Saturday, December 4, 2010

2007 cable: No evidence for Venezuelan intervention in Bolivia

This secret cable says some Bolivian political activists' claims that Hugo Chavez is "the big bad wolf are over the top, but they are right when they express concern that Evo is getting advice from the Venezuelans and Cubans."

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07LAPAZ3153 2007-11-30 23:11 2010-12-03 21:09 SECRET Embassy La Paz

VZCZCXYZ0000
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DE RUEHLP #3153/01 3342314
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
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FM AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5844
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 7362
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 4730
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 8637
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 5864
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 3082
RUEHGE/AMEMBASSY GEORGETOWN 0486
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 3284
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 3718
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 5067
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 5719
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 0326
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0749
RUMIAAA/USCINCSO MIAMI FL
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC

S E C R E T LA PAZ 003153

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/28/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR VE CU BL
SUBJECT: VENEZUELA-BOLIVIA: HOW MUCH FIRE BEHIND THE SMOKE?

REF: A. LA PAZ 3013
¶B. LA PAZ 3119

Classified By: Ecopol Counselor Mike Hammer for reasons 1.4 b and d.

¶1. (C) Summary. A common cry among opposition circles is
that Hugo Chavez is pulling Evo's strings, particularly as
Morales forcefully pushes forward to adopt a new constitution
that would provide for indefinite reelection. Evo for his
part does nothing to hide his admiration for Chavez; on the
contrary he acts like a smitten school girl when he is with
Chavez and constantly touts their personal/ideological bond.
But, how much influence does Chavez have? Is Venezuelan
money buying loyalty within the Bolivian armed forces? Are
there sizable numbers of Venezuelan troops in country? Is
Venezuela smuggling arms into Bolivia? While it is difficult
to separate fact from fiction, there is little doubt here
that Evo listens to Chavez, and that the Venezuelan and Cuban
Ambassadors here play a central advisory role. We have heard
enough to indicate that Venezuela is impatient with the pace
of change in Bolivia and is pushing Morales hard to
consolidate his hold on power. The results of Venezuelan
December 2 constitutional referendum may impact Evo's
thinking on how he should proceed with a similar referendum
in Bolivia. End summary

Alleged Venezuelan Coaching on Constituent Assembly
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - -

¶2. (C) While the opposition sometimes exaggerates Chavez'
influence over Morales, Brazilian and Peruvian diplomats
based in La Paz assert that it is becoming increasingly
evident that Chavez is pushing Evo to follow Venezuela's
script. These diplomats recounted a GRULAC dinner hosted by
the Cuban Ambassador on November 26, attended by President
Morales (who arrived with the Venezuelan Ambassador), during
which Evo told the group that "there is no going back."
Morales expressed displeasure with how his MAS party handled
the Constituent Assembly process in Sucre but was vehement
that a new constitution must go forward. To the astonishment
of the Latin American diplomats present, the Venezuelan
Ambassador then launched into a 30-minute ramble about the
common history Bolivia and Venezuela share and how their
futures are linked.

¶3. (S) According to the Brazilian political counselor, an
"extremely reliable" source had reported that the Venezuelan
Ambassador was at an Evo cabinet meeting November 29 as the
MAS-led Constituent Assembly was proceeding in Sucre.
Apparently, when a couple of ministers expressed concern
about moving forward unilaterally with the Constituent
Assembly, the Venezuelan Ambassador urged that the government
go ahead. Comment: While we are quite skeptical that the
Venezuelan Ambassador would actually attend a cabinet
meeting, ROAL sources independently place the Venezuelan at
the Palace that day. Whether or not the Venezuelan
Ambassador actually attended the cabinet meeting, Evo meets
regularly with him and undoubtedly seeks his advice. End
Comment.)

Venezuelan Military Presence in Beni Department
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

¶4. (C) In a discussion with Peruvian, German, Argentine and
Brazilian diplomats here, all expressed concern about a known
Venezuelan military presence in the northeastern Beni
department (bordering Brazil). It is quite public and in
fact touted that a Venezuelan engineer company is building
levies around the Beni capital of Trinidad. Beni local
authorities are, however, convinced that the Venezuelans are
also training Bolivian military in special operations and
have sizable arms caches for a possible further deployment.
The German reported that without a doubt there is a
Venezuelan base in San Borja, but the other diplomats were
dismissive of this information and argued that the Beni
authorities tend to greatly exaggerate. We cannot confirm
that there is a "secret" Venezuelan base at that location and
suspect that the opposition is exaggerating and/or is simply
expressing concern about the Venezuelan military presence.
Our Defense Attach was told by the Mayor of Trinidad on
November 26 that there are 200 to 300 Venezuelans in
Trinidad. The group of diplomats affirmed that the number of
Venezuelans is about 300, but no one is completely certain.
We understand that the Venezuelans have exclusive control
over Venezuelan flights and cargo, and exercise an inordinate
amount of control over the military portion of the Trinidad
airport.

