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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BOGOTA 003217 SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF GENERAL MYERS Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood for reasons 1.5 (b) and (d). ------Summary ------¶1. (C) With USG assistance, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has made great strides in fighting drug trafficking and terrorism. A nation-wide, multi-phased offensive by the security forces has re-taken key territory from the FARC. The peace process with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) has already resulted in the demobilization of almost 5,000 paramilitaries. Colombia's human rights record, although imperfect, is improving. Executive-legislative relations have been tense, but Uribe managed to push through some important legislation, including a bill to allow presidential re-election. The economy continues to improve, albeit slowly. Three U.S. citizens have been held hostage by the FARC for two years now; their safe recovery continues to be one of our top priorities. Five U.S. military personnel were arrested in late March for transporting drugs. We

are working closely with Colombian authorities to ensure that the case is fully investigated. The Ministry of Defense has expressed interest in a special bilateral security agreement. End Summary. -------------------------------------------U.S. Assistance Key to Security Improvements -------------------------------------------¶2. (C) USG Assistance to Colombia is premised on combating the interrelated issues of drug trafficking and terrorism and includes training, material aid, and guidance to the security forces and other institutions. President Uribe and Colombian Minister of Defense (MOD) Jorge Alberto Uribe (not related) have characterized U.S. assistance as key to the GOC's "Democratic Security Policy" and acknowledged the United States as Colombia's most important ally. Since taking office, President Uribe has focused on establishing a state presence throughout national territory. -- Plan Patriota: The military's multi-phased campaign plan to re-take areas dominated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is entering its third year. The priority for DOD funding is to provide assistance for forces involved in Plan Patriota. The first phase, which focused on securing Cundinamarca Department, which surrounds Bogota, pushed the FARC presence out of reach of the capital and resulted in the deaths of at least five midlevel FARC commanders. The second, much more complex phase has reached the one-year mark. It involves seven mobile brigades with assistance

from two Army Divisions and the Air Force to destroy FARC support bases, block key FARC mobility corridors, and kill or capture senior FARC commanders in the FARC's traditional stronghold in southern Colombia. In the first year, troops destroyed numerous FARC supply caches and established a presence in towns that had been essentially run by the FARC for years. This year, the phase will focus on grinding down the FARC with a war of attrition. Infectious diseases -especially leishmaniasis, a parasitic skin and intestinal infection -are the number one cause of military casualties. There have been 2,098 new cases of leishmaniasis in the military this year, bringing the total to over 5,200 in the past 15 months. This alarming rate is expected to continue. The GOC is seeking U.S. assistance for the high cost of treatment. -- FARC violence in the first quarter of 2005, although tactically aggressive, remained localized and below 2004 levels in all categories. -- Joint Caribbean Command: The military recently created a joint command for the Caribbean coastal region. The commander will have operational command of over 40,000 Army troops, 10,000 sailors and marines, and elements of the Air Force. Our contacts in the military have said the new command could lead to additional joint commands in other key areas. -- Center for Coordinated Integral Action: With support from the U.S. MILGRP, the GOC formed an interagency center to facilitate social services

in seven areas that have traditionally suffered from little state presence and pressure from illegal armed groups. The center focuses on providing immediate social services, including documentation and medical clinics, and establishing longer term projects, such as economic reactivation. Approximately 40,000 individuals have been enrolled in state health care, judges, investigators, and public defenders have been placed in all 16 municipalities of the Plan Patriota area, and a public library was recently opened in the town of San Vicente del Caguan, which had long been dominated by the FARC. -Drug Eradication: Eradication and interdiction are at record levels. As of April 5, 60,747 hectares of coca and 936 hectares of opium poppy had been sprayed since the beginning of 2005. During this same time, 1,317 hectares of coca and poppy were manually eradicated. In 2004, over 136,000 hectares of coca and 3,000 hectares of poppy were sprayed. The GOC is prepared to begin spraying in national parks, and we are moving closer to being authorized to do so. Ground fire against spray planes and manual eradication remain problematic. -- Deserters: Since Uribe took office, over 7,000 illegal armed group members have deserted and entered the government's reinsertion program. The program is plagued by limited funding and weak management, but is slowly improving. -Military Justice Reforms: The Colombian

military justice system has traditionally been inefficient and weak. We continually pressure the Defense Ministry to create a system that delivers credible findings to ensure expeditious justice for both the innocent and the guilty. Director of Military Justice Brigadier General Puentes has proposed a two-phase reform strategy that would attempt to overcome recurring complaints of impunity and prevent a collapse of the system from service misbehavior hearings. ------------Peace Process ------------¶3. (C) The GOC has been holding negotiations with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) since 2002. Almost 5,000 paramilitaries have demobilized thus far. The GOC has said up to 15,000 more paramilitaries could demobilize by the end of Uribe's term in August 2006. Congress is debating a law that would give alternative sentences to members of illegal armed groups who are implicated in major crimes but nevertheless choose to demobilize. Further AUC demobilizations appear to be on hold until the law is finalized. The GOC has repeatedly assured us that the peace process will not damage the excellent U.S.-Colombia extradition relationship. Despite limited resources, the GOC has made an effort to prevent the FARC from taking over former AUC territory. For example, the National Police moved a special police unit to the formerly AUC-controlled Uraba region in Antioquia and Choco Departments. We have not seen evidence of a concerted FARC effort to

