This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 BOGOTA 003943
STATE PLEASE PASS TO PRM AND USAID/LAC/SAM
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PHUM PREF PREL SOCI CO SUBJECT: PRM'S A/S DEWEY'S VISIT TO COLOMBIA
This message is sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.
------- Summary -------
1. (U) PRM Bureau's Assistant Secretary Gene Dewey visited Colombia March 7-10. Most interlocutors agreed that there has been a significant reduction in the number of internally displaced persons since the Uribe Administration took office 18 months ago. Many cautioned, however, that this positive trend could be reversed if paramilitary demobilization negotiations break down or guerrillas launch major offensives. A/S Dewey encouraged the GOC and other donors to consider holding a consultative donors meeting with the World Bank or Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) to attract more multi-lateral assistance for social investment. He said PRM would try to maintain its current level of assistance to Colombia and work with the GOC to develop more emergency employment programs. A/S Dewey's meeting with PRM partner organizations is discussed septel. End Summary.
Project Site Visits
2. (U) A/S Dewey, accompanied by representatives from Community-Habitat-Finance (CHF), "Minutos de Dios" (CHF's implementing partner), the World Food Program (WFP), and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), visited several sites outside the city of Cartagena, Bolivar department. In La Rosera, A/S Dewey visited a school-feeding program organized by the WFP in a temporary, CHF-constructed school building. Last year, local parents constructed two schoolrooms with CHF resources.
3. (U) A/S Dewey visited "Minutos de Dios," an NGO affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, where he met with recently displaced persons. None expressed any desire to return to their homes. In Maria La Baja, where the CHF is funding a self-help construction program for 79 displaced families on land donated by the local Catholic priest, A/S Dewey met with community leaders and a representative of the mayor's office. The internally displaced persons (IDPs) are building their own houses, planting gardens and trees, planning bridge construction, and making sanitary improvements. The CHF discourages rural IDPs from fleeing to urban centers, and instead to tries to channel them to safe rural communities where they can better use their skills. The Governor's office has already offered CHF a number of additional plots outside Cartagena to replicate this model IDP community.
4. (U) In Turbaco, A/S Dewey visited a cooperative childcare facility funded by UNHCR and supported by the League of Displaced Women. IDP women manage the center, where they care for children of IDPs who are working or receiving training. After eight years of operation, the center is finally able to pay its caregivers and recently received a deed to its property. A/S Dewey also visited Lomo de Peye, in the La Maria hills above Cartagena, where he saw a school constructed by CHF and a feeding program supported by WFP.
Dewey meets UNHCR Reps from Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama
5. (SBU) A/S Dewey met with UNHCR/Colombia representative Francisco Galindo, UNHCR/ROVEN (Regional Office/Venezuela) representative Virginia Trimarco, and UNHCR/Panama representative Gonzalo Vargas Llosa. All three representatives noted the importance of USG financial and political support for UNHCR programs in Colombia and neighboring countries, but stressed the need for diplomatic support from the international community. They added that PRM RefCoord's presence in the region has been key in helping their work.
6. (SBU) Galindo noted that UNHCR began its Colombia operations in July 1998 with the opening of its Bogota office at the GOC's invitation. He said its relationship with the GOC's Social Solidarity Network ("Red de Solidaridad Social," or RSS) is very good, both in Bogota and outlying regions. Galindo agreed that the director of the RSS has good intentions, is open to ideas, and is close to President Uribe, but added that he lacks the necessary resources and cooperation from other GOC agencies to effectively address the needs of IDPs. The GOC needs to find a comprehensive approach that balances security and humanitarian concerns. He highlighted that increased security has not created additional problems, as in other countries. The Colombian military does not threaten refugees; the problem remains the terrorists. Galindo also noted that although forced displacements have fallen, there is no guarantee that this trend will continue. UNHCR made a plea that USG funds for UNHCR be earmarked for Colombia to make sure they reach the Bogota office. For 2004, Geneva has allocated USD 5.6 million for Colombia operations. (UNHCR Colombia requested USD 7.2 million). In 2003, the Colombia program received USD 6.0 million.
