Cablegate: Farc Kill Governor of Caqueta

R 232108Z DEC 09





E.O.: 12958



1. (SBU) On December 22, security officials recovered the body of the governor of Caqueta Department, who had been kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) the night before (reftel). President Uribe condemned the murder, said that rescue teams would now turn to capturing the perpetrators, and extended a reward for information leading to the capture of those responsible. In an editorial, leading daily “El Tiempo” said the event underscored the FARC’s depravity and warned that the country had grown complacent and needed fresh thinking in 2010 to recover lost momentum. Analysts noted that the small size of the security detail protecting the governor represented a security failure by the state. This latest kidnapping and killing could complicate ongoing negotiations with the FARC to unilaterally release the remaining political hostages. The Embassy issued a press statement on December 23 condemning the kidnapping and murder. End Summary.


2. (SBU) Colombian authorities recovered the body of the Governor of Caqueta, Luis Cuellar Carvajal, on the afternoon of December 22, less than 24 hours after he was kidnapped from his residence in Florencia. Cuellar’s body was found face down and surrounded by explosives in the township of El Brasil, near the abandoned pick-up presumably used to transport him following his abduction. Security officials said the FARC slit his throat rather than shooting him, apparently to avoid detection by government rescue teams. Cuellar’s son said that his father’s knees were frail from being kidnapped on four prior occasions, and that the FARC may have killed him when he refused to walk. Public reporting indicates that local authorities were alert for an attack of some kind in Caqueta –- only twelve days earlier the FARC failed to capture the mayor of nearby San Vicente del Caguan -- but they did not suspect the governor was the target. Cuellar’s body was found on his 69th birthday. He had been accused of ties to paramilitaries, but strenuously denied those allegations and had not been convicted.

3. (SBU) President Uribe condemned the murder and announced that public forces in the area involved in the rescue operation would now turn to capturing those members of the FARC’s Teofilo Forero Mobile Column responsible –- he listed aliases “Huevo,” “Valencia,” “Nicuro,” “Caballo,” and “Guevara.” (Note: The Teofilo Forero Mobile Column, believed to be led by alias “El Paisa,” has been implicated in numerous atrocities, including the December 2000 killing of Congressman Diego Turbay Cote in Caqueta and the 2003 El Nogal Club bombing in Bogota that killed 36 people. End note.) The President offered a reward of up to $500,000 for information leading to the capture of those responsible. The acting Prosecutor General classified the crime as a violation of international humanitarian law and as a murder of a protected person, saying the case could go to the International Criminal Court.

4. (SBU) In a scathing December 23 editorial, leading daily “El Tiempo” said this senseless act by the FARC deserves the strongest possible condemnation and underscores the FARC’s depravity. The paper noted that hostages represent mere merchandise to the FARC, and accused them of duplicity for claiming they are trying to establish conditions to unilaterally release the remaining political hostages while continuing to kidnap political figures. The editorial warned that the country had grown complacent about security risks posed by the FARC, and said that in 2010 the government needs fresh ideas and strategies to consolidate gains and recover lost momentum.

5. (SBU) Colombian security analysts opined that the fact that Governor Cuellar -- who had been kidnapped four times previously -- was protected by such a small security detail represented a security failure by the state. The FARC is still holding 24 police and soldiers hostage, some of whom have been held for more than a decade. Hopes that negotiations would lead the FARC to release two of them before the end of the year were likely dashed by this incident. The Embassy issued a statement on December 23 condemning Cuellar’s abduction and murder, pledging the USG’s continued assistance to Colombia in combating narcoterrorists, and offering condolences to the families of the governor and the police officer killed while protecting him.

6. (SBU) Cuellar’s abduction is the highest profile political kidnapping by the FARC since the 2002 kidnapping of Antioquia Governor Guillermo Gaviria. By dressing in Colombian military uniforms, the FARC utilized a similar tactic as when they kidnapped 12 Valle de Cauca congressmen in April 2002 (all but one were executed in 2007 when the FARC mistook approaching colleagues for a government rescue force). Given the fractured command and control of the FARC, it is not clear if this act was sanctioned by the FARC Secretariat. The FARC has yet to publicly confirm or deny its involvement. End Comment.

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