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Cablegate: Codel Engel Visit to Bolivia February 18-20

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INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 7603
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
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UNCLAS LA PAZ 000373

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

BA FOR CODEL ENGEL
H FOR JOEL STARR
WHA FOR SHELBY SMITH-WILSON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PBTS MARR OPDC OPRC OREP ECON ETRD
KTIA, KDEM, KTEX, IR, BL
SUBJECT: CODEL ENGEL VISIT TO BOLIVIA FEBRUARY 18-20

1. (SBU) Summary: Codel Engel, including Representatives
Green (D-TX), Hinchey (D-NY), Weller (R-IL), and Foxx (R-NC)
visited La Paz and Santa Cruz February 18-20. While in La
Paz, the Codel enjoyed an hour-long meeting with President
Evo Morales; met a cross-section of Bolivian politicians,
media pundits and business leaders at a dinner hosted by the
Ambassador; and visited a USAID project and a textiles
manufacturer, which is a beneficiary of ATPDEA. During a
brief stop-over in Santa Cruz, the Codel met with five of
nine department prefects (governors), representing the
political opposition. One of the prefects belonging to Evo
Morales' MAS party attended the dinner in La Paz but was
unable to travel to Santa Cruz with the other prefects. The
visit received extensive press coverage, focusing mostly on
Chairman Engel's and Congressman Weller's concerns that as
supporters of ATPDEA extension, the task becomes more
difficult if anti-U.S. rhetoric persists and if Bolivia
develops closer ties to Iran. Speaking for the entire Codel,
Chairman Engel and Congressman Weller expressed publicly that
the United States was interested in good relations with
Bolivia, supported Morales' efforts to alleviate poverty,
defended U.S. aid programs and the Embassy's work, and
expressed concern over anti-U.S. rhetoric and Bolivia's
relations with Iran. End Summary.

Morales: "Best Meeting I've had with a U.S. Delegation"
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2. (SBU) President Evo Morales, accompanied by Minister of
the Presidency Quintana, received Codel Engel at the
Presidential Palace for a cordial yet frank hour-long
meeting. Chairman Engel opened the meeting stressing that
the Congressional delegation came in friendship, wanting to
accentuate the positive in the bilateral relationship, and
with a willingness to move forward and work closely with the
Morales administration to help alleviate poverty. The
Chairman took the opportunity to express condolences for the
disastrous floods and highlighted U.S. assistance to the
victims, including the fact that Bolivia is the third largest
recipient of U.S. aid in Latin America.

3. (SBU) Morales described how Bolivia is undergoing
tremendous change through democratic means. He said his main
task is to work for people in need but that there were groups
who did not want to give up their privileged position.
Morales stressed that he is committed to a "dialogue of
cooperation" as he seeks to address social problems. Turning
to U.S. assistance, he said his objective is to make it
transparent. Flood relief was welcome, he added, pointing
out the assistance he had received from Venezuela, Brazil,
Argentina, Chile ) unconditional aid; that is what he wants,
also from the United States. Morales described his vision of
democracy; democracy advanced through consensus similar to
what he grew up with in his indigenous culture. The view of
democracy by the majority was an "imported" concept to
Bolivia, but Morales understood it and now he was prepared to
govern through referenda, letting the people decide. Morales
proudly noted he had just been recently reelected president
of his union, the coca growers, and said he hoped that the
Ambassador would not object.

4. (SBU) Morales expressed a desire for improved relations
with the United States, recognizing U.S. leadership in the
world even if he did not agree with the American economic
philosophy. "We do not want external opposition," he added.
He made the point that the indigenous were the most
discriminated peoples in the world, some have tried to
"exterminate us...even today groups oppose the indigenous and
perhaps it is because they are jealous, resent us." Morales
noted he would like to be received by President Bush, adding
that he "wants excellent relations." He then complained
about the treatment his Ministers have received entering the
United States. "We are not terrorists," he stressed.
Morales said he wants to transform the country and to do it
through democratic means. He added that he understood he
needed to change the established norms in Bolivia and that he
planned to do it through legislation in Congress. He
identified corruption as a top priority and that he was
committed to rooting it out of government. Morales noted
that the attitude in Bolivia has always been to take
advantage of one's time in office to profit personally.
Morales highlighted that the first enemy of Bolivia was not
"neoliberalism" but rather corruption. His goal, therefore,
is a transparent government.

