|04BOGOTA112||2004-01-07 16:09:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Bogota|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BOGOTA 000112
1. (C) Politics and economics in the northern department of
Cesar are heavily influenced by the interests of a small
number of prominent families and the depredations of illegal
armed groups. Despite the distractions posed by feuds within
the local aristocracy and the active presence of the FARC,
ELN, and AUC, the GOC has improved the security situation in
the department significantly since President Alvaro Uribe
took office in August 2002. All of the department's
municipalities now have a permanent police presence, and
kidnappings on departmental highways -- which severely
discouraged travel and commerce -- have been dramatically
reduced. The porous border with Venezuela, however,
continues to be a security problem, and the local economy has
yet to recover from the downturn of the late 1990s. End
2. (U) On December 11-13, Embassy officials visited
Valledupar, capital of the northern department of Cesar.
Situated near the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada de
Santa Marta mountains and 35 miles west of the rugged
Venezuelan border, Valledupar is the department's largest
city, with approximately 400,000 inhabitants. The
department's principal industries are coal mining, cotton
farming, and cattle ranching, although the internal armed
conflict has adversely affected all these industries.
According to the Social Solidarity Network (RSS), the GOC's
displaced persons service agency, during 2000-2002, more
persons were forcibly displaced in Cesar than in any other
department. In 2003, 11 percent of all kidnappings in
Colombia took place in Cesar. Approximately 6,000 military
and 2,000 police are stationed in the department.
3. (C) Cesar is dominated by a handful of powerful families,
among them the Araujos, Gneccos, Castros, and Pupos. Not
only are they major power brokers in Cesar, but they also
wield significant influence in Bogota. According to
Lieutenant Colonel Hernan Mejia (protect), commander of the
Colombian Army's Second Artillery Battalion, the Araujos and
Gneccos have each reached accommodations with different
illegal armed groups ) the Araujos with the United
Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), and the Gneccos with
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
4. (C) The Araujo family has produced ten departmental
governors, including current Governor Hernando Molina Araujo.
Molina's mother, the late Consuelo Araujo Noguera,
affectionately known throughout Colombia as "La Cacica," was
GOC Minister of Culture when she was kidnapped and murdered
by the FARC in September 2001. His cousin Maria Consuelo
Araujo is the current Minister of Culture.
5. (C) The Gnecco family has a member serving on the Supreme
Court. One family member was removed from the governorship
for corruption. Additional family members have held mayoral
and other local government posts in surrounding departments.
Family icon Hugo Gnecco was accused of fiscal improprieties
as mayor of Santa Marta, Magdalena department, and was
suspended in February 2003. The public accusations were made
by Inspector General Maya, of the Araujo family, which raised
suspicions that the charges were politically motivated.
The Influence of Illegal Armed Groups
6. (C) The tenor of local and departmental politics is
strongly influenced by illegal armed groups.
-- The FARC kidnapped Elias Guillermo Ochoa in 1998, in
between his two stints as mayor. Ochoa's second term
concluded in December 2003. Of seven brothers in his
immediate family, four have been kidnapped by an illegal
armed group. One brother was kidnapped twice.
-- Recently inaugurated Governor Hernando Molina ran
uncontested in the October departmental election. Other
viable candidates dropped out of the race, reportedly under
pressure by the AUC. Nearly half of the votes were blank
ballots, in protest.
-- New Valledupar mayor, Ciro Arturo Pupo, is a cousin of
prominent AUC paramilitary leader Rodrigo Tovar Pupo. Tovar
operates near the town of Becerril, 50 miles south of
Valledupar. He reports directly to AUC military commander
Salvatore Mancuso. Mayor Pupo (strictly protect) told
poloffs that although he and his cousin are not on good
terms, their family ties guarantee him "unsolicited"
protection. Other sources confirmed strained relations
between Ciro Pupo and Rodrigo Tovar.
7. (C) Colombia's three principal illegal armed groups -- the
FARC, the AUC, and the National Liberation Army (ELN) -- have
a strong presence in Cesar department. FARC fronts operate
along the Venezuelan border and in parts of the Sierra Nevada
de Santa Marta mountains. The ELN is also present in the
Sierra Nevadas, as evidenced by its kidnapping of eight
foreign tourists on the range's north slope in September
(reftel). The AUC is the primary terrorist organization
operating on the department's central and southern plains,
where cattle ranching and coal mining are the principal
economic engines. Most government officials poloffs spoke
with said the paramilitaries now pose the greatest threat to
8. (C) According to local officials, Cesar does not have a
significant drug trafficking economy. Consequently, locally
based illegal armed groups are relatively poor and rely
heavily on kidnapping and extortion for resources. Because
there are few coca and poppy fields to protect, illegal armed
groups lay fewer improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Cesar
than they do in other departments.
The Porous Venezuelan Border: A Security Threat
9. (C) Military and police officials expressed concern about
the FARC's exploitation of the mountainous Venezuelan border
and its alleged use of permanent encampments in Venezuela.
Former governor Guillermo Castro, who left office in December
2003, asserted that Venezuelan officials visit these FARC
camps on a regular basis. Local representatives of the
Administrative Department of Security (DAS), Colombia's
FBI/INS-equivalent, described their cooperation with their
Venezuelan counterparts as limited, but generally positive.
Security Improving, but the Economy Lags Behind
10. (C) Before the election of President Alvaro Uribe, high
numbers of kidnappings, murders, and extortion attempts
discouraged residents from using the department's highways
and led many to abandon their farms and country homes for the
relative safety of the cities. According to local
politicians and law enforcement officials, however, security
in the department has improved dramatically over the past
year, encouraging intercity travel and the return of property
owners to rural areas.
11. (C) All municipalities in Cesar now have a police force,
and three 150-man "Carabinero", or rural mounted police,
squadrons operate in the department. Additional police have
been assigned exclusively to patrolling the principal highway
linking Valledupar with Santa Marta, on the Caribbean coast.
Kidnappings along the highway have decreased significantly
over the past year, a result of a larger police presence and
better coordination between the police and the military.
12. (SBU) Cesar's economy has suffered from the department's
previously tenuous security situation. Valledupar's mayor
estimated unemployment in the city to be about forty percent,
which is inflated by large numbers of displaced persons.
With security improving, local officials expressed optimism
about the economy, beginning with a revitalization of the