Cablegate: Codel Frist's Meetings in Bogota

Published: Wed 7 Jan 2004 11:11 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
id: 13093
date: 1/7/2004 23:32
refid: 04BOGOTA144
origin: Embassy Bogota
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 04BOGOTA92
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BOGOTA 000144
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/06/2014
Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood Reasons 1.5 (b)
1. (SBU) Summary: On January 5, Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist met separately with Minister of Defense Jorge Alberto
Uribe Echavarria, Minister of Foreign Relations Carolina
Barco, and Vice Minister of Trade Claudia Maria Uribe.
Senator Frist also had the opportunity to discuss the
upcoming free trade agreement (FTA) with local business
leaders. A readout of the Senator's January 4 meetings in
Cartagena will follow septel. End Summary.
Meeting with Defense Minister Uribe
2. (C) In their meeting with Senator Frist, Minister of
Defense Uribe and his colleagues reviewed the year-end
results of the internal conflict, highlighting the reductions
in violence and kidnapping and the increases in combatants
captured and illicit crops eradicated. For example, during
the first 17 months of the Uribe administration, compared to
the last 17 months of the administration of President Andres
Pastrana, coca eradication has increased 60 percent,
terrorist acts have decreased 28 percent, captures of both
guerrillas and paramilitaries have increased well over 100
percent, and kidnappings have decreased 26 percent. Murders
and massacres (four or more civilians killed at one time)
have decreased 20 and 39 percent, respectively. This is the
first time the murder rate has decreased since 1983 with the
exception of a negligible decrease between 1994 and 1996.
MOD Uribe noted that public confidence in the security forces
has grown dramatically, citing a recent poll that indicates
that both the military and police have approval ratings of
over 70 percent. Finally, MOD Uribe emphasized that respect
for human rights is a constant priority for the security
3. (C) MOD Uribe credited U.S. assistance ) in the form of
training, operational guidance, and material support ) as a
key factor in the recent security successes. He noted that
drug trafficking has been the main cause of Colombia,s
continued internal conflict and said that the GOC is
committed to eliminating drugs in Colombia. MOD Uribe
cautioned that, despite many reasons for optimism, the GOC
still faces an uphill battle in establishing a state presence
throughout the national territory. He said that the security
forces would focus on increasing their capacity to conduct
joint operations in small, commando-style units and that U.S.
training has been, and will continue to be, crucial to the
military,s ability to carry out this type of operation.
4. (C) In 2004, the GOC will target the FARC in their
stronghold in heavily forested southeastern Colombia, which
will require both large-scale counterguerrilla operations and
smaller, targeted special operations. Armed Forces Commander
General Carlos Ospina echoed MOD Uribe,s sentiments about
the importance of joint operations and U.S. assistance,
especially as the security forces attempt to confront the
FARC in one of their strongholds. Both Senator Frist and MOD
Uribe agreed that they look forward to continued close
cooperation between the Colombian security forces and the
Meeting with Foreign Minister Barco
5. (C) Senator Frist met with Minister of Foreign Relations
Carolina Barco, who was accompanied by Vice-Minister Camilo
Reyes. Barco noted the GOC supports the USG's goals for the
upcoming Summit of the Americas meeting in Mexico.
Vice-Minister Reyes said that he has been working closely
with the USG delegation on the text of the final declaration,
approximately half of which remains to be negotiated. He
said the GOC, like the USG, is working to make the
declaration's language precise and include specific deadlines
for reaching designated benchmarks.
6. (C) Senator Frist praised the USG-GOC Article 98
agreement, which Barco characterized as the fruit of a
constructive and respectful bilateral relationship. Barco
described the agreement as resting on three premises: (1)
that although Colombia is a party to the ICC, the United
States is not; (2) that the operation of the Colombian and
U.S. judicial systems should be respected; and (3) that
crimes against humanity should be punished. Barco said the
final agreement successfully satisfied the principles on
which all three premises are based. The Ambassador noted
that the USG is using its Article 98 agreement with Colombia
as a model for negotiations with other nations.