target demobilized paramilitaries or former AUC territory. Nevertheless, local communities and the GOC continue to express concern about their capacity to secure areas if more AUC groups demobilize. ¶4. (C) The Mexican government has been trying to facilitate peace talks between the GOC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), but the ELN has refused to accept Uribe's demands for a cease-fire and end to kidnapping. The ELN has only about 2,000 members and is no longer a military threat, although it can execute terrorist attacks. The FARC has shown no willingness to have peace talks or hold a "humanitarian exchange." ----------------------------Human Rights Record Improving ----------------------------¶5. (C) The Uribe Administration continues to make progress on human rights. Homicides fell by 16 percent, kidnappings by 42 percent, and forced displacements by 37 percent in 2004, building on 2003's trends. The GOC increased its dialogue with NGOs, the UN, and foreign governments, hosting meetings with local and international human rights organizations that included over 40 hours of discussions on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights' 27 human rights recommendations for Colombia. Human rights training is mandatory for all members of the military and police. Less than 2 percent of human rights violations are attributable to government security forces,

according to GOC statistics. But recent violations by members of the armed forces, such as the murders in August 2004 of three trade unionists in the highly conflictive Arauca Department, demonstrate the need for further improvement. ----------------Internal Politics ----------------¶6. (C) Executive-legislative relations have been tense over the last two years. A major issue has been Uribe's break with traditional pork barrel projects and patronage for members of Congress, and many have exacted payback on the GOC as a result. Uribe's presidential reelection reform initiative, however, was passed by Congress in December. The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the reform, and it remains to be seen if it will strike the measure down. Other major issues before Congress include pension and tax reform, both controversial proposals that face tough sledding. ¶7. (C) Elections for Congress and President will be held in March and May 2006, respectively. The current Congressional session began March 16 and runs until June 20. The Congress will resume for the subsequent regular session on July 20. Given the start of the electoral season, most pundits indicate that the current Congressional session is the final one prior to the elections in which major legislation can be passed.

------------------------Positive Economic Outlook ------------------------¶8. (U) While the tremendous gains in security have helped the economy, many analysts are concerned that fiscal and pension reforms have not yet passed through Congress. Without these important structural changes, the long-term outlook is less clear. In 2004, Colombia's gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 4 percent to nearly USD 90.8 billion. Colombian exports grew 26 percent in 200 to USD 16 billion. Exports to the U.S. grew by USD 1 billion. Unemployment remains high at 12.1 percent, but the rate has been declining since the beginning of the Uribe administration. ¶9. (U) The seventh round of talks toward a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia (and other Andean nations) recently concluded in Washington in March. Movement has been slowed somewhat due to concerns in the U.S. Congress over the ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Agriculture and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) continue to be major issues, specifically patents, medications, agricultural subsidies and access to genetic resources. ------------U.S. Hostages ------------¶10. (C) In February 2003, a DOD plane carrying

four USG contractors and a Colombian military representative crashed in FARC-controlled territory in southern Colombia. The FARC murdered one of the U.S. contractors and the Colombian and took the other three U.S. citizens hostage. We believe they are being held in remote, heavily forested regions the FARC has long controlled and to which the Colombian military has little access. Since the contractors were kidnapped, we have worked closely with the GOC to track all leads that could reveal their location. President Uribe has personally pledged GOC cooperation and support in any effort to rescue the hostages. President Uribe has also given personal assurances that he would insist the U.S. hostages be included in any "humanitarian exchange" with the FARC. The hostages' safe release continues to be one of our top priorities. ----------------------Five Americans Arrested ----------------------¶11. (C) On March 30, 35 pounds of cocaine were found on a U.S. military plane that left Colombia for Port Bliss. Three U.S. military personnel temporarily stationed in Colombia and two in the U.S. were arrested for transporting drugs to the U.S. on military aircraft. One has been released, while the investigation continues on the others. We are working closely with Colombian authorities to ensure that the case is fully investigated and that those guilty are held accountable.

--------------------------------------Possible Military to Military Agreement --------------------------------------¶12. (C) The Ministry of Defense has expressed interest in a special bilateral security agreement. The Bilateral Working Group general session in May will provide an opportunity to explore this opportunity. We hope this will also provide a mechanism to obtain a SOFA/SFA agreement. WOOD (Edited and reading.) reformatted by Andres for ease of

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