Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Secret cable: Fidel Castro a "superb crisis manager" while Chavez cracks under pressure

This secret 2006 U.S. embassy cable says that the Hugo "mercurial Chavez" could become "even more unpredictable and radical" if Fidel Castro should fade from the scene.

VZCZCXRO6327
OO RUEHAG
DE RUEHCV #2367/01 2220226
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 100226Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5787
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 6884
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 5695
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES PRIORITY 1390
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ PRIORITY 2255
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 0500
RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA PRIORITY 1399
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO PRIORITY 3945
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 2340
RUEHSN/AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR PRIORITY 0966
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO PRIORITY 3695
RUEHAO/AMCONSUL CURACAO PRIORITY 0943
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 0582
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0430
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA PRIORITY 0912

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 CARACAS 002367

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

HQSOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
DEPT PASS TO AID/OTI RPORTER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/09/2016
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM VE CU
SUBJECT: CASTRO'S ILLNESS; IMPACT ON THE BRV, ON BRV-GOC
RELATIONS

CARACAS 00002367 001.2 OF 004

Classified By: Classified by CDA Kevin Whitaker for reason 1.4(d.)

Summary
-------

¶1. (S/NF) BRV reaction to the announcement of Castro's
illness and recovery directly mirrored that of the Cuban
regime. There is no reason to believe that the fundamentals
of the Cuba-Venezuela relationship -- with Venezuela
providing huge resource flows, and the Cubans providing tens
of thousands of "advisors" -- will change through the medium
term. Castro's absence from the scene will deprive Chavez of
an avuncular presence and a proven crisis manager, which may
increase Chavez' vulnerability. In the event of Castro's
permanent departure from the scene, the mercurial Chavez may
become even more unpredictable. Chavez may believe his
regime's survival is tied to that of a Castroite successor
government, and under a conceivable set of circumstances
might even be willing to deploy Venezuelan military assets in
support of a successor regime. Embassy believes this would
be an apt moment to warn the BRV against intervening in Cuba
during its transition. End summary.

Initial BRV Reactions to Castro Announcement
--------------------------------------------

¶2. (U) Initial Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (BRV)
reaction to the news of Castro's illness and temporary
hand-over of power has been limited to parroting the Cuban
line. Speaking on August 1 in Vietnam, Chavez seemed a bit
taken by surprise and uninformed, but said he had talked to
Cuban officials who assured him that Castro "would return to
his job in some weeks." The same day, the Venezuelan Foreign
Ministry announced that they "had received, with
satisfaction, news from Cuban authorities" that Castro was
recuperating. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel similarly
said that he spoke with his Cuban counterpart Carlos Lage and
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, who assured him
that the Cuban leader was recovering normally.

¶3. (S/NF) Chavez returned to Caracas on August 3,
apparently without stopping in Havana. SIMO reports indicate
that he had wanted to do so, but the Cubans waved him off,
fearing that his presence would undercut their efforts to
convey a sense of normality. Chavez got the point; during
his August 6 "Alo Presidente," Chavez said he had learned out
that Castro was up and talking, and expressed his confidence
that the Cuban leader would be back in action soon.
Interestingly, Chavez did not suggest he'd spoken personally
to Castro. Too, he engaged in a lengthy digression about his
appreciation for being able to meet and work with a hero from
his youth. Certainly it was not his intention, but this part
of Chavez' comments took on the tone of an elegy.

Speculation on Raul-Chavez Relations
------------------------------------

¶4. (C) Regardless of whether Fidel is alive or not, it
would appear that Raul will continue to play a larger role
than in the past. Public and other sources have included
speculation about the lack of chemistry between Chavez and
Raul Castro. While we question the reliability of such
judgments, because it's unclear to us the basis for reaching
them, they are worth being aware of. Americo Martin, a
former Venezuelan Communist close to the Castros in the
1970s, told El Universal that the younger Castro views Chavez
with distrust and caution. Former Venezuelan Ambassador and
ubiquitous international relations analyst Julio Cesar Pineda
told poloff August 8 that he has heard that Chavez is close
to FM Perez Roque, and VP Lage, who it would appear are going
to continue to play important roles in Cuba. Exiled Cuban
intellectual Carlos Alberto Montaner probably made the most
relevant observation in noting that Raul and Chavez lack the
emotional ties that bind Fidel and Chavez.

What Does it Mean for Venezuela?
--------------------------------

¶5. (C) While there are a number of unknowns in the
equation, there is no reason to believe much will change in
the bilateral relationship in the short to medium term. Both
countries derive benefits from the relationship. Cuba
benefits from the millions in oil and transfer payments for
services rendered; Venezuela benefits from the advice of
Castro and tens of thousands of "trainers" and doctors.
Apparent Cuban influence in Venezuela has grown dramatically,
to the point that opposition Venezuelans sardonically refer
to "Venecuba" or "Cubazuela" (both forms are acceptable).
Chavez relies heavily on Cuban advisors to implement programs
that are one of the keys to his political success. We assess
there could be as many as 40,000 Cubans currently in
Venezuela, managing, guiding, and implementing Chavez' social
missions (e.g., Barrio Adentro medical program, Mision
Robinson literacy program, Mercal state-owned grocery chain,
etc.) Rumors swirl about Cubans taking central roles in
sensitive government functions, including in Chavez' personal
security, the military, the National Electoral Council, the
national identification Office, even land titling offices.
None of that is going to change soon. The Bolivarian regime
is deriving political and organizational benefit from it, and
the Cubans are getting paid hard currency for it.