7. (C) In response to an inquiry from the Senator, Barco said
she believes Venezuela's short-term stability depends on
President Chavez's response to the referendum on his
presidency. She said that oversight of the referendum
process provided by representatives of the OAS and the Carter
Center is key to assuring that the GOV adheres to democratic
principles. Barco was frank in characterizing bilateral
relations with Venezuela as "difficult" and emphasized the
problems caused by the unstable security situation along the
Venezuelan border. She also acknowledged recent incidents in
which Venezuelan troops have crossed into Colombian territory
and noted that drugs and members of illegal armed groups
cross the thinly populated border with ease. Barco said that
President Uribe has asked President Chavez for increased
information-sharing along the border and has consistently
told him Colombia's security problems could quickly reproduce
themselves in Venezuela if the GOV does not expeditiously
address the issue. Barco opined that bilateral relations are
not a political priority for Chavez, and said her goals are
to increase working level cooperation on border issues and to
prevent bilateral relations from becoming a political issue
in Venezuela. Barco added that GOC border cooperation with
the governments of Peru, Ecuador, and, more recently, Panama
is excellent, and that cooperation with Brazil is improving.
Barco added that the GOC's strongest allies in Europe are the
United Kingdom and Spain.
8. (C) As noted in reftel, Senator Frist and Ambassador Wood
emphasized the high importance of Summit of the Americas
issues to the USG and outlined them for the FM. Senator
Frist very effectively explained why these issues were
Meeting with Vice Trade Minister Uribe
9. (SBU) In his meeting with Vice Trade Minister Claudia
Maria Uribe and Vice Minister of Finance Ricardo Ortega, the
Senator was assured that the GOC will be prepared to begin
negotiations of a FTA in April. They have assembled a
government-wide committee at the vice ministerial level to
study the issues and to coordinate with the negotiating team,
which will be led by Hernando Jose Gomez, a former ambassador
to the WTO. The GOC has also established a secure website to
facilitate coordination and communication among ministries,
while an active program of outreach to the private sector
seeks to educate and include all economic actors. Ortega
stressed that Colombia had made a strategic decision to move
away from the model of a closed regional economy with
Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, toward a free-market model based on
an open relationship with the U.S. The Senator requested,
and the Ambassador seconded, reconsideration of Colombia's
restrictions on the import of refurbished industrial engines
(Cummins engines), an issue VM Uribe said they take
seriously, but for which she made no commitment.
Colombians Discuss Trade
10.(SBU) In his meeting with business leaders, the Senator
heard primarily positive reactions to the planned FTA.
Energy sector executives expressed confidence in Colombia's
long-term potential, particularly in natural gas and coal,
although they related a need for more transparency and legal
protections for foreign investors. Similarly, the head of
the flower exporters association outlined their market
successes. He emphasized the importance of trade
preferences, stability in the exchange rate, and improvements
in air transportation rates to his industry. He caught
Senator Frist's attention by noting that flower growers
employ 15 people per hectare vice two or three per hectare in
other agricultural commodities. The banking association
representative explained how GOC reforms have saved the
financial sector from crisis, and expressed interest in a FTA
that would permit branches of Colombian banks to be located
in U.S. communities with large Colombian populations.
However, he also explained that requirements sought by U.S.
banks to use the global capital of a bank in calculating
lending limits in Colombia would be extremely onerous. A
representative of the rice growers association sounded a note
of caution and placed trade negotiations in the context of
Colombia's rural poverty. He said that opening up the market
in the early 1990's led to a 30 percent drop in agricultural
output and an equal increase in food imports, which triggered
unemployment and illegal activity in rural areas. In
response, the Senator and several participants agreed that
FTA would create "some winners and some losers," but that
discouraging illegal activities should be a goal of the
agreement. The Senator pointed out that Tennessee textile
producers had suffered a similar transition, so he understood
the problem, but that change was necessary.
11. (U) Senator Frist did not have an opportunity to clear
this message.
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