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Cablegate: Codel Dodd Visit to Bolivia May 27-28

O 031459Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7603
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UNCLAS LA PAZ 001233

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL ECON EAID SNAR BO
SUBJECT: CODEL DODD VISIT TO BOLIVIA MAY 27-28

1. (SBU) Summary. Despite aircraft problems, CODEL Dodd
was able to visit La Paz for meetings with Vice President
Garcia Linera, joined by the Foreign Minister, and with
opposition leader former President Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga. The
Vice President said his government was interested in better
relations with the U.S. but repeated accusations that USAID
was working against the government. In response to Dodd's
mentioning that harsh anti-U.S. rhetoric is not helpful,
Garcia Linera tried to explain that President Evo Morales is
scarred by his prior experiences with the United States (as a
cocalero) and that at times these "wounds" resurface.
Quiroga spent much of his time with Dodd and Becerra talking
about Chavez and his negative role in the hemisphere,
including Bolivia. In his press opportunity, Dodd defended
the Ambassador and urged a "lowering of the temperature" in
the hopes that a better relationship can be forged,
particularly with a new U.S. Administration on the horizon.
The CODEL departed for Santa Cruz, where Dodd met with peace
corps volunteers before proceeding on to Buenos Aires. End
Summary.

CODEL Dodd Meeting with VP, FM; USAID Accused Again
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2. (SBU) Senator Dodd and Congressman Becerra, accompanied
by staffers Blumenfled and Orringer, met with Vice President
Alvaro Garcia Linera and Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca
May 28. (Note: The CODEL requested a meeting with President
Evo Morales and had been assured by Ambassador Guzman in
Washington that it would happen, only to learn last minute
that the President would not be available - no specific
reason was provided. End Note.) Senator Dodd expressed an
interest in trying to improve relations between the United
States and Bolivia, noting that we share many common
interests -- improving education, health care, human rights,
economic opportunities; but, the harsh anti-American rhetoric
coming from President Evo Morales was not helpful.

3. (SBU) The Vice President explained that one needs to
understand the Morales Administration's rhetoric in the
context of many cabinet members' negative personal
experiences with the USG in the past. Garcia Linera said
that there is an interest in "turning the page but the past
weighs heavily." For example, he related a recent press
account based on an interview with a policeman who alleges
that there was a plot to assassinate Evo when he was a
cocalero in 2002, a plot that supposedly involved
anti-narcotics units financed by the USG. Garcia Linera also
remarked that he himself was tortured and that he was certain
that those who tortured him were being directed by a Spanish
and an American adviser, and that one day he was going to
find out who these people were but for now he has tried to
put it behind him, but it is hard, "wounds open and come out
in our rhetoric."

4. (SBU) "We want to move on," Garcia Linera added, "we
want friendly relations, focused on economic terms. We do
not want to be a beggar government. We want respect. We do
not want intervention. I have no complaints about the
Ambassador (Goldberg), he is a professional, not even the
Embassy, they know how to do things but is it USAID that
worries me. We have come across an e-mail from some person
at USAID to an NGO which talks about supporting moderate
indigenous groups, and a few days later we see some of these
people meeting with the Prefect from Santa Cruz." We see
this as you working to oppose the government." The Vice
President complained that USAID also had hired a number of
former officials from previous governments, implying that
this constituted support for the opposition. Garcia Linera
mentioned that there were plans to brief the U.S. Congress
once all the information on USAID's anti-government
activities had been compiled. "But, what worries me most,
what is most dangerous, is not this support to individuals
but rather that you are trying to win the hearts and minds of
the people. That has a long-term effect, we cannot allow
that." The Ambassador explained that our USAID programs are
meant to support democracy, that individuals are hired
becuase of their qualifications and expertise, and noted that
he has repeatedly asked the government to provide proof to
substantiate Evo's and the FM's accusations, but had yet to
receive anything.

