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Cablegate: Opposition Parties and Venezuela Complain About U.S.

P 241824Z JUN 08
FM AMCONSUL CURACAO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2159
INFO AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY
USINT HAVANA PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY PARAMARIBO PRIORITY
AMCONSUL CURACAO

C O N F I D E N T I A L CURACAO 000082


DEPARTMENT PASS TO WHA/CAR; ALSO PASS TO PM/SNA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 6/24/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV MOPS SNAR NA NL AA VE
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION PARTIES AND VENEZUELA COMPLAIN ABOUT U.S.
COUNTER-DRUG FO...


159478

2008-06-24

08CURACAO82

Consulate Curacao

CONFIDENTIAL

08CARACAS695|08HAVANA462

C O N F I D E N T I A L CURACAO 000082


DEPARTMENT PASS TO WHA/CAR; ALSO PASS TO PM/SNA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 6/24/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV MOPS SNAR NA NL AA VE
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION PARTIES AND VENEZUELA COMPLAIN ABOUT U.S.
COUNTER-DRUG FORWARD OPERATING LOCATION

REF: (A) CARACAS 000695; (B) HAVANA 000462

CLASSIFIED BY: William J. Furnish, POL, ConGen Curacao, State.
REASON: 1.4 (a), (b), (d)


1. (C) SUMMARY: Local opposition parties are using rising fuel
prices and fears of regional conflict to attempt,
unsuccessfully, to stir up popular opposition to the U.S.
counter-drug Forward Operating Location (FOL). Local media
reports have also highlighted recent Venezuelan government
criticism of the FOL. Venezuelan air traffic controllers have
threatened U.S. and allied counter-drug flights in the area,
challenging U.S., French, British and Netherlands Antilles
aircraft operating in international airspace. Missoffs have
sought to provide friendly GONA officials with information to
counter the criticisms, but we probably can expect more negative
attention in the run-up to renewal of the FOL agreement, which
expires in 2011. END SUMMARY

OPPOSITION SEIZES ON AIRSPACE VIOLATION TO CRITICIZE FOL

2 . (U) Leaders of Curacao's opposition parties have used the
recent, alleged Venezuelan airspace violation by a USAF S-3
plane flying out of Curacao (REF. A ) to attempt to stir up
local fears over the presence of the U.S. Air Force counter-drug
FOL here. Party leaders Nelson Pierre of the Not One Step
Backwards List (PLNP) and Helmin Wiels of Sovereign People (PS)
party have taken to local media to plant the idea that the U.S.
is attempting to use the FOL as a staging area for military
incursions into VE, and that Curacao could eventually become
caught in the middle should any military action occur. The
opposition called for a public meeting on the issue in the
Island Council, now set for June 24 .

BREAK AT THE PUMP FOR GIVING U.S. FOL THE BOOT?

3 . (U) This action follows recent criticism and strike action
over the annoucement of significant retail fuel price increases
on Curacao. Opposition parties are telling the public that
Venezuelan President Chavez will not consider giving Curacao a
better deal on fuel as long as the FOL (which he reportedly
considers a potential threat) is allowed to operate. The
Curacao-owned, but Venezuelan (PdVSA)-operated, oil refinery
supplies all fuel to local retailers.

WHO IS FUNDING LOCAL OPPOSITION?

4 . (C) A pro-U.S. Curacao Island Council member called on COM
recently to discuss possible Venezuelan interference in this and
related issues. Source informed us that he and other members of
the government are concerned that the opposition parties and
certain labor unions are suddenly better organized and funded,
and that they plan to use the upcoming council meeting to put
political pressure on the GONA, including regarding the FOL. He
reported that a recent strike and public demonstration by the
taxibus drivers' union over fuel prices was far more organized
and coordinated than prior events. He noted especially the
involvement in the strike of former GONA cabinet member and
avowed Chavista Errol Cova of the now-defunct Labor People's
Crusade party.

