Cablegate: Colombia Scenesetter for Codel Engel (January 7-10)


DE RUEHBO #3635/01 3651952
R 311952Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (SBU) Your upcoming visit to Cartagena and Monteria is an
opportunity to discuss with the Colombians our shared fight against
illegal drugs and illegal armed groups as well as the underlying
social inequality that drives both phenomena. President Uribe's
final decision on 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 our Defense Cooperation
Agreement (DCA). Despite improving performance on human rights
throughout Plan Colombia, there are continuing abuses and potential
for backsliding. Afro-Colombian and indigenous populations bear a
disproportionate share of violence, social exclusion and poverty.
After rousing success against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia (FARC) in 2008, progress against the guerrilla
organization has plateaued. The recent kidnapping and
assassination of a departmental governor demonstrated that the FARC
still have the capability to carry out successful operations
against high-profile targets. There are few prospects for peace in
the near term. Post has begun implementing the Colombia Strategic
Development Initiative (CSDI) -- the logical evolution of 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 House Foreign Affairs
Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Chairman Eliot Engel and delegation
to Colombia on January 7-10, 2010. In the past ten years, Colombia
has transitioned from a near failed state and terrorist haven to a
stable democracy. Murder and kidnapping rates have dropped
dramatically, while the rule of law has been 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 social inequality and land tenure. Colombia has
made significant inroads in confronting narco-terrorism but drug
trafficking organizations and illegal armed groups, often with ties
to guerillas and organized crime, still operate in large parts of
the country, including along borders.

4. (SBU) Colombia has been feeling the effects of the global
economic crisis, though the impact has been lessened by
conservative lending practices coupled with sound fiscal and
monetary policies that have attracted foreign investment. Growth
rates for 2009 are expected to be close to zero, 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.



5. (SBU) 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 referendum does go forward, 25% of
registered voters (currently about 7.47 million) must participate
with the majority of those voting in favor of reelection; current
polls suggest Uribe would win in this scenario. Uribe seldom
speaks publicly of the referendum, characterizing it as a
grassroots initiative of Colombian citizens. His popularity
remains between 65% and 70% after more than seven years in office.
Should Uribe decide against running again, there are strong but far
less popular candidates who could replace him such as former
Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos or opposition Senator Gustavo
Petro. Elections to replace the entire Congress (166
Representatives and 102 Senators) will be held on March 14.



6. (SBU) Colombia has been a staunch U.S. ally against the threats
ofnarco-trafficking and terrorism. We continue to enjoy a robust
extradition relationship, though the Supreme Court in 2009 denied
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 made
Colombia a target of criticism from some leaders in the region,
especially after the signing of the DCA. The GOC has begun to
patch up diplomatic relations with Ecuador which were severed
following the Colombia's March 2008 military strike against FARC
leader Raul Reyes in Ecuador. The Colombians have also 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 a possible deployment to



7. (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 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 bilateral conflict,
has fallen dramatically since August. November figures show a 75
percent decrease in Colombian exports to Venezuela year-on-year.
Despite the increased rhetoric, 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 support.



8. (SBU) While Colombians generally understand U.S. political
realities associated with a vote on the FTA, frustration 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 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, 39 unionists were murdered as of December 15, which is less
than 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.



9. (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 army. 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 about the military's lukewarm
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
problem. NGOs complain that the GOC regularly paints them as
supporters of terrorist organizations, which in turn 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 more than three million internally displaced
persons (IDPs).



10. (SBU) Colombia's populations of Afro-descendants (between 11
and 20 percent of the population) and indigenous (between one and
three percent of the population) suffer from discrimination, social
exclusion, structural poverty, and lack of political participation.
This marginalization allows illicit drug cultivation or trafficking
to move into the communities, subjecting them to a disproportionate
share of violence and displacement. The GOC created the Commission
for the Advancement of Afro-Colombians to help improve education,
income generation, and political representation within the
Afro-Colombian population. However, the Colombian congress has not
passed legislation to implement the commission's recommendations.
The Embassy has implemented special programs to help Afro-Colombian
and indigenous populations realize greater participation in the
political and economic life of the country. Cartagena's
charismatic and dynamic mayor is Afro-Colombian and her rise
reflects grass roots efforts to increase Afro-Colombian political
participation that we have nurtured. Recognizing the need for
increased participation and integration of Afro-Colombians and
African descendants worldwide, Colombia presented to the UN an
initiative proclaiming 2011 as International Year for People of
African descent, which was approved with unanimous consent.



11. (SBU) The GOC made significant 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, however, been mixed. The
December kidnapping and assassination of the governor of Caqueta
Department marked the highest profile political kidnapping by the
FARC since 2002. The FARC also continue to carry out asymmetrical
attacks on selective soft targets as the Colombian military tries
to grind them down in a slow war of attrition. Any significant
progress towards peace seems unlikely until after the elections; we

expect the guerrilla groups to wait to see whether Uribe will be
reelected before considering a broader peace process.



12. (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 four priority zones of ongoing
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
strengthen the rule of law. 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.


13. (SBU) Developments in Cartagena will play a major role in
Colombia's future. In the Montes de Maria zone near Cartagena,
where state security has been reestablished following a long period
of lawlessness, the effectiveness of our CSDI efforts will likely
become evident within the next year. At the same time, with drug
traffickers moving seaborne shipments of drugs in go-fast boats,
self-propelled semi-submersible boats, or hidden in commercial
cargo, maritime counter-narcotics interdiction, with Caribbean
coastal operations based out of Cartagena, will be ever more vital
to our efforts to combat drug trafficking. Our joint efforts with
the Colombian Navy had unparalleled success in 2009, with record
seizures of cocaine on the high seas, which coupled with a
significant year in eradication led to double digit increases in
the price of cocaine in the United States and decreases in its


14. (SBU) A high profile narco-corruption case against a retired
rear admiral was recently dismissed 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. Colombian Navy
Commander Admiral Guillermo Barrera took the additional step of
referringArangoBacci'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. The Court granted the petition and have
called for an investigation of Admiral Barrera and other Navy
officers for allegedly smearing Admiral ArangoBacci. The
Ambassador publicly lauded Barrera for having brought the
corruption case to light.

© Scoop Media

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