Cablegate: Scenesetter for Admiral Roughead's Dec 2-6 Visit to Colombia


DE RUEHBO #3435/01 3281512
R 241512Z NOV 09

S E C R E T BOGOTA 003435


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/11/24

CLASSIFIED BY: Brian A. Nichols, Deputy Chief of Mission, Department
of State, EXEC; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)



1. (SBU) Your upcoming visit to Bogota and Cartagena is an
opportunity to reassure the Colombians of our commitment to their
fight against illegal drugs and illegal armed groups. Colombians
have begun to perceive our decision not to be baited by Venezuela's
bellicose rhetoric and trade freeze as a failure to stand by an
ally. Your visit will be a welcome sign of our senior engagement
and commitment to the bilateral relationship. President Uribe's
final decision whether to push for reelection remains the central
chord of Colombian politics and will define the tone of
congressional elections in March and the presidential elections in
May. Bilateral relations with Colombia remain solid but will be
tested by our handling of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
(FTA) and the regional sensitivities to the Defense Cooperation
Agreement (DCA). Despite improving performance on human rights
throughout Plan Colombia, there are continuing abuses and potential
for backsliding, especially in the Colombian Army. The Colombian
Navy was rocked in November by the surprising reversal of an all
but certain conviction against a rear admiral suspected of aiding
narco-traffickers. After rousing success against the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2008, progress against the
guerrilla organization has plateaued; there are few prospects for
peace in the near term. Post has begun implementing the Colombia
Strategic Development Initiative (CSDI) -- a follow-on to Plan
Colombia -- with greater focus on expanding state services in
Colombia's ungoverned spaces where illegal armed groups and the
illicit economy flourish. End Summary.



2. (SBU) Embassy Bogota welcomes the visit of Admiral Gary
Roughead, United States Chief of Naval Operations on December 2-6.
Colombian Naval CommanderAdmiral Guillermo Barrera Hurtado and
Colombian Armed Forces Commander Freddy Padilla de Leon will also
warmly welcome your visit to Colombia. Colombia made a dramatic
rebound from near-failed state to stable democracy over the last
ten years. Murder and kidnapping rates have dropped dramatically,
while rule of law has strengthened through major judicial reforms.
While Colombia still experiences serious problems with illegal
armed groups, the conflict has ceased to be a threat to Colombia's
national security and sovereignty.

3. (SBU) Colombia's turnaround can be attributed to improvements in
overall security, but further progress depends on resolving chronic
issues such as high social inequality and land tenure. Colombia
has made significant inroads in confronting narco-terrorism, but
drug trafficking organizations and illegal armed groups still
operate in large parts of the country, including along borders.
Colombia is finally feeling the effects of the global economic
crisis, though the impact has been lessened by sound fiscal and
monetary policies that have attracted foreign investment. Growth
rates are nil for 2009 but the GOC predicts 2.5% growth next year.
Poverty rates have also decreased, though unemployment remains a
major problem. About 60% of the economy remains mired in the
informal sector.



4. (C) The Colombian Congress passed a law in September permitting
a referendum on whether President Alvaro Uribe may stand for a
third term in the presidential elections on May 30, 2010. The
Constitutional Court must now rule on the referendum process and
its impact on the Constitution, a decision that may not come until
March 2010. If the Court rules in Uribe's favor, a referendum must
be held. Uribe seldom speaks publicly of the referendum,
characterizing it as a grassroots initiative of Colombian citizens.
His popularity remains at 65% to 70% after more than seven years in
office. Privately, Uribe is doing everything possible to
perpetuate his presidential career. Elections to replace the
entire Congress (166 Representatives and 102 Senators) will be held
on March 14. We expect the elections to run smoothly overall but
are concerned about certain areas of violence and the influence of
illicit funds during the campaign period.



5. (C) Colombia has been a staunch U.S. ally against the threats of
narco-trafficking and terrorism. We continue to enjoy a robust
extradition relationship, though we were disappointed at the
Supreme Court's decision to deny our requests to extradite the FARC
operatives charged with taking hostage or attempting to harm U.S.
citizens. Colombia is our fourth largest export market in the
region and a growing destination for U.S. investment. Our close
relations have tended to isolate Colombia in the region, especially
with neo-populist governments such as Venezuela, which regularly
paints Colombia as an agent of the United States. This was
underscored by the regional tensions raised by the DCA. Despite
our assertions that the DCA is strictly a bilateral issue, the GOC
views the agreement as a strategic deterrent against President Hugo
Chavez. The Colombians are on the verge of restoring relations
with Ecuador but have failed in efforts to enlist Brazil to offset
the rhetoric of Chavez. The Colombians have recently engaged in
"security diplomacy," providing training and assistance to
neighbors (such as Mexico and Haiti) suffering from drug
trafficking and organized crime as well as to the international
effort in Afghanistan via a deployment with Operation Enduring
Freedom as early as the end of 2009.



6. (SBU) Colombian officials worry that Venezuela poses a growing
military, economic, and covert threat. The GOC has sounded alarms
in response to Venezuela's arms purchases, all but open support for
the FARC, and bellicose rhetoric -- including Chavez' statements to
"prepare for war" and refusal to meet with that "mobster" Uribe in
Brazilian brokered talks. Caracas has blocked imports from
Colombia, leading to border area confrontations and unrest.
Bilateral trade, once thought to be of sufficient volume to prevent
conflict, has fallen over 70% in the last year, leaving local
observers concerned that the constraints preventing conflict
between the two states are dwindling. Colombia has appealed to the
UNSC, OAS and WTO for help, but seen little response. Despite
these incidents, we see no evidence that either side is actively
preparing for hostilities. However, as tensions along the border
rise and perceptions skew, there is a small risk that a local
incident could spiral out of control. Real or not, the perception
of the threat posed by Venezuela has changed Colombia's worldview,

causing them to seek ever greater assurances of our friendship and

7. (SBU) While Colombians generally understand U.S. political
realities associated with a vote on the FTA, resignation has grown
within the government, business and academic communities over the
lack of action on the accord. The GOC remains committed to the
agreement's passage, but worries that its efforts will turn out to
be unsuccessful. Business community members believe that long-term
inaction on the FTA will be detrimental to U.S.-Colombian
relations. The great majority of organized labor is opposed to
free trade agreements and argues that the GOC needs to do more to
respect worker rights and to protect unionists from violence. In
2009, 34 unionists have been murdered as of November 17, which is a
downward trend from the 49 murders in all of 2008. President Uribe
publicly adheres to the commitment President Obama made in their
June 29 meeting to move the FTA forward in the U.S. Congress once
labor and human rights issues are adequately addressed.



8. (SBU) By nearly all measures, the human rights situation in
Colombia has improved over the last ten years. Serious human
rights concerns remain, however, especially with regard to the
Colombian military. Last year's exposure of military "false
positives," in which unarmed civilians were murdered and presented
as combat deaths, led to the dismissal of 51 members of the
Colombian Army. We are concerned with the military's commitment to
investigating these types of cases and its cooperation with the
Prosecutor General's office. The Prosecutor General's Office is
currently processing more than 1,000 cases of extrajudicial
executions; prosecutions have been slow but there is progress. We
are working with the Colombian military to improve their respect
for human rights as they carry out security operations. Impunity
for human rights violations and past crimes carried out by
paramilitary and guerrilla groups is a serious concern. The GOC
regularly stigmatizes NGOs as supporters of terrorist
organizations, which human rights groups claim fuels growing death
threats against them. Revelations that Colombian intelligence and
law enforcement entities carried out illegal surveillance against
human rights groups, unionists and political opponents have also
undermined the GOC's credibility on human rights. Colombia has
over three million internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Consternation Over Corruption in the Navy


9. (SBU) A high profile narco-corruption case against a retired
rear admiral appears poised for dismissal amidst controversy.
Guillermo ArangoBacci was forced to retire in 2007 based on
evidence that he had conspired with drug traffickers to help them
evade U.S. and Colombian interdiction patrols. Admiral Barrera
took the additional step of referring ArangoBacci's case to the
civilian Prosecutor General's Office for criminal charges; the case
was nearing a guilty verdict by mid-2009. On November 3, however,
a new prosecutor assigned to the case petitioned the Supreme Court
to absolve ArangoBacci on grounds that the investigation failed to
prove the admiral's guilt. To make matters worse, both the
Prosecutor General's Office and the Inspector General's Office
denounced the Admiral Barrera and other senior naval officers for
falsifying evidence to frame ArangoBacci. Ambassador Brownfield

publicly defended Admiral Barrera's actions in referring the matter
to the civilian courts, which drew accusations of interference from
one Supreme Court magistrate and the Colombian press. However, it
laid down the marker that we believe allegations of military
corruption must be investigated--preferably in civilian courts.



10. (S/NF) The GOC made dazzling progress against the FARC in 2008:
the deaths of three Secretariat members, the liberation of 15
prized hostages, including three Americans, and record high
desertions. Progress in 2009 has been sluggish, however, with the
FARC carrying out asymmetrical attacks on selective soft targets as
the Colombian military tries to grind them down in a slow war of
attrition. Some analysts have also pointed to lower operations
tempo due to local commanders' concern of being accused of human
rights abuses. Sensitive reporting suggests the GOC is quietly
probing the FARC and National Liberation Army (ELN) to open a
dialogue, though these efforts appear to be far from fruitful. We
do not expect any serious progress on this issue until after the
elections; the guerrilla groups will likely wait to see whether
Uribe will repeat in office before considering a broader peace



11. (SBU) 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 illegal 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 coca
eradication; to transfer security responsibility to the police; to
provide a wide range of socio-economic services to address the root
causes of marginalization; and to improve the justice sector to
mitigate illegality. A major challenge to implementation is
achieving strong, effective civilian leadership of the PNC. The
head of Social Action (Accion Social), Colombia's development
agency, is the titular head of the PNC effort. Civilian agencies
have been reluctant, however, to devote their budgets to the
effort, often leaving the Ministry of Defense organizationally in
front. 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.



12. (SBU) Cartagena holds many keys to the issues that will play a
major role in Colombia's future. With security issues largely
resolved, the effectiveness of our CSDI efforts will likely become

evident in the Montes de Maria zone near Cartagena within a year.
Drug traffickers have increasingly turned to seaborne shipments of
drugs either in go-fast boats, self-propelled semi-submersible
boats or hidden in commercial cargo. Maritime counter-narcotics
interdiction will be ever more vital to our efforts to combat drug
trafficking. Our joint efforts had unparalleled success in 2008,
with record seizures of cocaine on the high seas, which coupled
with a record year in eradication led to double digit increases in
the price of cocaine in the U.S and decreases in its purity.

© Scoop Media

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