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Cablegate: Venezuela's Growing Military Prowess and Claims

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DE RUEHBR #0313/01 0541439
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R 231439Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY BRASILIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8170
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RUEHRG/AMCONSUL RECIFE 6273
RUEHRI/AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO 3907
RUEHSO/AMCONSUL SAO PAULO 9267
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 0015
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BRASILIA 000313

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL BR XM SCUL
SUBJECT: VENEZUELA'S GROWING MILITARY PROWESS AND CLAIMS
AGAINST GUYANA WORRY FORMER BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT SARNEY

REF: 06 BRASILIA 2411

1. (SBU) Summary. Ambassador Sobel gave a dinner on
February 13 for veteran political figures that drew out
opinions on political reform, relations with the U.S., party
behavior, and grave concerns about a perceived growing menace
from Venezuela. Guests included a former president; the
president of the Senate and past justice minister; the
communications minister; a past president of the Supreme
Court, past justice minister and probable next leader of
Brazil's largest political party; the chairman of the Senate
committee on the Constitution, Citizenship and Justice; and a
prominent Green Party politician. Former president Jose
Sarney spoke at length about Brazil's security posture in the
region and his preoccupation over the threat of instability
along the northern border from irredentist Venezuelan claims
against Guyana. Sarney dismissed any cross-border threat
from Bolivia. Several participants urged the USG to increase
youth, educational, and international visitor exchanges with
Brazil. They underscored the importance of personal contacts
in fortifying the bilateral relationship. End summary.

Political reform

2. (SBU) Ambassador Sobel asked about the outlook for reform
in Brazil during the current congress (2007-2011). Senate
president Renan Calheiros implied the system needed to be
reformed by noting that Brazil's system of uninominal
elections is now almost unique in the world. Deputy Sarney
Filho criticized the system for its undesirable effect of
making candidates from the same party adversaries at election
time, since they have to run not only against other parties'
candidates, but against their own party colleagues to try to
get a large enough percentage of the vote to be elected.

3. (SBU) Ambassador asked Calheiros what major reforms could
also be accomplished now. Calheiros replied that earlier
that day (February 13) the Senate had approved legislation to
improve business conditions and the environment, and the
government had presented a reform program. This was a first
step, he said. He said that an ongoing problem is that a
project in one house of congress may not find receptivity in
the other house. Reform is needed, he said, "to guarantee
the country." He added that he hopes to see the passage of
new laws on regulatory agencies and the use of provisional
measures (MPs). His mention of MPs generated an animated
discussion around the table about what was wrong with
provisional measures and why they should be abolished.
(Note: A provisional measure is issued by the president, has
the force of law, but Congress can immediately strike it
down. If an MP is not approved or rejecte within 45 days,
Congress is forced to vote on the MP and nothing else can be
considered. For this reason, MPs can cause legislative
gridlock until Congress acts, while in the meantime the MP
has force of law. If no action is taken within four months
the MP expires, but the president can reissue it in the next
legislatve session. End note.) Calheiros also said there
is much work to do on the budget, as well as on he
consolidation of laws. He repeated the familar complaint
that some laws are passed, but do no "take" (nao pegam).
Continuing to point out how much work the Congress has before
it, Calheiros said over 200 supplemental laws are waiting to
be voted on by Congress.

4. (SBU) Ambassador Sobel offered to try to bring past
chairmen of our political parties to consult on political
reform, provided the Brazilians could develop an agenda to
put their talents to work. Sen. Sarney replied that he would
be willing to help organize such a visit. The Ambassador
also said he was interested in the Senate and Chamber of
Deputies television stations, and offered to bring U.S.
leaders to discuss how best to use them. The Ambassador said
he would also like to invite U.S. Supreme Court justices to

BRASILIA 00000313 002 OF 003


Brazil. Guests agreed this would be very useful. Nelson
Jobim also said Brazilians need contacts in the U.S.
Congress.

More Exchanges, Please

5. (SBU) Senator Jose Sarney, a former president of Brazil
(1985-90), said that in spite of much public comment that the
bilateral relationship is good, the missing element is
personal contact. He said ongoing personal contact between
Brazilians and Americans has been lost. He, Senator
Magalhaes and Minister Costa praised USG exchange programs.
Costa thought they no longer existed. Ambassador said we
still have an active exchange program and invited them to
advise him of deserving candidates. Sarney spoke highly of
youth exchanges and recounted that he had sent his children
and grandchildren on them to the U.S. and hosted a
participant from the U.S. Sarney Filho echoed the point and
said his son is studying at Purdue University. He said
university exchanges are important. There are many, many
Asians studying at U.S. schools, he said, and asked why there
are not more Brazilians. Ambassador mentioned that while
there are 100,000 Indians studying in the U.S. there are only
6,000 Brazilians. Ambassador noted he had discussed the
subject with Education Minister Fernando Haddad. Sarney,
Magalhaes and Costa recalled that they had participated in a
USG exchange for young leaders and it had had a great impact
on them.