5. (SBU) Chairman Engel noted that harsh things have been
said by both the United States and Bolivia, and that what he
hoped for was a new start. Engel remarked that many elected
U.S. representatives admire what Morales has been trying to
do to help the indigenous people. "We want to help you to
help your people," the Chairman said. The United States and
Bolivia need to work through their differences, added Engel.
The Chairman then highlighted that his entire delegation
supports ATPDEA extension and that while he supported a
two-year extension, it looked like the extension would be for
ten months. Engel then presented Morales with a copy of a
letter, co-signed by 27 other house members, which he had
sent to Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rangel urging
long-term ATPDEA renewal.

6. (SBU) Congressman Weller noted he was a friend of Latin
America and a friend of Bolivia. He shared Morales' goal of
lifting those in poverty and praised the work of USAID, which
he had seen first hand earlier in the day in a visit to the
Catholic University's rural campus, which AID has supported
with computers and a broadband internet connection. Speaking
as a friend of Bolivia, Weller expressed concern over
anti-U.S. rhetoric and attacks on U.S. aid programs, noting
that these are amplified by the media and raise concerns in
the U.S. Congress. Weller added that both Democrats and
Republicans are concerned about Bolivia's evolving relations
with Iran given Iran's support for terrorism. Weller
remarked that these things made it much harder to continue to
include Bolivia in ATPDEA and that if tensions and concerns
increase it will make the next extension that much more
difficult. Morales explained that his interest was in
establishing ties with all countries as he needed foreign
investment, which Iran had promised. Morales said he had no
interest in military actions and that the new constitution he
is pushing makes that clear. "We don't conspire," Morales
declared. "We have learned through the many wars we have
lost, the Chaco War, the War of the Pacific, that we must
reject aggression."

7. (SBU) Congressman Green expressed his concern that the
Bolivian government had frozen an exchange of diplomatic
notes on status of forces that has stopped U.S. military
medical assistance. Responding to Congressmen Green, Morales
explained that this had been done in response to a briefing
by U.S. Southern Command's Admiral Stravidis, who Morales
claimed had labeled him a narcoterrorist (Note: Morales, who
said the briefing was on CNN, was referring to a briefing the
Admiral gave at CSIS where he expressed concern about Iran's
ongoing efforts to extend its influence in Latin America,
specifically the potential nexus between terrorism and
narcoterrorism while a slide of Presidents Morales and
Ahmedinejad was up on the screen. The Embassy has tried to
explain that no offense was intended, but to no avail. End
Note.) Morales also described how he had learned during his
mandatory military duty at an early age that no uniformed
foreign military should be present in Bolivia and recounted
how "uniformed DEA had shot at us, harmed our families." He
added that former Ambassador Manuel Rocha had described him
as Bin Laden and his fellow coca growers as the Taliban. "If
I were a murderer, terrorist, drug dealer, would you be
meeting with me?" Morales asked.

8. (SBU) Representative Hinchey praised Morales for his
leadership. He expressed hope that with United States help
and support, Morales could succeed. Hinchey added that he
looked forward to a close relationship between the two
countries.

9. (SBU) Congresswoman Foxx remarked that she had been
impressed by the hard working and intelligent Bolivians she
had met during her stay. She echoed the sentiment of various
members of the delegation that they too had been subjected to
searches entering the United States and asked that the
President accept their apologies for the way his Ministers
may have been treated but that they please recognize the
security environment that necessitated greater vigilance.

