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Viewing cable 06BOGOTA555, HARDBALL POLITICS BEGIN IN COLOMBIA'S ELECTION

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06BOGOTA555 2006-01-23 14:02 2011-03-02 12:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bogota
Appears in these articles:
http://www.elespectador.com/wikileaks
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

231432Z Jan 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BOGOTA 000555 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/20/2016 
TAGS: PGOV PTER CO
SUBJECT: HARDBALL POLITICS BEGIN IN COLOMBIA'S ELECTION 
SEASON 


Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood 
Reason: 1.4 (b,d) 

------- 
Summary 
------- 

1.  (C) Colombia's election season is in full swing, with all 
sides playing political hardball and displaying no sign of 
letting up.  Pro-Uribe parties expelled 5 candidates from 
party lists recently, apparently because of their 
paramilitary links, and additional expulsions from all 
parties (including the Liberals, who expelled one of their 
own) would not be surprising.  Pro-Uribe "Partido de la U" 
leader Juan Manuel Santos launched a serious attack on 
Liberal Senator Rafael Pardo, accusing him of illegitimate 
and possibly illegal FARC contacts aimed at defeating Uribe; 
the President's spokesperson later confirmed the allegations 
and said they had forwarded them to the Prosecutor General 
for further investigation.  Peace Commissioner Restrepo
summarized the evidence the Uribe Administration claimed to 
have against Pardo, and it does not amount to much (hearsay 
and a mysterious CD that no one appears to have seen), but 
Uribe's Communications Director Jaime Bermudez insisted the 
information warranted the prosecutor's attention.  Pardo
consistently and categorically denied the allegations and 
accused Uribe of playing dirty.  (On January 22 Uribe 
apologized to Pardo and said he was withdrawing the 
allegations against him.)  Curiously, the dispute has not 
resulted in a closing of the pro- and anti-Uribe ranks, as 
leading Liberal Party presidential candidate HoracioSerpa
has been silent (and is apparently annoyed at Liberal leader 
Gaviria's vocal support for Pardo in the dispute) and 
pro-Uribe leader of the "Cambio Radical" party, German Vargas 
Lleras, distanced himself from the initial Santos attack. 
End summary. 

--------------------------------------------- -------------- 
Uribista Parties Announce Expulsions for Paramilitary Links 
--------------------------------------------- -------------- 

2.  (C) In an unusual joint press conference January 17, Juan 
Manuel Santos and German Vargas Lleras, leaders respectively 
of the pro-Uribe "Partido de la U" (the U Party) and of 
"Cambio Radical" (Radical Change), announced they had removed 
from their legislative lists five candidates running for 
election in the March Congressional poll: three candidates 
from the U Party (DiebMaloof - Magdelana; HabibMerheg - 
Risaralda; and Luis Eduardo Vives - Magdalena) and two from 
Cambio Radical (Jorge Castro - Magdalena; and Jorge Caballero 
- Magdalena).  Santos told polcouns that he had previously 
removed two unnamed candidates from the U Party list. 
Neither Santos nor Vargas Lleras announced the reasons for 
the removal, but all five candidates dismissed on January 17 
are widely regarded as having paramilitary links.  The 
expulsions came shortly before a new Electoral Tribunal 
created by the Electoral Guarantees Law was to begin its work 
in scrutinizing the conduct of campaigns and candidates. 

3.  (C) Immediately following the joint press conference, 
pro-Uribe Senator Mario Uribe (the president's cousin) said 
his "Colombia Democratica" (Democratic Colombia) party had 
already accepted Merheg into its ranks and had not yet heard 
of requests from the other dismissed candidates but would 
consider them if received.  He was forced to back down within 
hours after the president's spokesperson announced that any 
party accepting the expelled candidates would automatically 
disqualify themselves from being considered part of the 
president's team. 

--------------------------------------------- ------ 
Gaviria Says Expulsions Limited, Throws Out Liberal 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 

4.  (C) Liberal party leader and former president Cesar 
Gaviria told D/polcouns January 19 the expulsions were 
welcome but limited to candidates from the Magdalena region 
and its environs, which he said was "territory of 
narcotrafficker Jorge 40."  In Gaviria's view, Santos and 
Vargas Lleras made a hasty announcement because they feared 
that the Liberals were about to denounce the Magdalena 
paramilitary links of the candidates concerned (Gaviria said 
he was in fact about to make the announcement).  Gaviria said 
there are much worse situations involving uribista candidates 
with paramilitary links in Cordoba, for example, and he 
expected further expulsions from pro-Uribe ranks.  Gaviria
praised the statement from the president's campaign that 
Uribe would not permit his allies to accept expelled 
candidates, but argued that Uribe would have had much more 
impact if he had made the statement personally rather than 
have it delivered through a spokesperson.  According to 
Gaviria, Mario Uribe's CambioDemocratico party list for 
Congress "is full of narcos and paras, it's a mafia list." 
Gaviria asked rhetorically how the president could permit 
support of this nature and said the Liberals would make more 
of the issue in the coming weeks. 
5.  (C) Gaviria had party problems of his own to deal with as 
he announced on January 18 that he had removed sitting 
Liberal Senator Vicente BlelSaad from the Liberal Party 
Senate list, following press allegations linking Blel to 
narcotics trafficking charges facing others in the U.S. 
Gaviria told D/polcouns that Blel met with him January 19 to 
protest his removal but was not overly forceful in doing so. 
(Gaviria also said he had received no calls from Liberals 
protesting the decision to remove Blel.)  Gaviria said he was 
unaware of Liberals with paramilitary links on party lists, 
but insisted they would be removed immediately if such people 
existed.  Gaviria admitted that there were "probably" Liberal 
candidates with links to different kinds of criminality, and 
said he would get rid of them as soon as any information came 
to light. 

