Cablegate: Latin America: French Share Sense of Positive

DE RUEHFR #0501/01 0780843
P 180843Z MAR 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 000501



E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/08/2018

Classified By: POL/MC Josiah Rosenblatt for Reasons 14.(B) and (D)

1. (C) SUMMARY. PDAS Craig Kelly reviewed Latin American
priorities with MFA PDAS for Latin America Jean-Marc Laforet
and DAS for Central America Jose Gomez on March 6. They
concurred with Kelly,s assessment that the democratic
governance and regional cooperation were improving across
the region despite a negative press focus on the challenges
posed by actors such as Venezuelan President Chavez. Laforet
described French policy in Latin America as built around
"strategic partnerships," as with Brazil, while noting the
disproportionate role played by the Ingrid Betancourt hostage
issue in Colombia. He described Chavez as the one who can
win Betancourt,s freedom and asserted a French view that
Venezuela remains a democracy, despite Chavez,s heavy-handed
tactics. Laforet cited the referendum failure as the best
example of this. On Cuba, Laforet noted France supports a
democratic transition, but considered this unlikely before
Fidel Castro leaves the political arena. Kelly outlined
Chavez,s anti-democratic actions in Venezuela and urged
France to support a democratic transition in Cuba. Comment:
This dialogue on Latin America revealed an understanding of
views on broad regional trends while sharpening some
differences regarding Venezuela and Cuba. END SUMMARY

2. (C) On March 6, PDAS Kelly reviewed the positive trends
in Latin America of the past two decades with Jean-Marc
Laforet, MFA PDAS-equivalent for Latin American, and Jose
Gomez, DAS-equivalent for Central America. PDAS Kelly noted
the U.S. is optimistic about the future for the region,
despite a press focus on the challenges posed by Venezuelan
President Chavez. Most countries in the region are taking
steps to open up their economies and strengthen democratic
institutions to improve the lives of real people. These
developments don't make headlines but ultimately they
constitute the most important story in the region. Kelly
explained U.S. thinking on Cuba transition, Colombia, and
Venezuela. Laforet expressed general agreement noting France
has observed political and economic improvements over the
last 20 years. In contrast to the 1980,s, today France is
not greatly concerned about the stability of Latin America.
To underscore the point that security issues no longer
dominate the regional agenda, Laforet said France will focus
on energy, climate change, and the socio-economic situation
as priorities during the May EU-Latin America Summit.
Laforet described French policy in Latin America as anchored
by "strategic partnerships" such as the one recently advanced
with Brazil by President Sarkozy, while asserting that the
Ingrid Betancourt hostage situation disproportionately
dominates French policy in the region.

3. (C) The French view Venezuela as a democracy despite the
Chavez,s heavy handed tactics. Citing his high-profile
failure to win last fall,s referendum as an example of
democracy's resilience in Venezuela, Laforet and Gomez
portrayed Chavez as a "Bonapartist" leader who rejects checks
and balances that hinder his direct dialogue with the people.
Laforet cast some blame for the radicalization of Venezuela
on the opposition's decision to boycott elections, leaving
Chavez a clear field. On bilateral U.S.-Venezuelan
relations, Laforet expressed concern that Chavez,s
anti-American rhetoric was gaining unhelpful resonance in
Latin America. Finally, Laforet noted that in a private
conversation with President Sarkozy, Chavez
indicated he was amenable to improving relations with the
United States. Chavez then went public with explosive and
counter-productive remarks.

4. (C) Laforet lauded Chavez's mediation efforts on
hostages and said France believes Chavez is the one to secure
Betancourt,s release. He expressed frustration with Uribe's
decision to end Chavez's role in hostage negotiations and
noted Uribe treated Chavez badly by announcing the end of
mediation to the press before notifying Chavez. Drawing
parallels between the two leaders, Laforet observed both
Chavez and Uribe enjoyed strong connections to their

5. (C) PDAS Kelly observed that Chavez's authoritarian and
anti-democratic actions have eroded Venezuelans, freedoms.
While the United States has refrained from getting into a
shouting match with Chavez, we have made clear our concern
for the restrictions on democratic space in Venezuela.
Clearly, concern is rising within Venezuela, as the

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referendum made clear. Meanwhile, President Uribe in
Colombia enjoys 80 percent approval ratings, in large part
because he has brought about dramatic improvements in
security, prosperity and human rights through his campaign
against FARC terrorism and all forms of political violence.

6. (C) Laforet explained French willingness to consider a
wide range of options to obtain the release of Betancourt as
the result of the extreme pressure coming directly from
President Sarkozy. Laforet described Chavez' suggestion that
the FARC be taken off the terrorist list as "clumsy."
Suggesting that some political status could be helpful in
moving negotiations forward. Larforet said France is looking
to some sort of compromise to acknowledge the FARC without
giving it international recognition.

7. (C) Kelly noted U.S. policy placed the blame for the
hostage-taking squarely on the FARC,s shoulders. We have
great sympathy for all hostages, and want to prevent future
hostage taking. Meanwhile we strongly support Uribe,s
campaign against the FARC. Noting that the FARC had abused
the peace efforts of previous Colombian presidents, Kelly
pointed out that Uribe's tough stance has achieved dramatic
improvements in the security situation - as Secretary Rice's
recent trip to Medellin with a congressional delegation made
clear. As a result, the economy is growing and Colombia
enjoys growing integration in global trade. We want to
encourage these trends. That is why we are pressing for
congressional ratification of our Free Trade Agreement with
Colombia. Laforet acknowledged Colombia's progress and said
the French government supports Uribe,s security policy.

CUBA-French Support Release of Prisoners and Democratic Change
--------------------------------------------- ---------------
8. (C) PDAS Kelly stated this was a historic opportunity
for Cubans to determine the future of their country; now is
the time for democracies around the world to support the
Cuban people in their desire for real change. Cuba's future
is for the Cubans, not outsiders, to determine, but the
people need the freedom to exercise choices. Kelly pressed
France to support the liberation of political prisoners and
the movement toward democratic institutions. Laforet agreed
the democracies should strive to halt the
regime's human rights abuses, but Laforet lamented that
direct pressure does not seem to work. The international
community should consider "appropriate tactics" to attain our
objectives. Laforet noted that Raul Castro might be an
engine for some change in Cuba, but a real transition was
not possible until Fidel left the scene.

9. (C) On the broader French policy towards Latin America,
Laforet said France is building its policy in the region
around "strategic partnerships" such as the one advanced by
President Sarkozy's February 12 meeting with Brazilian
President Lula da Silva. He added Brazilian support is
important to address many international challenges and that
France supports according Brazil its "appropriate place" in
international institutions such as an expanded G8 and UN
Security Council. Laforet added that Brazil is well placed
to mediate between Colombia and Venezuela. Citing the U.S.'s
good relations with Brazil,
PDAS Kelly agreed that Brazilian President Lula is playing a
constructive role in various regional crises. This is good
for the hemisphere. The United States has made a major
commitment to upgrade its relationship with Brazil in many
concrete areas, including the economy, biofuels, culture and

10. (U) PDAS Kelly cleared this message.

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