Beni on Venezuelan Mystery Flights:
We're Not Gonna Take It, Anymore
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

¶5. (S) Defense Attach also met with Trinidad Mayor Moises
Shiriqui following a meeting between Beni Department Prefect
Ernesto Suarez and Beni Mayors. The Mayor brought up the
0100 arrival of a Venezuela C-130 cargo plane at the Beni
airport November 24, which local authorities suspected was
shuttling arms. After unloading seven large wooden crates,
the plane immediately departed. Authorities told the media,
which were forced to leave shortly after the landing, that
the boxes contained medical supplies. (Note: We have not
been able to determine what is in the crates. End note.)

¶6. (C) Prefect Suarez announced publicly November 29 that
Venezuelan planes would not be allowed to land at Trinidad.
If provided advance landing notice from the government, local
authorities plan to block the runway with vehicles in order
to prevent any Venezuelan plane from landing or taking off.
(Note: Official Airport hours are between 0800 and 2200.
There is a history of opposition accusations the Venezuelans
are shipping in arms, perhaps destined for nefarious
pro-government groups. The opposition also complained about
an early morning Beni stopover by Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez as an affront to Bolivian sovereignty. Ref A. End
Note.)

Will Evo Turn To Comandante Chavez?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

¶7. (C) The Peruvian political counselor was extremely
concerned that Venezuela, at Evo's invitation, would
intervene militarily in Bolivia to back Morales should he be
unable to exercise control over the opposition departments of
Beni, Pando, Tarija and Santa Cruz. The Peruvian believes,
and the Brazilian agreed, that the rank-and-file military
will not/not use lethal force against fellow Bolivians. We
too share this assessment (Ref B). The Peruvian and
Brazilian both commented that funds coming in from Venezuela
to the Bolivian military do not flow down from the senior
ranks, and therefore, there is much resentment. The top
military commanders, however, are opportunists that will
follow Evo's orders out of self-interest. In fact, Generals
Vargas, Bersatti and Trigo are reportedly fighting to stay in
their jobs, causing further disgruntlement among those who
would like to move into their positions. So, there are
strong indications that the military is split and could be
quite reticent to follow orders. Hence, with no Bolivian
military to enforce Evo's will, Peru fears he will turn to
Chavez.

Chavez Stirs the Pot
- - - - - - - - - -

¶8. (SBU) Chavez's November 27 statement that the U.S.
"empire" is "promoting violence" in order to overthrow the
Morales administration builds on a constant barrage of
inflammatory statements indicating a willingness, or perhaps
an eagerness, to send Venezuelan troops to Bolivia to bolster
his erstwhile ally. Chavez's October 14 threat to turn
Bolivia into Vietnam should "oligarchs" attack Morales
provided the opposition with traction for long-standing
complaints of Venezuelan "imperialist" designs. Morales
defended the remarks in November 4 magazine article. Both
leaders reiterated and expanded upon the Vietnam remarks
during their November 10 addresses at the Ibero-American
Conference in Chile, where Chavez warned Bolivian supporters
of the United States ("pitiyanquies") that any attempt to
remove Morales would be met with "a thunder of rifles and
machine guns." Questions over possible Venezuelan
involvement in the October 18 Bolivian military takeover of
Santa Cruz's Viru Viru Airport further ignited criticism of
the Bolivian-Venezuelan relationship. Venezuelan
"imperialism" has stayed in the headlines since, fed by
heated exchanges between opposition and government officials,
an alleged attack on the Venezuelan consulate in Santa Cruz,
and a scandal involving $11 million in missing Venezuelan
micro-credit loans.

Comment
- - - -

¶9. (C) The opposition's cries of Chavez the big bad wolf are
over the top, but they are right when they express concern
that Evo is getting advice from the Venezuelans and Cubans.
With checks and doctors, the Venezuelan and Cuban ambassadors
are doing what they can to bolster Evo and push his change
program. For example, it is estimated that Evo has
distributed around $60-80 million in Venezuelan checks to
municipalities since he came to office. That said, beyond the
financial support and advisory role, we find little hard
evidence to support the prospect of actual Venezuelan
military intervention in Bolivia. The opposition will
continue to point to Chavez to discredit Evo and are hoping
that a victory for the "no" vote in Venezuela's referendum
will give Evo pause about proceeding with his. Likewise, the
opposition fears that if Chavez wins, he will embolden Evo to
push ahead
GOLDBERG

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