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Viewing cable 09BOGOTA3405, COLOMBIA IN THE POLITICAL DOLDRUMS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09BOGOTA3405 2009-11-17 18:46 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bogota
VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #3405/01 3211846
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 171846Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0961
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0199
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA
C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 003405 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/11/17 
TAGS: PREL PGOV KJUS CO
SUBJECT: COLOMBIA IN THE POLITICAL DOLDRUMS 
 
REF: REF: A) BOGOTA 3373; B) BOGOTA 3347; C) BOGOTA 3271 
D) BOGOTA 3335; E) BOGOTA 3043; F) BOGOTA 3145; G) BOGOTA 1506 
H) BOGOTA 1975 
 
CLASSIFIED BY: Brian A. Nichols, Deputy Chief of Mission; REASON: 
1.4(B), (D) 
 
Summary 
 
------- 
 
 
1. (C) Colombian politics have entered a holding pattern while 
President Uribe awaits the next step of his quest for a third term. 
Scandals over agricultural subsidies and illegal surveillance have 
slightly tarnished Uribe's popularity but public concern over 
Venezuela's saber-ratting may bump him back up.  Arrayed against 
Uribe's formidable popular support are the weak but not irrelevant 
political opposition, the media and intelligentsia, and the 
politicized Supreme Court.  This stifled political debate on 
succession will continue until it is clear that Uribe can and will 
seek reelection.  End Summary. 
 
 
 
Elections, Interrupted 
 
---------------------- 
 
 
 
2. (C) As Colombia waits for the Constitutional Court to rule on 
legislation for a referendum to permit a third term for Uribe, the 
May 2010 presidential election campaign lacks a clear picture of 
candidates and platforms.  Since the Constitutional Court may take 
until March 2010 to decide on the legality of a referendum (REF A), 
pro-Uribe candidates cannot develop their constituencies or flesh 
out their platforms (REF B) without being seen as disloyal to the 
president.  Public support for Uribe's ideology means that 
opposition candidates' messaging receives little attention or 
support.  With Uribe as the presumptive frontrunner, no challengers 
can break away from the pack. 
 
 
 
3. (C) The timing of the Constitutional Court's opinion is critical 
for Uribe's strategy.  Most consider the Court's approval an 
inevitability, but a minority opinion holds that the Court may rule 
too late to permit a referendum.  The anti-reelection crowd will 
continue to raise legal and procedural objections in hopes of 
running out the clock on the referendum. 
 
 
 
Some Chinks, But Uribe's Armor Still Shines 
 
------------------------------------------- 
 
 
 
4. (C) Looming over this political twilight is Uribe's high 
popularity, which tends to vary between 65 and 70% depending on 
current events.  The clear majority of Colombians prefer Uribe for 
his focus on security and his steady hand at the helm.  Uribe 
equals certainty for most Colombians.  However, scandals continue 
to plague the President and may continue to shave some points off 
his approval ratings.  The most immediate scandal concerns rich 
Colombians receiving subsidies from a Ministry of Agriculture 
program, though former agriculture minister and current 
presidential candidate Andres Felipe Arias seems fated to bare the 
brunt.  The revelation of illegal surveillance and wiretaps of 
political opposition by Uribe's intelligence service, the 
Administrative Department of Security (DAS), continues to unfold, 
 
albeit more quietly in recent weeks (REF C).  Nevertheless, the 
ongoing crisis with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez will likely cause 
Uribe's poll numbers to rebound. 
A Loose Anti-Uribe Alliance 
 
--------------------------- 
 
 
 
5. (C) In Uribe's worldview, he is a political outsider from 
Medellin whose hard-line security policies are coming under attack 
from Bogota's elite, who, lacking popular support, have resorted to 
lobbing potshots from the media, the courts, and other state 
institutions.  For some in the opposition, Uribe represents the 
tyranny of the "Paisas" (as the Texan-like inhabitants of Antioquia 
are called).  For an even smaller and more extreme group, Uribe is 
surreptitiously legalizing the remnants of the Medellin drug cartel 
(REF E).  These are gross simplifications, but there is a 
noticeable disconnect between Uribe's popularity and the media's 
increasingly critical handling of the referendum (REF F). 
Undeterred, Uribe circumvents the Fourth Estate by holding weekly 
town hall meetings throughout Colombia.  And, Uribe's critics 
charge that the GOC is pushing pork barrel spending behind the 
scenes to support his reelection efforts. 
 
 
 
The Supreme Court: Opposition Redoubt 
 
------------------------------------- 
 
 
 
6. (C) While not identified with any opposition political party, 
the Supreme Court has emerged as an ally of those who oppose 
reelection.  The Court is wary of Uribe's influence increasing the 
longer he remains in office.  They are also bitter over years of 
public sparring with Uribe, made worse by allegations that Uribe 
advisors were pushing DAS to investigate certain magistrates for 
ties to narco-trafficking (REF G).  The Supreme Court has no role 
in the referendum process but can and is aggressively investigating 
criminal acts allegedly carried out by Uribe allies in the Congress 
(REF H). 
 
 
 
7. (C) Additionally, the magistrates have effectively co-opted the 
supposedly independent Prosecutor General's Office by refusing to 
select an Uribe candidate from a three-name list.  Keeping the 
Prosecutor General in an interim state, and filling his 
organization with officials from the court system, has allowed the 
Court to focus the Prosecutor General on key investigations against 
Uribe and the government.  For example, the Prosecutor General's 
Office is pressing ahead on the DAS scandal investigation, may 
bring indictments related to Uribe's first reelection bid, and has 
even revived a 1990s case against Vice President Francisco Santos 
for alleged meetings with paramilitaries. 
 
 
 
Comment:  Waiting for the Cloudburst 
 
------------------------------------ 
 
 
 
8. (C) The ambiguity of the current political landscape will 
continue until it becomes clear whether Uribe is able to and will 
seek a third term, a determination that may not come until March 
2010.  We cannot discount that legal objections to the referendum 
process will cause enough delay to derail the process.  Once 
determined, however, Colombia will either have to rush through a 
referendum/election process with Uribe or an abbreviated 
presidential campaign among the remaining contenders. End Comment. 
BROWNFIELD