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Viewing cable 09BOGOTA542, MILITARY'S HUMAN RIGHTS INITIATIVES MEET RESISTANCE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09BOGOTA542 2009-02-20 13:01 2010-12-08 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bogota
VZCZCXYZ0030
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #0542/01 0511351
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 201351Z FEB 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7167
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8660
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 1682
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 7015
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 3036
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 7723
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 000542 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/20/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM MOPS MCAP KJUS CO
SUBJECT: MILITARY'S HUMAN RIGHTS INITIATIVES MEET RESISTANCE 

REF: A. 2008 BOGOTA 4165 
B. BOGOTA 0401 

Classified By: Political Counselor John Creamer 
Reasons 1.4 (b and d) 

SUMMARY 
-------- 
1. (C) The Defense Ministry (MOD) continues to step up 
investigations into reports of murders committed by Army 
personnel, and has fired fifty-one officers and enlisted men 
implicated in the incidents--including 27 dismissed as a 
result of the Soacha murders. The MOD is also working to fix 
breakdowns in intelligence, operational planning and 
logistics that contribute to human rights abuses, as well as 
to implement clearer rules of engagement. Still, some senior 
military officials continue to resist the MOD's efforts, 
arguing that human rights concerns are overstated and that 
the new policies are harming the war effort. Army Commander 
General Oscar Gonzalez has impeded investigations of abuses 
by limiting the mandate of the Army Inspector General. With 
Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos likely to depart soon to 
launch his presidential campaign, senior military and 
civilian officials say it is key that President Uribe appoint 
a Minister equally committed to human rights if the current 
progress is to be maintained. End Summary 

MOD IMPLEMENTS CORRECTIVE MEASURES 
---------------------------------- 
2. (C) Since October 2008, the MOD has dismissed fifty-one 
officers and enlisted men implicated in extrajudicial 
killings: 27 Army personnel were fired in October 2008 for 
the Soacha killings; 13 more were dismissed in November 2008 
for murders in Cordoba; and 11 others were dismissed from La 
Popa Battalion in January 2009 for killings in Cesar. In 
addition to the investigations, the MOD is implementing the 
15-point plan announced by MOD Santos in November 2008 to 
improve the military's human rights record and deter abuses 
(see reftel A). The MOD is developing clearer rules of 
military engagement and is designating those criminal bands 
that are legitimate military targets and those that should be 
subject to law enforcement action. The GOC also modified an 
internal directive regulating rewards payments to informants 
to avoid situations such as the "Rojas" case where the GOC 
paid for FARC Secretariat member Ivan Rios' hand (and later 
his corpse). 

IG'S MANDATE LIMITED 
-------------------- 
3. (C) Army Inspector General (IG) Major General Carlos 
Suarez, who was made IG by MOD Santos with the specific 
mandate to investigate extrajudicial killings, told us on 
February 13 that he and two trusted members of his team are 
the only personnel who investigate alleged murders committed 
killings by Army personnel. The investigations follow the 
model used by Suarez in investigating the Soacha murders, and 
examine the operational, intelligence, logistical and 
administrative components of supposed military operations. 
Suarez clarified that his role is not criminal or 
disciplinary, but rather administrative. He cannot dismiss 
any personnel on his own, and can only make recommendations 
to the Army Commander, Armed Forces Commander, or the MOD. 
For example, he recommended that 28 Army officers and other 
personnel be dismissed from the Popa Battalion due to their 
alleged roles in killings in Cesar, but Army Commander Oscar 
Gonzalez approved the removal of only 11 officers. 