More Engagement, Please

6. (SBU) Ambassador Sobel asked where the USG could be of
greatest help in terms of political reform. Senator
Magalhaes said Brazil needs more engagement (entrosamento) on
the part of the USG. He added that this would go a long way
to avoiding unnecessary antipathy toward the U.S.

Venezuelan Danger

7. (SBU) Senator Sarney made a lengthy exposition on
Brazilian history, including Brazil's historical admiration
for the United States, the U.S. influence on figures such as
Tiradentes and Ruy Barbosa, Brazil's preference for peace and
democracy, and, in his view, Brazil's resultant aversion to
hegemony in its foreign policy. Ambassador said he gives
Brazil much credit for its patience in the face of worrisome
developments in Venezuela and Bolivia. Sarney responded that
Brazil does not want to interfere in others' affairs.
Interference has a price to pay and Brazil does not want to
pay that price, he explained. Sarney continued by recalling
that military regimes have historically liquidated many
political classes, in some cases leaving only those who had
managed to live clandestinely. As a result, in Latin
America, when the era of military dictatorships ended, the
remaining political actors were mainly on the left. In
Brazil, he said, the country has the good fortune to have as
its president now a worker from Sao Paulo, a major urban
center. Compare this, he said, with Bolivia, which has as
its president a miner. Sarney then turned to Venezuela. He
predicted that in the long run the current leaders will be
gotten rid of and Venezuela will "go back to normal." But in
the meantime Venezuela is becoming a destabilizing military
power. He said he was especially concerned about Venezuela's
irrendentist claims on Guyana's Essequibo region. He said
two thirds of Guyana is rich in diamonds and Chavez will
cause trouble over an area of 170,000 square kilometers.
Essequibo is hard for a bellicose soldier to resist, said
Sarney, who predicted that conflict over the region was
inevitable. In that event, a burden will fall on Brazil's
shoulders, he said.

Venezuela, not Bolivia, Is the Threat


BRASILIA 00000313 003 OF 003


8. (SBU) Ambassador asked about Brazil's border with
Bolivia. Sarney said Bolivia would never present a danger to
Brazilian sovereignty. Returning immediately to Venezuela,
Sarney said the scenario he described with Guyana is a
realistic possibility. Ambassador asked what it would take
to get Brazil more engaged in Venezuela. Sarney responded
that Brazil must be careful and cannot spend the amount of
money Venezuela does on foreign programs. Chile has a
respectable military because it had prepared itself for war
with Argentina, while Brazil has not faced war for a hundred
years, he opined. (Note: Sarney must have meant a land war
on Brazil's borders, since he omitted its participation in
WWII, when its Expeditionary Force of 25,000 troops saw
action in Europe. End note.) Brazil has no outstanding
border issues, he continued. "The military issue is the only
one we have with Venezuela." He mentioned having been shown
shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall a document he
described as a U.S. military paper that forecast only two
possible major conflicts in the future in the Western
Hemisphere: one in Central America, and another related to
indigenous peoples in Brazil. Brazil had to direct its
military toward the north along the Amazon because of threats
from that direction, such as Sendero Luminoso, according to
Sarney. If Venezuela becomes a military state it will create
an imbalance and Brazil will have to safeguard its
sovereignty, Sarney said. But Brazil does not have the
resources, and will have to rely on the NATO umbrella, he
concluded.

Jobim: Parties Fail to Set the Agenda

9. (SBU) The Ambassador spoke in favor of reaching a
bilateral investment treaty with Brazil. Calheiros said the
government would take steps to simplify conditions for small
and medium enterprises. Nelson Jobim, apparently replying
more to Calheiros than the Ambassador, criticized the way
parties relate to the government. He said parties should
establish policy lines and make their participation in
government conditional on them, while as things are now,
parties only demand posts but attach no policy baggage. He
said his own party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party
(PMDB), does this. Parties should establish the agenda for
dialogue for the government, while now the government defines
the agenda for dialogue with the Congress, in Jobim's view.
Finally, he asked rhetorically when the PMDB had ever raised
the matter of bilateral investment treaties. Costa, also
from the PMDB, replied that the Senate Foreign Relations and
National Defense Committee still has many pending bills to
review.

10. (U) Participants:
U.S.
Ambassador Clifford Sobel
Dale Prince, Political Officer (notetaker)

Brazil
Jose Sarney, Senator and former President
Helio Costa, Minister of Communications
Renan Calheiros, Senator, President of the Senate, and former
Minister of Justice
Jose Sarney Filho, Federal Deputy, Green Party
Carlos Alberto Vieira, President of Safra Bank
Antonio Carlos Magalhaes, Senator and Chairman of the
Constitution, Citizenship and Justice Committee
Nelson Jobim, former Supreme Court President and former
Minister of Justice
Rodrigo Gabsch, diplomatic adviser to Senator Sarney

SOBEL

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