Caracas, December 14th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – A secret US diplomatic cable posted 9 December 2010 on the whistleblower website Wikileaks revealed discussions of an intricate and detailed plan to use diplomatic, military, and economic power to counter Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s influence in Latin America.
In the 2007 cable titled, “A Southern Cone perspective on countering Chavez and reasserting US leadership,” US Ambassador to Chile Craig Kelly advocates increased intelligence activity, funding to civil society groups, high-level diplomatic visits, and expanded military aid to countries in the region. The opening paragraph states that the cable is “part two” of a series of cables on the subject.
“It would be a mistake to dismiss Hugo Chavez as just a clown or old school caudillo,” the cable says. “To effectively counter the threat he represents, we need to know better his objectives and how he intends to pursue them. This requires better intelligence in all of our countries,” Ambassador Kelly writes in a section titled “know thy enemy.”
The ambassador recommends more frequent high-level diplomatic visits with both US-friendly and adversarial governments. On these visits, the officials should “be seen not just with government officials and elites, but also with those who have been marginalized or are on the fringes of society,” the cable says.
The US should also identify and strengthen ties with those leaders in the region who are “rubbed the wrong way,” or feel their own power threatened, by President Chavez’s influence, the cable states.
Ambassador Kelly also highlights Brazil’s “openness to the global community” and “mature engagement with both its neighbors and the US,” as well as Chile’s desire to “integrate more fully into the global economy,” as examples that should be fostered and promoted as alternatives to Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution.”
To win over more “complex” countries such as Argentina, the US should help Argentina “regain access to international financial markets” in order to counter Venezuela’s offers of financial aid to assist with infrastructure development and other projects.
“This needs to be complemented by engaging actively with civil society and key non-economic actors in the government on areas of shared concern (anti-crime, anti-terror, peacekeeping, etc.),” the cable recommends. Such an engagement can yield examples of the positive effects of engagement with the US, especially in countries that “are vulnerable not so much to Chavez’s ideology but to his petrobolivars,” the cable affirms.
In addition, the US should make it very clear that if Venezuela is admitted to the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), it will “torpedo US interest in even considering direct negotiations with the trading bloc.”
Ambassador Kelly emphasizes the need to engage in a “battle of ideas and visions” by disseminating “the truth about Chavez — his hollow vision, his empty promises, his dangerous international relationships starting with Iran.”
The US should not be the main voice behind these critiques; rather, “the NGO community and local civil society groups, the region’s leaders and international organizations, the UN and OAS in particular, must assume a greater role in addressing this problem and put Chavez on the defensive,” the cable says.
A media effort must be launched to emphasize “corporate citizenship” and the “social responsibility among corporations and investors as a US government priority,” and shine light on the free trade “success stories” that have benefited people living in poverty, the cable explains. It also must greatly increase funding to projects that address local needs in order to counter President Chavez, who “isn’t waging his campaign simply on rhetoric. He is investing millions in his campaign for the hearts and minds.”
In an apparent allusion to the US’s history of alliances with military dictatorships in the region, the cable asserts that “Southern Cone militaries remain key institutions in their respective countries and important allies for the U.S.” The US should increase funding for international military aid and education programs and take advantage of Southern Cone countries’ desire to modernize their armed forces using US technology, Ambassador Kelly states.
Mr. Kelly served President George W. Bush as ambassador to Chile between 2004 and 2007, and he currently serves as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, a post he has held since September 2007, according to the State Department website.
Other cables that were either posted recently on the Wikileaks website or leaked by newspapers that were given advanced access to the material reveal more about actions by US allies in the region aimed at countering Chavez.
A cable from the US Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia in December 2007 reported that former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, a staunch US ally, compared “the threat Chavez poses to Latin America to that posed by Hitler in Europe.”
In a January 2008 cable, Uribe was reported to have recommended that the US initiate a “public campaign against Venezuela” in collaboration with Mexico, Honduras, Panama, Belize, and Costa Rice, in order to counter Chavez’s “Bolivarian expansionist dreams” and to punish the Venezuelan president for not categorizing Colombian leftist guerrilla armies as terrorist organizations.
Uribe also believed that military action was among the acceptable means to counter Chavez, and that “[Uribe] was prepared to authorize Colombian forces to cross into Venezuela, arrest FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] leaders, and bring them to justice in Colombia,” according to the Spanish newspaper El País, which leaked the cables.
Shortly after the January 2008 cable, Colombia sparked a regional diplomatic crisis by bombing an insurgent FARC encampment in Ecuadorian territory.
Similarly, Venezuelan Archbishop Baltazar Porras asked the US government to step up its campaign against Venezuela to “contain the regional aspirations” of President Chavez, according to a January 2005 cable that was posted by Wikileaks on Sunday.
Porras offered to lead joint efforts by the US, the Catholic Church, and the private business sector in Venezuela to win over poor communities that benefit from the Venezuelan government’s programs, according to the cable written by then US Ambassador William Brownfield.
President Chavez was democratically elected to the presidency in 1998 and again with a record number of votes in 2006. His government advocates the construction of “21st Century Socialism,” participatory democracy as an alternative to representative democracy, and Latin American integration independent of US-backed free trade policies.