7. (SBU) Trimarco noted that Colombia's problems spill over its borders. Displaced Colombians often cross into neighboring countries, settling in poor border communities or nearby urban centers, where they face discrimination and suffer from limited access to basic services. UNHCR Venezuela has seen its workload increase 600 percent since
2001. UNHCR's assistance has included legal aid (registration and documentation), humanitarian assistance, information campaigns, and protection networks.
8. (SBU) Vargas said there are less than 800 recognized refugees and 600 Colombians under temporary protection in Panama. UNHCR helps this community with legal advice for asylum seekers, aid for refugees, temporary protection in the border region, and quick impact infrastructure projects. Panama broke off from the UNHCR/ROVEN office in April 2003 and opened a separate office in October for six months (an extension agreement may be signed early next month). Over the last five months, there has been a small improvement in the GOP's attitude towards UNHCR and a greater willingness to abide by international standards regarding Colombian refugees. The GOP's decision to strengthen its National Refugee Office (ONPAR) has also been positive. However, the overall situation regarding asylum in Panama remains poor, and Panama continues to be preoccupied by security concerns about Colombians crossing the border. The GOP's national refugee legislation is also below international standards. Moreover, its Refugee Eligibility Commission met recently for the first time since 2002 and rejected seven of nine asylum applications. Other challenges include improving the legal refugee framework and shifting emphasis from return to reception and stabilization at the border.
Meeting with ICRC
9. (SBU) A/S Dewey lunched with the ICRC's Chief Delegate in Colombia, Juan Pedro Schaerer, and his chief of protection, Max Frurrer. ICRC has a significant presence in Colombia, with approximately 60 expatriate employees, and constitutes the ICRC's largest program of direct assistance to IDPs. Schaerer briefed Dewey on coordination within the Red Cross movement (ICRC, the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) and the five foreign national societies operating in Colombia, including the American Red Cross. ICRC's cooperation with the UN, other humanitarian actors, and the GOC is excellent.
10. (SBU) The ICRC provided an excellent analysis of Colombia's internal conflict. It confirmed that mass displacements caused by illegal armed groups fell in 2003. In 2002, ICRC assisted approximately 179,000 IDPs while in 2003 the number dropped below 120,000. Schaerer attributes this drop to demobilization negotiations between the GOC and paramilitary groups. He said levels of individual displacement appear unchanged. Individual displacement, which is hard to track, is normally the result of direct threats to individual families, who are more reluctant to return home.
Meeting with IOM
11. (SBU) A/S Dewey met with staff from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which provides logistical support for the P-1 Refugee Referral program as well as implements IDP assistance programs with USAID funding. In FY03 197 individuals were accepted into the US Resettlement Program (USRP). In the first six months of FY04, over 200 individuals have been accepted. FY04's goal is 500 individuals. A/S Dewey noted that PRM is under significant pressure from Congress to increase the number of refugee applicants, and he would like to see more coming out of the Americas. The potential for expanding the USRP into Venezuela was discussed. The GOV established a Refugee Eligibility Commission late last summer and the Commission recently approved its first 47 cases. It was agreed that before expanding the USRP into Venezuela, the GOV's Commission must adjudicate more cases on a regular basis. If this happens, the USRP program could expand into Venezuela as early as mid-year, pending US Embassy Caracas concurrence.
12. (SBU) IOM is USAID's largest IDP partner implementing mid and long-term assistance programs. One area in which IOM has had particular success is helping IDPs to their original communities in coordination with the GOC's RSS. IOM is extremely cautious in determining which communities are viable for returnees. All of IOM's five pilot projects, which returned hundreds of families to their communities, have been successful. IOM and CHF have worked together to assist over 120 individuals who were repatriated from Panama to northwestern Colombia in the past four months, providing housing, sanitation, and productive projects for families that returned to the town of Jurado, Choco department.
