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Cablegate: Dialogue: Much Ado About International Voices

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DE RUEHLP #0854/01 1062253
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 152253Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7192
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 7825
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 5161
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 9095
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RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 6121
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 0779
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUMIAAA/USCINCSO MIAMI FL
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 1059
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL

C O N F I D E N T I A L LA PAZ 000854

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/27/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PBTS OFDP OVIP BL AR CO BR
SUBJECT: DIALOGUE: MUCH ADO ABOUT INTERNATIONAL VOICES

REF: A. LA PAZ 751

B. LA PAZ 735

Classified By: EcoPol Chief Mike Hammer for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary. OAS Political Secretary Dante Caputo seemed
resigned to the fact that the opposition is holding firm to a
May 4 date for an autonomy referendum in Santa Cruz
Department (state) and will not sacrifice it as a means to
expedite a new round of negotiations with the government.
Caputo met April 14 and 15 with the four opposition
department prefects (governors) planning autonomy referendums
in May and June and with Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Caputo and the prefects affirmed any dialogue would be a
long-term affair. Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera and
other government officials argued dialogue needed to start
before the May 4 vote, while simultaneously discounting the
May 4 vote as insignificant and illegal. On a positive note,
the government is backing, at least publicly, a series of
ostensibly peaceful "national unity marches" May 4, instead
of a heavy-handed crackdown by security forces or more
provocative actions by social groups. Opposition leaders
remain highly skeptical of government dialogue overtures.
Meanwhile, the international community is piling on official
and unofficial statements of concern (EU, CAN, Japan,
Paraguay) and offers to help mediate (EU, CAN). Although
international interest is welcome, it is highly unlikely any
third party can move dialogue forward before May 4. In any
event, it will take time to rebuild the trust between the two
sides. End Summary.

2. (U) OAS Political Secretary Dante Caputo returned to
Bolivia for a nearly four-hour meeting with the opposition
Department prefects (state governors) of Santa Cruz, Tarija,
Beni, and Pando April 14. Following the meeting, Caputo said
he did not envision a "magic" quick fix to the
opposition/government political standoff. Caputo said there
is a lack of "will, flexibility, and understanding of
reality" to turn a "spirit of conversation" on both sides
into a "concrete" dialogue. Caputo made similar statements
following an April 15 meeting with President Evo Morales.
Caputo also met with Foreign Minister Choquehuanca. Caputo
previously visited Bolivia April 2 to lay the groundwork for
possible OAS facilitation/mediation between the opposition
and government (ref a).

Opposition Steadfast: No Dialogue Before May 4
--------------------------------------------- --

3. (U) Speaking on behalf of the prefects, Tarija Prefect
Mario Cassio characterized the meeting as "positive" and
affirmed the prefects' will to negotiate, but warned
Bolivians to manage their expectations. "These are problems
that have accumulated during many years and will not be
resolved overnight." Cassio confirmed the prefects' refusal
to suspend May-June autonomy referendums in their respective
departments, starting with Santa Cruz Department's May 4
autonomy referendum, as a condition for negotiation. Cassio
said prefects agreed with Caputo on three focus areas for
future dialogue: national unity, democracy, and avoidance of
violence. The opposition prefects and their department's
civic committees issued a proclamation April 15 denouncing
the government for fomenting a land redistribution
confrontation in the Chaco region of Santa Cruz Department as
means to distract and discredit the autonomy referendums.

4. (U) Jorge Tuto Quiroga, leader of the opposition PODEMOS
party, bluntly discounted mediation by international
organizations and neighboring countries and challenged their
neutrality as "friends" of President Evo Morales. He
repeated April 14 his position that any international
mediation be coordinated with and subordinate to the efforts
of the Catholic Church. (Note: The Catholic Church issued a
statement last week saying the "situation is deteriorating
dangerously" and the "radical sectors" were making a dialogue
difficult. End Note.) Quiroga said international efforts in
conjunction with Church efforts could be positive, but that
the government had orchestrated visits by foreign delegations
only to "validate government abuses."

5. (C) President of the Confederation of Businesses Gabriel
Dabdoub, who is a leading figure in the Santa Cruz
opposition, met with the Ambassador April 11. Dabdoub was
highly critical of the Brazilian effort to help promote a
dialogue, characterizing it as too biased towards the
government. On the OAS effort, Dabdoub said the prefects
would always meet to discuss ways to jump-start the dialogue
because "we can ill afford to be seen as not wanting
dialogue" -- that said, nothing can be expected to
materialize before May 14. In fact, according to Dabdoub,
the opposition sees the government's efforts to bring in
international actors as a desperate attempt to prevent the
referendum or delegitimize it. Dabdoub was vehement that the
Santa Cruz referendum would go forward as scheduled, noting
that no Cruceno politician could "stop the will" of the
people at this point. He commented that the Santa Cruz
leadership appreciated the Ambassador's "quiet" approach in
recent weeks, particularly in the face of continued attacks
by the Bolivian government. Dabdoub was critical of the
government's duplicitous approach, pretending to want
dialogue while taking actions like the cooking oil export
ban, which he viewed as a purely political action aimed at
crippling one prominent leader in the Santa Cruz opposition,
who is in the cooking oil business.