PROBLEM WIDESPREAD AND BAD TACTICS 
---------------------------------- 
4. (C) Suarez said the extrajudicial execution problem was 
widespread. He stated that the Soacha phenomenon originated 
in the 4th Brigade in Medellin (commanded at one time by both 
former Army Commander Mario Montoya and current Army 
Commander Oscar Gonzalez). The practice later spread to 
other brigades and commands in the region, including the 
Joint Caribbean Command. Suarez said the insistence by some 
military commanders on body counts as a measure of success 
despite MOD directives to the contrary--coupled with some 
commanders' ties to criminals and narcotraffickers--led to 
the specific pattern of murders committed in the Soacha and 
other cases. He noted that the body count system--and the 
resulting murders--not only undermined the Army's legitimacy, 
but also created a false illusion of success. As a result, 
the "false positives" diverted resources and attention away 
from the main fight against the FARC. 

SENIOR LEVEL RESISTANCE TO CHANGE 
--------------------------------- 
5. (C) Suarez said he continues to enjoy the support of MOD 
Santos, Vice Minister of Defense Sergio Jaramillo, and Armed 
Forces Commander Freddy Padilla. Still, he faces resistance 
from some active duty officers supported by a group of 
retired generals and right-wing politicians. Suarez noted 
that he was imposed on Army Commander Gonzalez by Padilla, 
and that Gonzalez opposes his work. He acknowledged that 
Gonzalez tried to intimidate witnesses not to testify about 
murders committed by the 11th Brigade in Sucre, and said 
Gonzalez tries to limit his office's resources.
XXXXXXXXXXXX echoed Suarez's comments, 
noting that Gonzalez has transferred personnel from Suarez's 
office, reduced his bodyguard contingent, and tried to 
restrict the IG's mandate. Suarez added that his family has 
received indirect threats due to his work. His staff is 
searching for an email allegedly circulating within the 
military which shows photos of the members of the MOD 
Commission that investigated the Soacha murders with X's 
drawn through them. 

6. (C) Beyond the military, Suarez said retired generals such 
as Montoya and former 17th Brigade Commander Rito Alejo del 
Rio are working with right-wing politicians like former 
Minister Fernando Londono to undercut Santos' human rights 
initiatives. He cited a February 12 "El Tiempo" Op-ed in 
which Londono complained that the dismissals over the 
so-called "false positives" had emasculated the military, 
leaving officers too scared to conduct operations and 
returning the tactical initiative to the FARC. Jaramillo 
told us that some officers are mounting a campaign involving 
legal action, intimidation, and slander to harass those 
officers and civilians committed to cleaning up the Army. 
Jaramillo noted that former Colonel Mejia--who faces criminal 
charges for his role in the La Popa murders--has filed 
complaints with the Inspector General's Office (Procuraduria) 
against him and Prosecutor General Human Rights Office 
director Sandra Castro for allegedly forcing witnesses to 
testify against him. 

BATTLE OVER URIBE'S EAR 
----------------------- 
7. (C) Suarez observed that President Uribe continues to view 
military success in terms of kills, leaving him susceptible 
to the arguments of some military officers and politicians 
that the MOD's emphasis on human rights is overstated and is 
harming the war effort against the FARC. Jaramillo confirmed 
that the group's arguments are gaining some traction with 
Uribe. Suarez said the President needs to understand that 
the previous enemy combat death reports included many 
non-FARC, creating a misleading view of progress and 
promoting both bad tactics and officers. 

8. (C) Suarez and Jaramillo discounted charges that the 
Soacha investigations and other MOD human rights initiatives 
are discouraging military operations against the FARC, noting 
that the Army units which have achieved the greatest results 
against the terrorist group were not involved in the murders. 
Suarez said Army Operations Chief Major General Carlos 
Saavedra agrees that the human rights impact on operations 
has been minimal (Embassy's own analysis supports Suarez and 
Saavedra's conclusions. See reftel B). Still, Suarez and 
Jaramillo said that with MOD Santos likely to depart soon to 
launch his presidential campaign, President Uribe's choice of 
the next MOD will be key. If the next MOD does not share 
Santos' strong human rights commitment, the progress achieved 
to date could be reversed. 
BROWNFIELD