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Cablegate: Raul Reyes Death: Conflict Does Not Appear

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DE RUEHCV #0283/01 0631923
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 031923Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0711
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
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id: 144028
date: 3/3/2008 19:23
refid: 08CARACAS283
origin: Embassy Caracas
classification: SECRET//NOFORN
destination:
header:
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OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHCV #0283/01 0631923
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 031923Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0711
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY


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S E C R E T CARACAS 000283

SIPDIS

NOFORN
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HQSOUTHCOM ALSO PASS TO POLAD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/03/2033
TAGS: PREL MOPS PGOV PTER MCAP CO VE
SUBJECT: RAUL REYES DEATH: CONFLICT DOES NOT APPEAR
IMMINENT AS CHAVEZ ESCALATES RHETORIC AND "MOBILIZES" FORCES

Classified By: Robert Downes, Political Counselor,
for Reasons 1.4(b) and (d)

1. (S/NF) Summary: Notwithstanding President Chavez' order
that ten battalions be dispatched to the Colombian border in
the wake of the March 1 killing of FARC's second-in command
Raul Reyes, DAO reports only a minor increase in activity at
two relevant BRV bases in two states west of Caracas and no
unusual moments of troops thus far. (Note: Since his first
efforts to release the FARC hostages, Chavez has worked to
improve the image of the FARC. End Note.) Chavez' warning
to Colombian President Uribe not to undertake a similar
operation along the Venezuelan/Colombian border implicitly
recognizes that some FARC terrorists cross into Venezuela.
Despite all of Chavez' bluster, the Venezuelan people and
more importantly, its military, appear puzzled and concerned
over Chavez' hostility toward Colombia as well as by this
latest escalation. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The March 1 Colombian military operation that killed
the FARC's second-in-command Luis Edgard Devia Silva, AKA
"Raul Reyes", and other FARC terrorists set off a furious BRV
response during the March 1-2 weekend. Foreign Minister
Nicolas Maduro read a March 1 communiquQ lamenting the death
of Raul Reyes, calling it a "severe blow" for the
humanitarian release process in Colombia. He argued that it
also "revealed the stubborn behavior of those who favor the
military option." Maduro called ReyesQ, death a "slap in the
face for those of us who have placed our hopes for peace and
for the best efforts to foment understanding as the formula
to achieve reconciliation, reunion, and harmony among the
people of Colombia." Maduro asserted that only hours before
the BRV had received international support for President
ChavezQ, idea of forming an international contact group to
facilitate further humanitarian releases. The Foreign
Minister reiterated the BRVQ,s willingness to continue
working for a solution to "this conflict that seriously
affects the stability, sovereignty, and security of the
countries of the region."

3. (SBU) The night of March 1, during a lengthy television
appearance defending the BRV's efforts to combat crime,
Chavez specifically warned Colombian President Uribe not to
undertake a similar military mission across the
Colombian/Venezuelan border, implicitly acknowledging that
the FARC cross into Venezuela. During his March 2 "Alo,
Presidente" television broadcast, Chavez called the killing
of Reyes a "cowardly assassination." He eulogized Reyes as a
"good revolutionary" and that "it feels as if my right arm
has been torn off". The BRV ordered all domestic media to
observe a moment of silence for Reyes on March 2. Chavez
called Colombian President Uribe "a liar, Mafioso, a
right-wing paramilitary running a narco-government
subordinate to George W. Bush." Chavez added that it was
"necessary to liberate Colombia from the imperialism of the
United States".

4. (S/NF) During the same "Alo, Presidente" broadcast, Chavez
ordered his defense minister to move 10 battalions, plus
tanks, to the Colombian border immediately and to put the air
force on alert. Defense Minister Rangel Briceno publicly
acknowledged the order from the audience. Since that time,
DAO reports only minor increases in activity at two military
bases in states west of Caracas that might suggest
preparations for mobilization and no unusual movements of
troops so far. (Comment: It is doubtful that the Venezuelan
Military has the logistical capacity to mobilize an estimated
5000-6000 troops and equipment quickly considering their lack
of logistical equipment and the nation's highway system. End
Comment) Furthermore, despite purchasing state-of-the-art
fighters and attack helicopters, most local observers believe
they are not yet combat ready. Chavez also ordered FM Maduro
to "close" the Venezuelan Embassy in Bogota. Venezuelan
diplomats started returning to Caracas as early as the night
of March 2. The Colombian embassy in Caracas told Poloff
March 3 that their operations were normal, although the
Colombian ambassador planned to fly to Bogota the same day.
Chavez also announced that he would boycott the upcoming
UNASER Summit meeting to be held in Colombia.

5. (SBU) Chavez and other senior BRV officials are attempting
to frame the BRV's dispute with Colombia as a dispute with
the United States. During a special March 2 airing of the
political program "La Hojilla" BRV propagandist Mario Silva
held up a map of Colombia showing some 12 radar site claiming
that each was staffed with "35 U.S. special forces." Silva

asserted that another "1000 - 3000 Green Beret were currently
in Colombia" training and advising the Colombian Army on an
invasion of Venezuela.

6. (C) Comment. The BRVQ,s initial reaction was framed in
terms of how ReyesQ, death would undermine efforts to secure
the release of other FARC hostages. Chavez, however, framed
his subsequent decisions to order troops to the Colombian
border and close the BRV Embassy in Bogota in much broader Q)
and aggressive -- terms of defending the sovereignty of Latin
American countries against Q&American imperialism.Q8 Given
that ReyesQ, death occurred along the Ecuadorian/Colombian
border, the BRVQ,s current dispute with the Colombia is
entirely of its own making. Anecdotally, Venezuelans appear
puzzled by mixed signals from their government. BRV
mouthpiece daily VEA, for example, gave the Colombia story as
second billing, headlining instead Chavez' approval of a
national police law. The mobilization order ran on page two.
ChavezQ, supporters at the March 2 Q&Alo, PresidenteQ8
broadcast in Caracas and the United Socialist Party of
Venezuela (PSUV) closing congress in Zulia reflexively
applauded ChavezQ, bellicose statements, but we perceive much
greater caution and concern among most Venezuelans.
DUDDY

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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