Cablegate: Colombia Scenesetter for Codel Lemieux (February 17-19)


DE RUEHBO #0239/01 0431858
O R 121858Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (SBU) Your upcoming visit to Bogota and two Colombian military
facilities 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.
The possible referendum to allow President Uribe to seek a third
term 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. The
Colombian Armed Forces are back on track in their fight against the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with successful
strikes on several key guerrilla commanders in 2010. The December
2009 kidnapping and assassination of a departmental governor
demonstrated that the FARC can still carry out high profile attacks
against the state. Prospects for peace in the near term are
limited. Embassy Bogota 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 Senator George
Lemieux and delegation to Colombia on February 17-19, 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 were close to zero, but the GOC predicts 2.5% growth
this year. Poverty rates have also decreased, though unemployment
remains a major problem. About 60% of the economy is 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 come in
February or March. If the referendum does go forward, 25% of
registered voters must participate with the majority of those
voting in favor of reelection; current polls suggest Uribe would
win in this scenario. President Uribe seldom speaks publicly of
the referendum, characterizing it as a grassroots initiative of
Colombian citizens. His popularity continues to hover around 70%
after more than seven years in office. Should Uribe not run again,
there are strong but far less popular candidates who could continue
his policies, such as former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos or
former mayor of Medellin Sergio Fajardo. Elections to replace the
entire Congress (166 Representatives and 102 Senators) will be held
on March 14, 2010.



6. (SBU) Colombia has been a staunch U.S. ally against the threats
of narcotrafficking 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. However, Colombia is moving ahead
with many free trade agreements with other countries, which have
the potential of reducing U.S. agriculture exports to Colombia.
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 Ecuador severed following 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 Afghanistan.



7. (U) Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Colombia
closely coordinated with the United States the largest humanitarian
aid effort in its history. Colombian assets in Haiti are under the
Joint Task Force (JTF) HQ for Unified Response tactical control
(TACON) and USSOUTHCOM approved the use of MILGRP support flights
to transport Colombian assistance to Haiti, using what would have
been the empty return leg of travel back to the United States with
a capacity of up to 120,000 pounds of cargo. The Colombian
military was averaging one to two flights to Haiti per day during
the initial week of the crisis and is flying sustainment flights as
needed, loaded with humanitarian relief and personnel. Over 400
Colombian personnel have deployed to Haiti in relief efforts.
Colombia also sent a naval ship with humanitarian supplies (and is
preparing a second), as well as a mobile military hospital and
search and rescue teams.



8. (SBU) Colombian officials worry that Venezuela poses a growing
military, economic, and covert threat. Venezuela has found it
politically expedient to criticize the DCA during regional
meetings, although Colombia has largely assuaged the concerns of
other important regional players such as Brazil. The GOC has
sounded alarms in response to Venezuela's arms purchases, all but
open support for the FARC, border incursions, 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. Colombian exports declined by 33% in
2009 compared to 2008. 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 Colombians'
worldview, causing them to seek ever greater assurances of our
friendship and support.



9. (SBU) 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. 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. GOC hopes were heightened,
however, when President Obama highlighted Colombia in his State of
the Union Address and February 11 BusinessWeek interview.
Colombian business leaders fear that long-term inaction on the FTA
will be detrimental to U.S.-Colombian relations. Both government
and private sector leaders fear that U.S. delays in ratification
will harm prospects for ratification of trade deals with Canada and
the European Union. 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, which is less than the 49 murders
in 2008 and represents a lower homicide rate for unionists than for
the general population -- the homicide rate for unionists in 2009
was 5 per 100,000 compared to 34 per 100,000 for the general



10. (SBU) By nearly all measures, the human rights situation in
Colombia has improved dramatically over the last ten years.
Serious human rights concerns remain, however, especially with
regard to the Colombian Army. The 2008 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 poor
cooperation with the Prosecutor General's office. We are working
with the Colombian military to improve its respect for human rights
as it carries 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).



11. (SBU) Colombia's populations of Afro-descendants (between 11
and 20% of the population) and indigenous (between 1 and 3% 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 their 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, and Deputy Secretary of
State James Steinberg and Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez signed a
bilateral Action Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality on January 12,
2010. 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.



12. (SBU) The GOC made significant progress against the FARC in
2008: the deaths of 3 FARC Secretariat members, the liberation of
15 prized political hostages, including 3 Americans, and record
high desertions. Progress in 2009 was mixed, however. The
December 2009 kidnapping and assassination of the governor of
Caqueta Department marked the highest profile political kidnapping
by the FARC since President Uribe assumed office in 2002. The
Colombian Armed Forces has scored major successes in 2010 with
strikes that have killed or seriously wounded several front
commanders, hampering the FARC's offensive and logistical
capabilities. Nonetheless, the FARC can still carry out
asymmetrical attacks on selective soft targets. 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.



13. (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.



14. (SBU) The Military Group (MILGRP) is one of three primary CSDI
implementing agencies and the lead agency in the CSDI Central Band
-- stretching from the former FARC stronghold in the Department of
Meta to Buenaventura on the Pacific coast. MILGRP supports the
Colombian military in achieving territorial control of conflict
zones through training, equipment, fuel, and flight hours, in order
to allow subsequent interventions in socio-economic development and
democratic governance. MILGRP also assists throughout the
consolidation process through support to Regional Coordination
Centers, humanitarian assistance, counternarcotics, and de-mining.

15. (U) MILGRP has focused its support to the Colombian military
using a three phased approach. The first focused on building
Colombian military forces, projecting those forces into ungoverned
spaces and securing those spaces. It also supported offensive
operations against illegal armed groups on a scale never seen
before. The second phase, currently being executed, focuses on
securing, consolidating and sustaining those gains, increasing
offensive operations against illegal armed groups, and ensuring the
irreversibility of those gains. The third phase, to be initiated
in 2011, is to promote a strategic partnership to sustain key
Colombian military capabilities.

16. (SBU) The MILGRP currently supports eight program areas: joint
rotary wing, ground operations, riverine operations, governability,
airpower, maritime interdiction, joint intelligence and
communications, and joint force initiatives. Support to these
programs is vital in both the short- and long-terms. In the
short-term, we will assist Colombia in controlling illegal armed
groups and bringing peace and rule of law to the Colombian

population. In the long-term, we will focus on building a
strategic partnership with Colombia and developing key Colombian
military capabilities that can support U.S. national security
objectives worldwide.



17. (SBU) You will be the first U.S. Member of Congress to visit
the Tolemeida Military Fort in Nilo municipality, Cundinamarca --
one of the seven named DCA bases. Tolemeida is also the
headquarters for the Colombian Army's rotary wing aviation brigade.
Developing the Colombian military's air mobility capabilities
constitutes the single most important contribution of U.S. Southern
Command under Plan Colombia -- as air mobility has been the key
enabler for the Colombian military's significant gains over
insurgent groups in conflict areas. Colombian Special Forces units
under the Joint Command for Special Operations (CCOES) are trained
at Tolemeida. Thirty-eight Colombian soldiers are currently being
trained at this facility to join U.S. forces as part of Operation
Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. You will also visit the Colombian
air base in Melgar, Tolima, where we help support training programs
with U.S. aviation simulators. Both of these bases will also serve
as regional helicopter training centers, with the Government of
Mexico serving as the test case for this regional training

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