¶6. (S/NF) We judge that Chavez will also want to continue
Venezuela's generous petroleum support to Cuba, which we
currently estimate at 98,000 barrels per day, worth at least
$7 million a day, or $2.5 billion a year. SIMO reporting
indicates that Chavez directed that his staff find ways of
increasing resource flows to Cuba. We can think of two
motivations Chavez might have in increasing cash flow to
Cuba: first, to help a friend in need; the one thing he has
is cash, and he can give more of it. Second, it may also be
true that Chavez is looking to bump up transfer payments in
order to increase his influence in Cuba at this critical
moment. The economic assistance could become a problem,
however, if the egoistic, increasingly intrusive Chavez used
it to promote his own candidate in any ensuing power
struggle, prolonging the infighting and delaying a democratic
transition.

How Does Chavez Act if Castro is Debilitated or Dead?
--------------------------------------------- --------

¶7. (S/NF) Castro's prolonged convalescence or even death is
likely to cause headaches for the region and roil bilateral
relations. Some argue that Castro has had a moderating
influence on Chavez, and so he'll really let go if Castro is
gone. The predicate seems wrong to us. It's hard to see
much moderation in Chavez' recent behavior: open
interventionism and tendency to pick fights with leaders
throughout the hemisphere, his embrace of pariah states
(including especially the vote for Iran at the IAEA and the
apparent endorsement of the DPRK's July 4 missile launches),
and his government's relentless assault on basic freedoms
within Venezuela. It may be closer to the mark to observe
that Castro is one of the few people who could contradict
Chavez or give him news he didn't want to hear. We've
received numerous reports that Chavez is left surrounded by
yes-men, because he simply won't accept bad news or
criticism. The absence of Castro -- to Chavez, respected and
avuncular -- could make the mercurial Chavez even more
unpredictable and radical.

¶8. (S/NF) Over time, Chavez will probably move toward
assuming the mantle as (in Castro's words) "my successor to
advance social revolution." Chavez will need to work this
issue slowly, as he does not wish to suggest prematurely that
Castro is dead and inadvertently cause problems for -- or
with -- any successor Castroite regime. That said, Chavez
has neither the intellectual candlepower nor the
international environment to replicate Castro's rise to
international prominence. That doesn't mean he won't try,
and he'll play his best card -- oil wealth -- whenever he
needs to. And whatever the force of his arguments, his
checkbook is going to speak loudly.

¶9. (S/NF) We should be particularly mindful that Chavez
will be a committed advocate of the continuation of a
repressive regime in Cuba. Chavez has been on a losing
streak, with the electoral results in Peru and (it seems) in
Mexico; were Cuba now to turn toward democracy, Chavez would
be increasingly isolated as the sole radical leftist in the
hemisphere. Chavez may believe that the survival of his
regime is tied to that of the Castro regime.

¶10. (S/NF) There are some even more troubling scenarios
that one can play out in this regard. Chavez has said as
recently as this April that he'd be willing to spill
Venezuelan blood to save the Cuban regime (although he was
speaking about a U.S. invasion). Were there to be an
internal civil conflict in Cuba, we believe it possible that
Chavez would consider intervening militarily on the side of
pro-regime elements. It is not clear to us that such an
intervention would be militarily effective, but the presence,
or even threat, of a Venezuelan force in Cuba would have
important implications for Cuba and for us. Perhaps the most
likely scenario would have the Venezuelans providing lift
capability to loyalist troops; the Venezuelan Armed Force
(FAV) does retain some fixed-wing and rotary lift capability.
That said, a Venezuelan navy troopship regularly plies
between Venezuela and Cuba, and could conceivably be used to
move FAV troops to the island.

(11. (C) Comment: As noted in previous email traffic,
Embassy suggests that this may be an apt time to warn the BRV
against intervening in Cuba.)

An Achilles' Heel?
------------------

¶12. (S/NF) These are some fairly gloomy scenarios. We can
conceive how Castro's absence might actually make Chavez more
vulnerable. Hugo Chavez is a master tactician, regularly
assessing the domestic political situation better and faster
than the opposition, and making moves to box in his
democratic opponents. What Chavez is less good at is crisis
management. To take a recent example, Chavez' first instinct
to go to Castro's sickbed was wrong, because it would have
undercut the regime's "all is well" line. There are
historical examples, of Chavez cracking under pressure. In
both the 1992 and the 2002 failed coups, evidence suggests
that Chavez lost his nerve at key moments. His military
colleagues were willing to fight on in 1992 when he was holed
up in the Military Museum, but he surrendered them all. In
2002, a weepy Chavez was reportedly ready to sign the letter
of resignation and flee to Cuba. Castro has proved his worth
to Chavez as a proxy crisis manager. It was Castro who told
Chavez to fight on in 2002, and it was Castro who worked the
phones to reassemble a pro-Chavez consensus in the armed
forces. In 2004, as the recall referendum approached, it was
Castro who conceived and executed the "misiones" plan to buck
up Chavez' popularity. In Cuba, from the Cuban Missile
Crisis to Mariel to the Maleconazo to the Special Period,
Fidel Castro has proven himself to be a superb crisis
manager. Should Chavez confront a thorny crisis, especially
a domestic crisis, he may suffer significantly from the loss
of Castro's steady hand at his back. This, in turn, could be
an advantage for us in our efforts to urge a return to full
democracy in Venezuela.

No comments: