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05BOGOTA4146 2005-05-02 17:11:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bogota
Cable title:  

CODEL BURTON MEETING WITH PRESIDENT URIBE

Tags:   PREL PGOV SNAR ETRD CO 
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1. (C) Summary: During a working lunch with CODEL Burton,
President Uribe discussed the successes his government has
achieved in security, economics, and the fight against
narco-terrorists. He outlined broad, short-term goals in
support of his current policies related to demobilization,
drug eradication, and Colombia,s position on the FTA. Both
parties discussed concerns over the uncertainty of Ecuador,s
political situation. The CODEL expressed strong support for
President Uribe,s policies. Uribe began the meeting in
front of the press, asking the Minister of Environment to
comment on when the aerial eradication of coca would begin in
Colombia,s national parks. End Summary.



2. (U) On April 22, President Uribe hosted a working lunch
in Baranquilla for the members of CODEL Burton: Vice Chairman
of the Western Hemisphere Sub-Committee of the House
International Relations Committee Jerry Weller of Illinois,
Jim Moran of Virginia, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Ron Lewis of
Kentucky, Kenny Marchant of Texas, Joe Wilson or South
Carolina, and Darryl Issa of California (Chairman Dan Burton
and Representative Hinchey joined the CODEL on April 23).
The delegation expressed bipartisan support for Plan Colombia
and praised President Uribe,s leadership in the fight
against drugs and terrorism. For his part, President Uribe
told the delegation that he is proud that the U.S. is
Colombia,s &great ally8 and he thanked the Members for
their support.



3. (C) In addition to discussing bilateral issues, the
Congressional delegation expressed concern over the situation
in Ecuador. President Uribe said he shared their concern and
was waiting for the OAS report to give a "hint of legality"
to the change of government. Uribe said President Lula had
called to say he had agreed to grant Gutierrez asylum in
Brazil. Uribe added that he had not taken a call from former
president Gutierrez earlier in the day, but would be phoning
the former president after lunch with the delegation. Uribe
said the situation appeared to be stable and that any new
Ecuadorian government must begin with stability. Uribe said
the U.S. should reach out to the new government on issues
such as the FTA and the election of next OAS Secretary
General.



--------------------------


Great Strides on Security/Peace Process


--------------------------





4. (C) President Uribe began the lunch by checking off a
long list of his administration's accomplishments to improve
national security throughout Colombia. Noting that he had
been the target of two terrorist acts in Baranquilla during
his presidential campaign, Uribe said crime in the city had
declined 60 percent. He added that there have been no
terrorist attacks in Bogot in over two years, and no
kidnappings in the capital over the same period of time.
Uribe said homicides in Medellin declined 34 percent in his
first year in office, 42 percent his second, and 50 percent
in his current third year.



5. (C) Uribe told the delegation it is not easy to defeat
50,000 terrorists funded by illicit drug money. With
determination, however, Uribe said he was confident Colombia
will win. He noted that under his administration, 12,000
combatants have been taken off the battlefield ) 6000
deserters and 6000 demobilized from the AUC. He said his
government is willing to negotiate with any group willing to
commit to a cease-fire and talk peace. Uribe said the peace
process with the ELN was suspended because the group would
not agree to suspend kidnapping.



6. (C) Uribe said Colombia,s congress is developing a
framework for negotiations that will apply to all armed
groups, noting that all groups commit similar crimes. He
said the law must be balanced between justice and peace, and
that it cannot be a law of impunity in the name of peace.
Uribe added that the last peace process granted amnesty, but
the new Colombian Constitution no longer allows the
government to pardon crimes against humanity. Uribe declared
that those who commit atrocities must go to jail, but he
added that the sentences cannot be long, perhaps 5-8 years at
most. He said the criminals must forfeit their illicit
wealth and that the government will use these seizures to
provide reparations for the families of the victims of
violence. Uribe said the government would not negotiate
extradition as part of the peace process.



7. (C) Representative Issa complimented Uribe on his peace
process accomplishments, especially concerning the 6000
demobilized paramilitary members. Issa noted that winning
the hearts and minds of the combatants and the communities
where they live is key to continued success. Uribe responded
by describing the importance of developing a successful
resettlement program. He said his administration wants to
prepare the former combatants to quickly find legal jobs. He
added that as a result of initial resistance from the private
sector, the GOC will employ many of the demobilized in
support of public works. Uribe stated that 30,000 rural
families that once worked in the drug trade now work for the
government of Colombia, some as conservationists protecting
sensitive rain forest areas.



