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Cablegate: Chavez Strikes Conciliatory Tone, Restores

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id: 145258
date: 3/11/2008 14:47
refid: 08CARACAS338
origin: Embassy Caracas
classification: SECRET
destination: 08CARACAS328
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INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
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S E C R E T CARACAS 000338

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

HQSOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
DEPT PASS TO AID/OTI RPORTER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/10/2018
TAGS: MOPS PGOV PREL CO VE
SUBJECT: CHAVEZ STRIKES CONCILIATORY TONE, RESTORES
RELATIONS WITH COLOMBIA

REF: CARACAS 000328

Classified By: ACTING POLITICAL COUNSELOR DAN LAWTON,
REASON 1.4 (D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez abruptly
changed roles from Field Marshal to Peacemaker after
returning from the Rio Summit in Santo Domingo. During his
March 8 International Day of the Woman speech, Chavez struck
a conciliatory tone toward Colombia by reopening diplomatic
missions, recalling troops from the border, and reiterating
his call for the release of Franco-Colombian hostage Ingrid
Betancourt. Chavez's most recent constructive rhetoric,
however, belies his implicit admission that the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) operates in Venezuela or the
reality that the bulk of Venezuelan forces never made it out
of garrison after being ordered to the border. END SUMMARY.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS
-----------------

2. (SBU) On the occasion of the International Day of the
Woman March 9, Chavez announced the immediate restoration of
diplomatic relations with Bogota and invited the recently
expelled Colombian Embassy personnel to return to Caracas.
The Foreign Ministry released the same day a communiquQ
celebrating "the victory of peace and sovereignty" in Santo
Domingo and the immediate return of Venezuela diplomatic
personnel to Colombia. The dispatch also urged expelled
Colombian diplomats to return "as soon as possible."

3. (SBU) Venezuelan media reported that the Venezuelan
legation would be headed by Commercial AttachQ Gregorio
Flores and staffed by 11 other diplomats. Sources at the
Foreign Ministry told the press that Venezuelan Ambassador
Pavel Rondon, who had been recalled in November following
Colombia's decision to remove Chavez from his role as
humanitarian exchange facilitator, would not be returning to
Bogota and a female candidate was being sought to replace
him. Those same Foreign Ministry sources expressed hope that
Colombian Ambassador to Venezuela Marin Valencia would not
return to Caracas. However, March 11 press reports that
Marin plans to return to Caracas that same day.

HOME FOR HOLY WEEK
----------------

4. (S) Chavez also announced during the March 9 speech that
the ten battalions he had ordered to Venezuela's border with
Colombia would withdraw on March 11. Chavez thanked the
defense forces for their service to the fatherland and
announced that all soldiers sent to the border would receive
a special leave during Holy Week (starting March 15). Open
and sensitive source estimates indicate that only about a
third of the estimated manpower and equipment had completed
the approximately 260-mile journey to the border area since
the order had been given seven days earlier.

WHY NOT CALL
------------

5. (SBU) During the same address, Chavez stood next to
Yolanda Pulecio, the mother of Ingrid Betancourt, and
publicly appealed to the FARC chief for Ingrid Betancourt's
release. "Manuel Marulanda, send us Ingrid," Chavez said.
Adding fuel to the rumor that Betancourt's release via
Ecuador had been imminent until the March 1 cross-border
raid, Chavez added, "When you can, when conditions make it
possible, liberate Ingrid Betancourt. It doesn't make sense
to keep her in the jungles of Colombia."

6. (C) Comment: Chavez's decision to send troops to the
Colombian border never appeared to resonate politically
except among the Venezuelan president's most ardent
supporters. In addition, Chavez's warning to Colombia not to
repeat what it did in Ecuador, and his ostensible rush to
prevent any Colombian cross-border military operations
against the FARC in Venezuela were implicit admissions that
the FARC is operating inside of Venezuela. Moreover,
Chavez's mobilization order appeared to confirm that
Venezuela's armed forces are not exactly mission capable.
Nevertheless, Chavez is once again exhibiting his tremendous
political agility by seizing the opportunity the Rio Summit
provided to transform from a Field Marshal into an advocate
of peace and fraternity.
DUDDY

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

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