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 004959
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/24/2015 TAGS: PHUM PTER SNAR KJUS PINR CO SUBJECT: INDIVIDUAL DESERTION PROGRAM CREATING CONCERN
Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
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1. (C) Over 7,000 deserters from the illegal armed groups have entered the GOC's reinsertion program since Uribe took office. The Ministry of Defense controls the first phase of reinsertion when deserters are debriefed for intelligence purposes and given basic humanitarian assistance. Intelligence provided by deserters has been used in an estimated 40 percent of all security operations. The Ministry of Interior and Justice manages the second phase, a two-year program that provides housing, job training, health care, and social services. The program has improved since Uribe took office, but is under-funded and struggles to provide even basic reinsertion services on a timely basis. The majority of deserters are housed in Bogota. The Bogota Mayor's office has expressed serious concern about weak reinsertion services, heavy concentrations of deserters in a few neighborhoods, retaliatory attacks against deserters who provide intelligence, and a growing paramilitary presence in southern Bogota. The Mayor's Office has created a demobilization office to compliment and support the GOC's reinsertion program. End summary.
2. (C) Since President Uribe took office, over 7,000 illegal armed group members have deserted and entered the GOC's reinsertion program (this is separate, but similar, from the program for collectively demobilized paramilitaries). Desertions have continued at a steady rate. In the first four months of 2005, over 900 deserted, slightly more than during the same period the year before. More than half of the deserters are from the FARC, approximately 30 percent are paramilitaries, 15 percent are from the ELN, and the rest are from other minor groups. Antioquia Department produces the most deserters, averaging about 30 each month. Since 2004, the number of FARC deserters from Caqueta and Meta Departments, where the military is conducting an offensive against the guerrillas, has more than doubled to about 20 each month.
3. (C) The desertion program has two phases: after deserting, individuals are turned over to the Ministry of Defense, where they are given basic humanitarian assistance, housing, and debriefed for intelligence purposes. After this phase, which lasts about a month, they are enrolled in the Ministry of Interior and Justice's (MOI/J) reinsertion program, where they are given housing, job training, employment opportunities, and a monthly stipend of approximately USD 150. Most of the deserters are housed in Bogota, but the GOC recently established shelters in Medellin, Cali, and other major cities. During reinsertion, the Prosecutor General's office verifies that the deserters are not implicated in any serious crimes. If so, they are pardoned under Law 782 for membership in an illegal armed group and connected minor crimes. Those implicated in unpardonable crimes (i.e., violent crimes or drug trafficking) are processed under the normal criminal code.
4. (C) Funding is tight. The Embassy's Narcotics Affairs Section provides technical support and some funding to the Ministry of Defense's part of the program. The Dutch, Swedish, and Japanese governments are giving limited support to the MOI/J's program. The MOI/J's 2005 reinsertion budget for both deserters and collective demobilizations is CP 71 billion (approximately USD 29.5 million) and the Defense Ministry's desertion budget is CP 28 billion (approximately USD 11.6 million). According to MOI/J reinsertion director Juan David Angel, this leaves the GOC with enough funding to cover basic reinsertion services but not enough for employment generation projects.
5. (C) According to the Ministry of Defense, some 40 percent of military operations have used intelligence provided by deserters. For example, the seventh and tenth mobile brigades in the Plan Patriota area of operations recently dealt the FARC's first front a serious blow using deserters as guides or informants. At least 15 first front members were captured in the past few weeks.
6. (C) The Bogota Mayor's office has voiced concerns about the reinsertion program. Bogota has approximately 3,500 deserters and at least several hundred collective demobilized. When immediate family members are included, there are over 8,000. The vast majority of deserters are housed in 75 shelters throughout the city. The collective demobilized and a small number of demobilized live in private residences. Publicly, Mayor Garzon has said the deserters are a time bomb because they are not being given adequate reinsertion benefits or sufficient incentives to remain out of criminal life. Privately, Garzon's staff told poloffs they had three principle concerns:
-- Poor MOI/J management: Garzon's staff asserted that the MOI/J reinsertion program was struggling to provide reinsertion benefits on a timely basis and did not have funding to conduct employment generation projects (Juan David Angel has acknowledged this). They expressed concern that the program did not track or monitor the deserters except by requiring them to report monthly to the reinsertion office to receive their monthly stipend, and that the deserters were returning to illicit activity undetected. At least 240 re-joined an illegal armed group in 2004. They also expressed frustration with the MOI/J's failure to notify them when collective demobilized were being placed in Bogota.
-- Heavy concentration in Bogota: the Mayor's office is worried that concentrating thousands of deserters, primarily in the neighborhood of Teusquillo, is a liability and does not discourage deserters to break all ties to illegal armed groups. They were pleased that the GOC had begun placing deserters in other major cities such as Cali and Medellin and said they were also urging the GOC to consult with them on future locations of Bogota shelters so they could be more evenly spread throughout the city.
-- Decree 2767: the GOC issued a decree detailing monetary compensation for deserters who provide intelligence on illegal armed groups. Although the Mayor's Office acknowledged that deserters provide valuable intelligence, they believe the decree will encourage too many to come forward and cause retaliatory attacks. They claimed that already there have been bomb threats against neighborhoods where deserters are housed.
7. (C) To complement the MOI/J's reinsertion program and improve coordination with the GOC, the Mayor's Office created a demobilization office in March. The office's three objectives are to (1) provide extra control and monitoring of deserters, (2) assist children of demobilized, and (3) provide assistance and monitoring after deserters depart the two-year MOI/J program. Progress has been limited so far. It has employed 60 demobilized as Transmilenio (the city's public bus system) guides, chefs, and public health care receptionists. It is training 50 more in office management at a local university, but has been unable to get private sector companies to hire them for mandatory internships. It estimates the deserters have at least 500 children. Over 400 have been enrolled in free public education and the Mayor's Office is working with the MOI/J to organize a day of public services for the children.
8. (C) The Mayor's Office envisions its program to be similar to the program run by Mayor Sergio Fajardo in Medellin. However, they noted that Bogota faces different challenges: the deserters are a more diverse group of rural ex-guerrillas and urban ex-paramilitaries, are not natives of Bogota, and face a constant threat of retaliation from their former commanders.
9. (C) The Mayor's Office is alarmed at growing AUC dominance in southern Bogota, especially the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of Ciudad Bolivar, Suba, and Kennedy. They said they had seen clear signs of paramilitary influence, including AUC graffiti, reports of AUC roadblocks, and recruiting efforts, especially among deserters. Murders in the first three months of 2005 grew by eight percent compared to the same period in 2004. According to the Mayor's Office the majority of those murdered have been gang members, prostitutes, drug addicts, and other delinquents the AUC wishes to eliminate.
10. (C) They noted that Bogota does not have enough police to prevent paramilitary incursions. Of the 14,000 police officers serving in Bogota, only 7,000 were armed and actively protecting citizens while the rest were in unarmed, administrative, or private security positions. The Peace Commissioner's Office and the National Police have pledged to work closely with the Mayor's Office but claim that common criminals rather than an organized AUC campaign are responsible for the increases in violence.
11. (C) Deserters run significantly more risks than those who collectively demobilize. They provide valuable intelligence and face the constant threat of retaliation from their illegal armed groups. The program has the potential to remove as many, if not more, terrorists from the battlefield than the AUC peace process.