----------------------- 
The Rafael Pardo Affair 
----------------------- 

6.  (C) In a somewhat bizarre twist, U Party leader Santos 
responded to a media question at the January 17 press 
conference by saying he was aware of information linking 
Liberal Party presidential candidate (and former Defense 
Minister under Gaviria) Rafael Pardo to an attempt to forge 
an unspecified electoral alliance with the FARC to ensure 
Uribe's reelection defeat.  Santos said the information would 
be forwarded to the prosecutor general for further 
investigation.  (Cambio Radical leader Vargas Lleras declined 
to associate himself with the Santos statement at the press 
conference; Gaviria told D/polcouns January 19 the media 
question was planted.)  Later that evening, a presidency 
spokesperson released a statement confirming Santos's 
information.  On January 19, Uribe's Communications Director 
Jaime Bermudez told polcouns Uribe was fed up with Gaviria's
andPardo's attacks on the peace process with the AUC and on 
the Justice and Peace law in Europe and the U.S.  Now that 
they had come into possession of "serious information" 
regardingPardo, Bermudez said, it was time for the public to 
hear "both sides."  (Gaviria told D/polcouns the Uribe 
campaign's attack on Pardo was motivated by anger at Pardo's
campaign against the Justice and Peace process.)  Peace 
Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo said the GOC's proof of the 
Pardo allegations amounted to two statements to Restrepo
personally, one by an unidentified person whose family member 
is held by the FARC, and one by an unidentified GOC 
interlocutor with the FARC.  According to Restrepo, the sum 
of the statements is that Pardo sent a CD to the FARC 
requesting a meeting with them and outlining the importance 
of defeating Uribe.  Restrepo said he knew the identities of 
the informants but would not release them publicly for 
security reasons.  Restrepo did not say he had seen or 
listened to the CD. 

7.  (C) Pardo has consistently and categorically denied the 
allegations of FARC contact, including minutes after 
Restrepo's statement.  He said there is no such proposal for 
a meeting or electoral arrangement with the FARC, either on 
CD, DVD, video, or in writing.Gaviria said Pardo assured 
him there was no truth to the allegations.  Gaviria accused 
Uribe January 18 of threatening democracy by authorizing the 
attacks on Pardo. 

8.  (C) On January 22 Uribe apologized to Pardo, withdrew the 
allegations against him, and asked for a private meeting with 
the Senator.  Pardo accepted the apology but declined the 
meeting, saying a cloud remained over his name because Uribe 
said he would withdraw the allegations only because he could 
not ensure the alleged witnesses came forward, not because 
the allegations were false.  Press commentaries January 23 
said Peace Commissioner Restrepo declined to supply Uribe 
with the names of the witnesses and instead offered his 
resignation, which Uribe declined to accept. 

------- 
Comment 
------- 

9.  (C) The political spats of the last few days mark the 
real start of Colombia's hardball election season. 
Presidential advisor Fabio Echeverri told the Ambassador 
January 19 that the campaigns will be tough and negative.  We 
would not be surprised to see additional expulsions, from all 
parties, since a number of professional politicians or 
would-be politicians are tainted with illegal or questionable 
activities of some sort.  With regard to the allegations 
against Rafael Pardo, Uribe had to apologize and withdraw 
them, apparently because he could not persuade Restrepo to 
supply the names of the witnesses.  Uribe was faced with 
crafting an apology that saved face and kept his Peace 
Commissioner in place.  Most commentators, including Pardo's
opponents, have regarded the allegations as unlikely. 
Curiously, the Pardo affair has not resulted in a closing of 
the pro- and anti-Uribe ranks.  Leading Liberal presidential 
candidateHoracioSerpa has been silent, and is apparently 
annoyed that Gaviria has rushed so eagerly to Pardo's
defense.  For his part, prominent pro-Uribe leader of Cambio
Radical, German Vargas Lleras (and Juan Manuel Santos's 
principal rival), has kept his distance from the attacks on 
Pardo.
WOOD