10. (SBU) Morales remarked that the discussion with the
Congressional delegation had been constructive and that his
best school for learning is this kind of exchange of views.
He explained that he was for the coca leaf but against
cocaine; that he was for the coca producer but against the
narcotrafficker. Morales said he was committed to the
counter-narcotics fight and that he wanted U.S. cooperation.
He noted that his nationalization had not been an
expropriation, that he respected private property, and was
keen to attract foreign investment. He acknowledged that
Bolivia's productive sector was a weakness but having
achieved 4.5 percent growth in 2007, he hoped to achieve 6
percent growth in 2008. He worried about natural disasters
like the current flooding and rising inflation but remarked
that both were "imported" problems. (Note: Morales has said
publicly that the flooding is a result of neoliberal policies
that have led to global warming. End Note.) He expressed
appreciation for U.S support in the Inter-American Bank that
had led to debt forgiveness and said he hoped problems could
be overcome so that Bolivia could achieve a Millennium
Challenge Account compact. In closing, Morales commented
that he never thought he had admirers in the United States
and that the meeting with Codel Engel was the best he had
ever had with an American delegation. Morales urged that the
United States support Bolivia's national unity.

11. (SBU) Chairman Engel thanked President Morales for
meeting with the Codel and for being so generous with his
time. He repeated his hope that both sides tone down the
rhetoric, including urging a stop personal attacks on
Ambassador Goldberg, whom he had known for many years. The
Chairman asked that Bolivia recognize Kosovo's newly declared
independence. (Note: Morales did not respond to either the
Chairman's request that Bolivia recognize Kosovo or moderate
its rhetoric and attacks on the Ambassador. End Note.)

Press Focus on Codel's Iran and Anti-U.S. Rhetoric Concerns
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12. (U) Bolivian media coverage of the press conference
following the Morales meeting focused on the delegation's
warning that Bolivia's growing ties with Iran and increasing
public attacks on the U.S. Embassy could damage the prospects
for ATPDEA renewal. In comments covered widely by local
media and picked up by the Associated Press, Congressmen
Weller noted, "There is a very high level of concern
regarding the activities of Iran in Latin America. If this
concern continues to grow in our Congress, it will be come
more difficult to extend these preferences in the future."
Congressmen Weller added the delegation wanted to "help the
people of Bolivia." He said the announcement earlier the
same day of Iranian financing to establish a Bolivian
hemispheric-wide television station did not go unnoticed.
Chairman Engel contended that although all countries are
sovereign and are "free to decide" which countries to have
relations with, "actions have consequences," noting Iran's
"negative role supporting global terrorism."

13. (U) Leading daily La Razon focused on Chairman Engel's
characterization of bipartisan agreement that Bolivian
officials need to tone down public attacks on the Embassy.
"We Democrats and Republicans express our growing concern
about the rhetoric about some negative things that have been
said about U.S. officials in Bolivia and that has to stop."
(Note: Government officials occasionally state a belief that
relations will instantly improve with a Democratic
administration. End Note.) Government-leaning daily La
Prensa reminded their readers of prior Bolivian government
attacks on USAID and the Ambassador. Chairman Engel called
on "both sides" (United States and Bolivia) to halt heated
public exchanges.

14. (U) During the press conference, Chairman Engel also
emphasized the importance of improving bilateral relations,
continuing ATPDEA, and underlining positive, common goals.
"We need to talk about our two countries being partners,"
said Engel. Chairman Engel said he was honored that
President Morales described the meeting as the best he's ever
had with representatives of the United States.

Codel Meets with Opposition Prefects
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15. (SBU) On February 20, Codel Engel invited all nine of the
prefects (state governors) to a meeting in Santa Cruz during
their refueling stop in the lowland capital of the Department
of Santa Cruz. Five prefects attended: Ruben Costas of Santa
Cruz, Manfred Reyes Villa of Cochabamba, Leopoldo Fernandez
of Pando, Ernesto Suarez of Beni, and Jose Luis Paredes of La
Paz. MAS-aligned Oruro Prefect Alberto Aguilar had
originally accepted, but was kept away by a family emergency,
however he did attend the dinner hosted by the Ambassador the
previous evening. Chairman Engel opened the meeting by
expressing to the group that he wanted to get the full
picture of the situation in Bolivia and therefore very much
appreciated an opportunity to meet with regional leaders.

