Congreso Visible, a Colombian watchdog
organization that gathers and publicizes information about
congressional candidates;

d) increase long-term domestic observation in key regions of the
country at least three months prior to elections;

e) encourage domestic observation at all levels of the process
(polling station, central tabulation, and electoral dispute
processes); and

f) increase the number of departments where domestic observation
will be conducted.
BROWNFIELD

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