6. (C) Opposition Congressman Peter Maldonado (UN-La Paz)
told PolOff the Media Luna will pass autonomy referenda, it
is now just a matter for the Bolivian government to decide
"if it get's off of the tracks or wants to try and confront
the train." He claimed government exploration of third-party
negotiators was "for show" and a sign of their desperation.
Echoing common opposition opinions, Maldonado did not rule
out a future role for international mediators, but he
discounted the current cast of possible facilitators as
non-starters: the Church for perceived opposition
"oligarchic" leaning, the OAS for perceived pro-government
leaning, and neighboring states for both a pro-government
bias and vested interests in Bolivian gas supplies. Out of
concern the both government and opposition leaders were not
proposing realistic options for dialogue, Maldonado and three
other young opposition deputies proposed a long-term dialogue
among 19 government, prefect, and congressional leaders to
hash out a compromise by the end of 2009, delaying prefect
elections a year to coincide with federal elections in 2010.

Government Urgency for Pre-May 4 Dialogue
-----------------------------------------

7. (U) Despite their recent attempts to hype the May 4's vote
as "insignificant," government leaders seemed to
contradictorily give it credence by insisting dialogue occur
before the vote. "After the fourth we can't negotiate
decisions already made. It will be complicated to make
modifications afterwards," said Garcia Linera. Vice Minister
of Government Coordination Hector Arce added that "it doesn't
make sense to talk after the May 4 consultation." Arce also
railed that Crucenos were being deceived to vote for autonomy
statutes that only 15 percent of them are familiar with.
(Note: Arce failed to mention that the same Captura and
Consulting poll tracks 90 percent of Crucenos participating
in the vote and 75 percent of Crucenos voting in favor of the
referendum. End Note.)

8. (U) The government's strategy of the moment appears to be
to downplay a hard-line by either official forces or
government supporters to May 4 in favor of a kinder, gentler
posture allowing the May 4 referendum to take place, while
attacking its legality and legitimacy. Throughout the
weekend, government officials from President Morales on down
have discounted the significance of the referendum and called
for national unity marches on May 4 in all nine department
capitals to counter the Santa Cruz autonomy vote. Vice
President Alvaro Garcia Linera characterized the referendum
as a "very expensive poll" that the national government will
ignore as illegal and unrecognized by the National Electoral
Court.

EU, CAN Newest Members of International Mediation Hit Parade
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

9. (U) Adding to efforts already underway by the Catholic
Church, OAS, and the nascent "friends group (refs)," the
European Union and Andean Community offered to help mediate
Bolivia's political crisis last week. CAN Secretary General
Freddy Ehlers confirmed April 13 CAN's offer to help with
"whatever action" is needed in support of international or
church mediation efforts, following an April 11 CAN statement
expressing concern for Bolivian's political situation and
asking both sides to respect constitutional norms.

10. (U) The EU's April 11 statement welcomed Church and
international efforts to "restore political dialogue,"
emphasized respect for institutions and rule of law, and
urged "parties concerned" to take undefined steps "to defuse
the current tension and enable a genuine national dialogue to
be held, without preconditions." The statement further
offered the EU to "help effect rapprochement" to reach an
agreement on "constitutional reform and departmental
autonomy." Local press stressed that, including many
candidate and associate EU members, the statement represents
41 countries. FM Choquehuanca said publicly that he was
considering inviting a EU delegation to mediate, but that
such an invitation would depend on the outcome of a report
from a combined Argentine/Brazilian/Colombian delegation
visit April 3-5 exploring mediation options. Santa Cruz
Civic Committee Vice President Luis Nunez rejected the EU
statement and international declarations in general as
outside interference, adding what the Civic Committee is
concerned with "what the people of Santa Cruz have to say,"
not the EU.

Japan, Paraguay Join International Concern Crescendo
--------------------------------------------- -------

11. (C) On April 9, Japan issued a statement of concern
regarding the political crisis, particularly the autonomy
standoff in Santa Cruz, and urged both sides to resolve
disputes through dialogue. (Comment: Although relatively
tame in language, this is a significant development as Japan
rarely issues such statements. The statement reflects
pronounced concern on the part of our contacts in the
Japanese diplomatic corps for Japanese citizens and
expatriates in Santa Cruz. End Comment.) Paraguayan Vice
President Luis Alberto Castigliani chimed in his concern for
the Bolivian political crisis April 13, adding a nod to the
opposition's "legitimate" demands for autonomy.

Comment
-------

12. (C) The recent flurry of international statements of
concern and offers to mediate Bolivia's tense political
stalemate are welcome, particularly from the EU, although
these overtures would have been more useful much earlier on.
In any event, no number of international delegations, whether
OAS, EU, UN, or CAN, is going to stop the May 4 Santa Cruz
referendum. As the OAS and opposition prefects stated, any
negotiated dialogue will be a long-term affair. We remain
skeptical that mediation can occur before May 4. The
government seems more interested in maintaining the
appearance of international legitimacy than in pursuing
genuine dialogue. The government has implied tacit
endorsement from visiting delegations, explaining their
encouragement of the recent whirlwind of international
actors. FM Choquehuanca made public that the had asked for
statements from abroad, including the United States, a clear
sign that the government hopes international concern will
amount to pressure on the prefects to call off their autonomy
referendenda A peculiar incident last week illustrates the
point: Government officials took offhanded and unauthorized
comments from Rodolfo Stavenhagen, a part-time relator for
the UN Inspector of the Rights of Indigenous People, that the
Santa Cruz referendum is unconstitutional, unilateral, and
illegal as the official position of the UN and immediately
cited these comments in their public campaign against the
referendum. End Comment.
GOLDBERG

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