16. (SBU) Speaking on behalf of the prefects, Santa Cruz's
Costas said, "It is very important that you met our
president, but in the search to know other realities in
Bolivia, we appreciate that you wanted to meet with us." The
prefects then gave an overview of the current political
situation and their concerns. Focusing primarily on what
they see as President Morales" actions that threaten
democracy and the rule of law in Bolivia, the prefects also
emphasized that they are seeking a middle road, "not even
federalism" as Santa Cruz"s Costas put it, "just an
intermediate state" with more power and autonomy for the
democratically elected prefects. Costas said emphatically
that none of the assembled prefects, despite coming from
different parties and political backgrounds, wanted to divide
Bolivia. "We are all Bolivians and proud of that," he said
to the approval of his fellow prefects. Pando Prefect
Fernandez also pointed out that the prefects" call for
autonomy was not a move against President Morales, rather
that the autonomy movement predates President Morales as
regions farther away from the capital's centralized control
had suffered from neglect.

17. (SBU) The main concern of the prefects is what they
consider the creeping totalitarianism of the Morales
administration. Pando Prefect Fernandez gave a rundown of
the extra-legal machinations used by the MAS to push through
their draft constitution and to get around their lack of a
majority in the Senate (using civic groups to physically
block access to the constituent assembly and Senate,
respectively.) Beni Prefect Suarez then explained that,
since the MAS government has currently incapacitated the
Constitutional Tribunal (the court of final recourse on
questions of constitutionality), there is nowhere to turn
when unconstitutional actions are perpetrated.

18. (SBU) Cochabamba Prefect Reyes Villa also described how
the MAS-led central government has pressured prefect
governments, including Reyes Villa, calling for his
resignation and fomenting protests in his department. Beni
Prefect Suarez later pointed out that, in contrast, the
central government refused to accept the resignation of the
Chuquisaca Prefect, because he was from the MAS party and the
central government did not wish to lose an ally. Suarez said
due to pressure from the central government "we prefects have
been forced to unite as regions to defend democracy." Suarez
said that the prefects are "all that remains, now that the
opposition has been eliminated from Congress and the
Constituent Assembly." Suarez lamented that "our reality is
not known outside (Bolivia), but we live it."

19. (SBU) La Paz Prefect Jose Luis Paredes, who had just
returned from Washington as part of a Bolivian delegation
urging ATPDEA renewal, commented that Evo Morales had been
the great hope when he was elected, but now had become part
of the problem. Paredes admitted he was not entirely
comfortable with some departments pushing forward with
autonomy statutes, but nonetheless understood why they were
doing it. He commended the Ambassador for his "important
voice" standing up for Bolivian's democracy, stressing that
defending democracy was the main goal of the prefects.
Paredes added that while the prefects remained willing to
continue dialogue with Evo to try to find a consensual way
forward, he did not see any real chance for progress. In his
view, the government is stuck since it remains unwilling to
budge on either the issue of resources to the prefectures or
on amending the draft constitution to meet the opposition's
concerns.

20. (SBU) Congresswoman Foxx remarked that she admired the
prefects' courage. She questioned whether support for ATPDEA
extension, while important support to the Bolivian people,
did not also serve to help Morales. She stressed that she
wanted to help Bolivians, but worried about lending support
to Morales. "What would you like us to do?" she asked.
Ruben Costas replied that this opportunity to meet was all
the prefects wanted. Ruben Costas wanted to make sure the
Codel understood that even if the Morales government does not
like the United States, that does not mean the Bolivian
people do not like us, "Bolivians like the United States
because we share values such as liberty and democracy."
Costas repeated that what the prefects wanted was a united
Bolivia.

21. (SBU) In closing, the prefects again thanked the
delegation, the Ambassador, and the mission for continued
support of democracy in Bolivia. Chairman Engel ended the
meeting by noting that the prefects' perspectives were
valuable in order for the delegation to understand the true
situation in Bolivia. Engel noted that he had raised
concerns directly with President Morales, including the need
to cease attacks against the Embassy.

Media Highlight Prefects-Morales Standoff, FM Remarks
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22. (U) The Codel held a brief press conference with Prefect
Costas prior to departing for Argentina, expressing their
support for the Bolivian people through support for ATPDEA,
their desire to meet with all the prefects in the future, and
their intent to listen to and learn from a variety of
Bolivian leader. Codel Engel took some general questions
from the press, but refrained from commenting on the meeting.
Prefect Costas said the Codel's visit was proof of how
democracy can work and thanked the Codel for listening to
their analysis of the situation in Bolivia.