Meeting with European & Japanese Ambassadors
13. (U) A/S Dewey met with European and Japanese ambassadors and charges d'affaires at the Ambassador's residence. Dutch Ambassador Teunis Kamper noted that the Uribe government has been the first to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis in Colombia. He raised the issue of the GOC's wariness of a UN Consolidated Appeal. The GOC was concerned that this would place Colombia in the same category as the Sudan and Angola. Kamper said the number of IDPs run from 2-3 million, but reliable statistics are hard to come by. There are, however, no organized refugee camps. He agreed that mass displacements are diminishing, but claimed that many communities are prevented from fleeing by illegal armed groups. The paramilitaries are responsible for the largest number of human rights and international humanitarian law violations. Kamper stressed that President Uribe deserved international support, and that the London declaration was an excellent vehicle to increase international cooperation.
14. (U) The European Community (EC) Ambassador noted European support in the social sector as well as in justice and institutional strengthening. They work very well with USAID and probably are doing as much as they can for Colombia. Swiss Ambassador said Switzerland has made important humanitarian aid contributions, including a tripling of its support for the WFP during 2002-2004. Clashes among illegal armed groups and government security forces cause most displacements. The Japanese ambassador said Japan sees more positive trends, thanks to Uribe. Japan is extending assistance through both bilateral and multilateral channels, including funds for libraries and USD 8 million to multilateral organizations. Sweden believes humanitarian problems are often best dealt with by a regional approach, and have recently funded a study of border problems through UNHCR. Unfortunately, UNHCR/Geneva is not supportive of the report's results and is withholding its publication.
15. (U) A/S Dewey noted the importance of a comprehensive approach and the need to deal with security dimensions and humanitarian issues together. He was aware of the GOC's resistance to a Consolidated Appeal, and suggested that the World Bank or Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) could be alternate mechanisms.
Meeting with the GOC's Social Solidarity Network, RSS
16. (U) Luis Alfonso Hoyos, Executive Director of the RSS, said the Uribe Administration has three priorities: (1) reestablishing a state presence throughout Colombia; (2) reforming the government; and (3) reactivating the economy. The GOC has accomplished much in its first 18 months, but still has much unfinished business. He cited specific accomplishments. For example, two years ago there were two million Colombian children who could not attend school because there was no space for them; the GOC has created 1.5 million new places for school children. In 1990, only 25 percent of the population had access to the public health system. Today, there has been a 60 percent increase in access, although 20 million people remain outside the state's health system. The GOC plans to add an addition 8 million individuals to the health system's roles over the next 30 months.
17. (U) After a steady increase of displaced persons averaging over 300,00 per year, the trend dropped by 53 percent in 2003. Hoyos attributed the decline to increased public security, both military and police. At the beginning of the Uribe Administration, 158 municipalities (equivalent to U.S. counties) lacked a police presence. Today, every municipality in the country has a police force. The recent demobilization negotiations with the paramilitaries have reduced the number of confrontations between paramilitary and guerrilla forces, which was a primary cause of displacement.
18. (U) Hoyos would like to see more land recovered for housing, improve schools and health centers, maintain a viable emergency response to displacement, and concentrate on the prevention. The GOC is also focusing on increasing government presence in communities previously controlled by paramilitaries and guerrillas. Education, health services, and employment will continue to grow as long as the economy remains strong. Hoyos welcomed A/S Dewey's suggestion to establish short-term emergency employment for IDPs.
19. (U) A/S Dewey congratulated Hoyos and the GOC on their accomplishments over the past 18 months. He cautioned that one of the worse errors that donors commit when they see improvements in countries in crisis is that they begin to reduce their levels of assistance. He hoped that PRM will maintain current levels of assistance to Colombia, and he said he will encourage other donors to do the same.
20. (U) A/S Dewey's joint meeting with PRM partner organizations is discussed septel.