Cablegate: Will Congress Come Through for Uribe?

Published: Tue 2 Mar 2004 10:10 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
id: 14489
date: 3/2/2004 22:05
refid: 04BOGOTA2634
origin: Embassy Bogota
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 04BOGOTA469
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 02 BOGOTA 002634
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/15/2014
Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood, Reasons: 1.5 B & D.
1. (SBU) Summary: In January, President Uribe, in an effort
to nudge a recalcitrant Congress toward passage of new
reforms, announced plans to form three high-level special
commissions to formulate proposals in the areas of economics,
justice, and administration of the state. On February 17,
the Administration and six of the largest formal political
parties signed a pact to work on the three fronts. With
Congress to reconvene on March 16, only the special justice
commission has met, and its initial recommendations have
already caused controversy. Our congressional interlocutors
stress that while the special commissions are
headline-grabbers made up of high-profile national figures,
the Congress will have the final say on any reforms. We
expect piecemeal progress on legislation at best. End
2. (U) In the aftermath of difficult congressional relations
in December, President Uribe in early January called for
three national commissions of prominent legislators, current
and former members of government, business leaders, and
opinion makers, as recommended by the parties. The
commissions would study economic and fiscal reforms, justice
sector reforms, and reforms to improve the efficiency of the
state and reduce corruption. The latter would address
elimination of some state institutions and privileged pension
schemes as well as potential territorial reforms to reduce
duplication of administration functions and costs.
3. (U) On February 17, with much fanfare, President Uribe
and Interior and Justice Minister Sabas Pretelt signed a
national political pact with six leading political parties
and a handful of additional smaller political organizations,
all Uribista. The pact committed the signatories to
good-faith efforts to pass important economic, justice, and
state reforms, including:
--Pension reform;
--Tax regime simplification;
--Implementation of oral arguments in judicial proceedings;
--Improvements in penal system;
--Streamlining of the judicial branch bureaucracy;
--Improvements to the civil service structure;
--Improved public contracting and reduction of transaction
costs; and
--Elimination of unnecessary state structures and entities.
Liberal Party President Camilo Sanchez and Team Colombia
(Equipo Colombia) President Luis Alfredo Ramos qualified
their signatures by stressing they had not given Uribe a
"blank check" and that new taxes, for example, were out of
the question. Absent from the signing ceremony was the
center-left Independent Democratic Party (PDI) of Bogota
Mayor Luis Eduardo "Lucho" Garzon and Senator Antonio Navarro
4. (U) The March 16-June 20 congressional session promises
to have a loaded schedule. In addition to likely
deliberation on any formal recommendations the three special
commissions might make, the Congress must pass implementing
legislation to carry out anti-terrorism reforms passed in
December. The civil registry aspect of the anti-terrorism
reform is already causing heated debate (septel).
Furthermore, the conditional parole bill (alternatividad
penal) for former fighters is a GOC priority for the session.
Legislation to permit presidential reelection (septel) is
also likely to make the agenda.
5. (C) Comment: The special commissions have their work cut
out for them, as the subject matter they are charged with
addressing is both complicated and controversial. An initial
offering of proposals by the special justice commission
(streamlining the top levels of the national judiciary and
establishing of new emergency speed-up procedures) launched a
public feud between the heads of the Supreme and
Constitutional Courts. On the economic side, pension reform
is considered urgent, but a key pension measure failed in
last October's Referendum and the Congress balked at making
any modifications in the context of last December's fiscal
reform package. Senior GOC economic officials tell us they
are pessimistic about passage of sweeping pension reform.
6. (C) Comment (continued): Despite Uribe's overtures to
the traditional parties and Congress--consulting the parties
in naming special commission members and replacing the
contentious Fernando Londono with the conciliatory Sabas
Pretelt as Interior Minister--a strong current of resistance
and resentment continues to run through Congress. Members
continue to tell us that they resent Uribe's continued
disparagement and/or neglect of the institution. This
includes both Senate President German Vargas and House
Speaker Alonso Acosta, who have publicly (and the latter
privately with us) distanced themselves from Uribe. Rank and
file members, meanwhile, have complained about not getting
seats on the special commissions. The concurrent initiative
to permit presidential reelection will further strain
executive-legislative relations, as several of the
presidential aspirants are members of Congress. While Uribe
generally counts on majorities in both houses, those
majorities have failed him (i.e., not showing up, breaking
the quorum) on more than one key vote. While it is likely
that several reforms will pass the Congress by June, it
remains to be seen exactly which ones--and how many--will
become law.
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