23. (U) In comments highlighted by the press after the press
conference concluded, prefects used the opportunity to defend
departmental autonomy referendums against "stupid" government
criticisms. The Prefects of Cochabamba and La Paz
departments also conducted a separate press conference later,
announcing they would send representatives to a February 22
meeting between the federal government and prefects, but that
they would send no future delegations barring a reversal of
the administration's redistribution of prefect funds to
support payments to the elderly. Daily La Prensa lumped the
two press conferences together, possibly confusing the public
about a cause and effect relationship between the two.

24. (U) La Prensa's February 21 Codel article also added
Foreign Minister Choquehuanca's response to the Codel's
concern about Iranian relations, statements covered
separately by most Bolivian media. Inferring a direct link
between Bolivia's relations with Iran and extension of
ATPDEA, Choquehuanca said "Bolivia will not accept
conditions" on ATPDEA. "You have to respect our sovereignty
and we will continue to build relations with respect (to
Iran)." He clarified that Iranian financing of a Bolivian
television station was just an idea, not an approved project.
Nevertheless, Choquehuanca added any Iranian assistance to
improve Bolivian television broadcasting capability would be
"well received."

Codel Impressed with USAID's Work
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25. (SBU) On February 19, Codel Engel visited USAID education
support for historically marginalized Bolivians at one of
five Catholic University rural campuses in the altiplano and
largely Aymara municipality of Batallas. The atmosphere was
festive, as CODEL members were warmly received by students
and faculty, as well as several local authorities, including
the Batallas mayor. After participating in a traditional
dance with area students, the CODEL received a short
presentation on the Catholic University's USAID-funded broad
band internet access, including a virtual Google Earth
flyover of the Lake Titicaca area. The Dean of the Catholic
University's rural programs stressed the importance of this
I.T. support to expanding learning opportunities for area
students and communities through greater access to electronic
libraries.

26. (SBU) Following the presentation, CODEL members spoke
with promising rural indigenous students who are pursuing
university studies thanks to USAID-funded scholarships, as
well as with beneficiaries of an innovative social inclusion
program whereby indigenous students spend up to six months as
USAID and Embassy interns. These students spoke to CODEL
members about how these programs open up new opportunities
for them, enable them to gain valuable professional
experience, and expose them to the United States work in
Bolivia. CODEL members then continued their discussions with
students and faculty while sampling a range of dairy and
other products from the University's experimental farm.

27. (SBU) CODEL members were impressed with the USG-Catholic
University partnership and openly expressed their
satisfaction at the opportunity to meet with indigenous
Bolivian students and see first hand how USG programs improve
the lives of the rural poor. Congressman Engel gave an
impromptu speech underscoring the United States' desire for
continued good relations with Bolivia, including this kind of
people-to-people support. The event was attended by a large
press corps who engaged the CODEL in a substantive interview
on a wide range of bilateral issues.

Codel Visit to ATPDEA Beneficiary
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28. (U) Codel Engel visited AMETEX, a La Paz textiles
manufacturer and main beneficiary of ATPDEA, on February 20.
CEO of AMETEX Marcos Iberkleid expressed appreciation for
both the Codel's support for ATPDEA extension and to USAID
for its help over the years in training AMETEX employees.
Iberkleid highlighted that his company's exports to the U.S.
have grown exponentially, nearly 30 percent a year, thanks to
ATPDEA and were currently at $40 million. Ametex has grown
from a mere 200 employees to 3,000, with an additional 9,000
indirect jobs. The Codel heard moving testimonials from five
subcontractors/employees, including one Quechua indigenous
woman who emphasized how ATPDEA had provided her a dignified
job, health care, and education. Another AMETEX worker,
speaking on behalf of all AMETEX employees, thanked the
United States "for giving us a hand and extending us your
hand." Chairman Engel addressed those present saying that
after the Codel"s visit to AMETEX, he "felt even more
strongly" that ATPDEA should be extended for Bolivia, adding
that he supports its extension for two years or more. ATPDEA
represents support and friendship from the United States, the
Chairman concluded. Much of the event was carried live by
Bolivian news agencies and the Codel addressed the press
after touring the factory.

Codel Engel has cleared this message.
GOLDBERG

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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