--------------------------


Stay the Course in the Fight Against Drugs


--------------------------





8. (C) President Uribe announced to the delegation that he
had signed over 280 extradition cases, mainly for criminals
bound for the United States. He added that his
administration is working to resolve problems with the
Supreme Court of Justice concerning the allowable length of
sentences, to further facilitate additional extraditions.
Representative Weller thanked President Uribe for his
government,s efforts in this area, acknowledging that the
President,s actions come with a political cost at home and
in the region.



9. (C) Uribe strongly promoted aerial eradication as a key
tool in the war against drugs. He said opium production went
down in 2004, although coca cultivation was up slightly.
Uribe added that, as a result of aerial eradication efforts,
the coca plants that have been re-planted in fumigated areas
are less mature and not as productive as the plants that were
destroyed by aerial spraying. Uribe stated that during
Secretary Rice's upcoming trip to Colombia, he would ask her

SIPDIS
to look for ways to bring two new wings of spray aircraft to
Colombia to increase Colombia,s aerial eradication capacity.
Uribe said he also supported strengthening the manual
eradication program in Colombia. He added that manual
eradication is not a replacement for aerial spraying, but
rather a compliment to the aerial eradication program.



10. (C) Before lunch began, President Uribe told a staked out
press corps that aerial eradication was helping win the fight
against drugs in Colombia. He went on to describe the
importance to his administration of spraying coca
cultivations in Colombia,s national parks. He then turned
to Environment Minister Suarez and asked her when spraying in
the parks could begin. Looking somewhat surprised, Minister
Suarez talked briefly about awaiting a decision on this
matter from the Consejo Nacional de Estupifacientes (CNE) and
other legal entities. Uribe urged her to move quickly on the
issue, and she agreed to do so.



--------------------------


Economic Trends Are Positive ) FTA Discussed


--------------------------





11. (C) President Uribe told the delegation that Colombia,s
economic situation had improved considerably under his
administration. He pointed to a reduced fiscal deficit,
reduced inflation targets (4.5-5 percent for 2005), and an
increase of around 30 percent in private investment growth
for 2004. Uribe said the constitutional amendment concerning
pension reform had passed through 5 of 8 required
congressional debates, and that he was optimistic the
amendment would be passed by June 20, when congress adjourns.



12. (C) On trade issues, Uribe said there is a political
debate in Colombia over the role of Colombia in a globalized
economy. The debate, he added, centers around the sensitive
issue of agriculture. Agriculture, according to Uribe,
represents almost 20 percent of Colombia,s GDP. Promoting
agriculture, he said, is also the best way to destroy illicit
crops. Turing to the issue of agriculture subsidies, Uribe
said he understands U.S. agricultural policy, and that he
would not ask the U.S. to abolish its subsidy program.
Instead, Uribe said Colombia would like a compensation fund
set up to subsidize Colombian production of five or six
sensitive agricultural products (he mentioned wheat, corn,
soy, sugar, rice, and cotton) that compete with U.S. products
receiving domestic support. Uribe said supporting these
products in Colombia is necessary to defeat terrorists and
eliminate illegal drugs.



13. (C) Representative Weller said the U.S. Congress
understands the sensitivity of the agricultural sector. He
told Uribe that the Congress is hopeful that the WTO will
soon move forward on a comprehensive approach to reducing and
eliminating agricultural subsides around the world, including
from the U.S., Europe, and Japan. He added that the U.S.
cannot unilaterally eliminate subsidies and still hope to
achieve a global WTO agreement on the issue. Representative
Issa told Uribe that transition time for sectors affected by
the FTA are important tools that can be used to ease
sensitive sectors into free trade realities. Weller added
that international education can strengthen trade
relationships and could be a selling point for those working
in sectors affected by the FTA. Uribe agreed and stated that
his political &stump speech8 included support for programs
that increased vocational education and used international
PhD programs to targeted research needs and develop new
curricula for Colombian academic institutions.



14. Comment: The tone of the meeting was very positive.
Representative Moran, complimenting Uribe, said Colombia is
pulling the region together, and that the GOC is viewed by
many as a model of mature democratic institutions. Uribe's
rejection of totalitarian rule and his success on issues
related to security and the peace process, Moran noted, have
generated a high level of popularity for his policies. The
bipartisan delegation expressed continued support for
Colombia's progress.
WOOD