MISSOFFS REACH OUT

5 . (C) Opposition leaders will reportedly raise the Venezuelan
airspace incident and try to link it with the fuel price issue
at the Island Council meeting to suggest that the GONA get rid
of the FOL. In an effort to help pro-U.S. officials counter the
criticism, COM and the JIATF-South liaison officer briefed
Island Governor and Council head Lisa Dindial, and later PM
Elhage on May 25 regarding the airspace incident (using approved
press guidance). Missoffs provided background information on the
limited, counter-drug mission of the FOL and on its many
benefits to Curacao. During the meeting with the PM, Missoffs
were surprised to encounter visiting Dutch State Secretary for
Kingdom Affairs Ank Bijleveld and Netherlands local
representative Rob Vermaas. The PM invited them to sit in on the
meeting, where they also expressed concern about possible
Venezuelan interference. The Lt. Governor and PM planned to pass
the FOL information to friendly island commissioners so that
they can better respond to the accusations and allegations that
the opposition is likely to make at the June 24 public meeting.

VENEZUELAN DRUMBEAT OF CRITICISM

6. (C) For its part, Venezuela is apparently ramping up its
public criticism of the FOL and taking an increasingly
aggressive posture against counter-drug flights from Curacao.
In President Chavez's recent visit to Cuba, he reportedly
referred, as he has previously, to the threatening
U.S.military bases in Curacao and Manta, Ecuador (REF. B). Local
media also report that former Venezuelan Vice President Vicente
Rangel again cited the Curacao FOL as a potential threat during
his weekly TV program. Other current and former Venezuelan
officials have also been quoted locally as calling the FOL a
threat to Venezuela.

CHALLENGES TO BRITISH, FRENCH, ANTILLEAN COUNTER-DRUG FLIGHTS

7. (C) Perhaps partly as a result of the airspace violation and
high-level political attention, Venezuelan air traffic control
authorities seem to be taking a more aggressive stance toward
U.S. and allied counter-narcotics flights in the region. On
three occasions over four days, June 14-17, we understand that
Venezuelan air traffic control (ATC) at Maiquetia airport has
challenged the presence of counter-narcotics aircraft operating
within its Flight Information Region (FIR) but within
international airspace. On these three occasions, British,
French and Antillean counter-drug reconnaisance planes were told
they needed Venezuelan clearance to transit the FIR. The
aircraft commanders have responded that no such clearance is
necessary as they are state aircraft operating in international
airspace with due regard to other traffic. In the first
incident, the British pilot was told that if he entered the
Venezuelan FIR again, he will be intercepted by military
aircraft. A Dash-8 operated by the Netherlands Antilles Coast
Guard was challenged the following day and voluntarily turned
around. Finally, the French aircraft, which remained in
international airspace, was reportedly shadowed for 15-20
mintues by what were apparently two unidentified Venezuelan
military planes 150 miles away and flying over Venezuela on a
paralell course.

WORKING-LEVEL RESPONSE SUGGESTED

8. (C) The Netherlands Antilles Foreign Affairs Directorate
(FAD) called ConGen June 15 to ask about unofficial complaints
from the Venezuelan ATC regarding the first of these incidents.
COM corrected the claim that U.S. aircraft were involved, and
encouraged the FAD to deal with the matter first at the
technical, working level. COM updated the FAD Director and
Deputy PM on the margins of the June 16 FOL change of command
ceremony here. The FAD director, who had just returned from
talks with Venezuela on the future of the Curacao refinery (run
by PDVSA), agreed. He noted that similar incidents two years ago
were handled on a mil-mil basis at a low level. He also
predicted that the GOV would not succeed should it attempt to
link the FOL to the refinery negotiations. COM also expects to
discuss the issue during a visit to JIATFSouth HQ next week
where he will be joined by the Governors of the Netherlands
Antilles and Aruba, and the Curacao-based Dutch Commander of CTG
4.4.

9 . (C) Comment: The opposition parties, while small, have a
dedicated following, mainly among working-class citizens who are
already wary of Dutch influence and control. Opposition leader
Nelson Pierre (a reputed former drug addict) of the PLNP is
known to deliver lengthy, screaming rants on local radio shows,
accusing U.S. and Dutch interests of wide-ranging conspiracies
against Curacao and the region. Post suspects that some
oppositon leaders have links with the Venezuelan government and
may receive funding from it. We expect more opposition attacks
on our military presence in the runup to renewal of the FOL
agreement, which expires in 2011. We will continue efforts to
promote the FOL as a multinational effort to work with the
Antilles (and Aruba) to combat drug trafficking, and to show
the Opposition parties that there is a political cost to not
supporting that fight in defense of their own people. We will
also continue to highlight the FOL's counterdrug mission and
success, along with its positive economic and social impact in
the community, in order to influence already generally favorable
public opinion.


DUNNTJ

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