5. (SBU) Dodd and Becerra both said that it was important
to move beyond the past. "Words matter," Dodd stressed,
urging that there be a "lowering of the temperature." There
soon will be a new Administration in Washington and this will
provide an opportunity for a fresh start, Dodd added.
Becerra added that it was difficult for the American people
to understand attacks on the United States and that it would
be better to work to establish friendly relations. Garcia
Linera replied that there is great interest in the U.S.
market, "we need permanent trade preferences, more U.S.
investment, we want to industrialize." But, under Morales
there is a different economic model. Garcia Linera explained
that "for 500 years of colonial history and 180 as a republic
we have been a resource rich nation but remained poor. We
are determined to change this. We will have more state
involvement, more taxation of natural resources. Companies
complain about paying more taxes, but they will pay. We are
now a country run by the indigenous and it is our right."

6. (SBU) The Vice President touted the economic successes
of his government, an economic growth rate of 4.5 percent
each of the past two years, which he said would have been 6
percent were it not for natural disasters resulting from El
Nino and La Nina. Hydrocarbon revenues are up 150 percent,
revenues from minerals are up from $600 million to $2
billion, and there is no budget deficit. But, the VP
acknowledged, there were problems as well. While agriculture
exports are up there is not enough supply for the domestic
market, "and this needs to change. We will provide food
security for our people," Garcia Linera asserted.

7. (SBU) Senator Dodd asked about recent news of Argentina
signing a gas deal with Trinidad and Tobago apparently
because Bolivia was unable to provide sufficient supply. The
Vice President acknowledged that Bolivia does not have the
money to invest in order to expand gas production but wants
to attract foreign investment. "We are not getting it.
Perhaps we need to tighten the screws..." Garcia Linera
remarked. Then, the VP said that the oil companies did not
want to invest in Bolivia because they say that Argentina is
not a good payer. "Do you want me to take that message to
Buenos Aires," Dodd joked. "No, no," the VP replied quickly,
"that is between us." "But, companies are worried about
investing in Bolivia," Dodd noted. "They should not be,"
said Vice President, "we provide juridical security and
Bolivia should be the energy center of South America. The
estimates are that we have anywhere between 54-80 trillion
cubic feet in gas reserves."

8. (SBU) Turning to drugs, the Vice President said that his
government is fully committed to combatting drug trafficking.
"We have never placed any restrictions on our police and
military to do the necessary against the drug trade. We will
put a chip in every coca leaf if that is what it takes,"
remarked Garcia Linera. "We want your help and cooperation,"
he added.

9. (U) Bio note on Foreign Minister. Representative
Becerra commented that he understood that the Foreign
Minister had relatives in California, to which Choquehuanca
sheepishly said "yes, many of my relatives migrated to
California some 15-20 years ago. One sister and a brother
live in the Los Angeles area. The brother does contracting
work, hiring Mexican subcontractors because, according to
Choquehuanca, Americans trust Bolivians because they are more
responsible than Mexicans. Choquehuanca then remarked that
one of his nephews was a war veteran -- of Iraq. "But, he
doesn't speak to me, perhaps you (U.S. authorities) have told
him not to talk to me," quipped the Foreign Minister.

Opposition's Quiroga Stresses Chavez Menace
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10. (SBU) Senator Dodd noted that he hoped that with a
change in the U.S. Administration in January there would be a
renewed focus on the Hemisphere and asked former President
Quiroga how he viewed the situation in Bolivia. Quiroga said
that paradoxically Bolivia was facing the "best of times and
the worst of times." The best in that the economic situation
has never been better, the worst in that politically the
country is becoming increasing polarized as Evo Morales
looks to impose his vision of change and perpetuate himself
in power. On the economy, Quiroga noted that exports were
four-fold what they were five years ago, remittances have
also quadrupled in that time period. Bolivia's natural
resources are in high demand and getting record prices - gas
and minerals. But, inflation is on the rise and there is no
production, "we don't even have enough gas production because
foreign investment has dried up," Tuto remarked. "We should
be in a period of economic bonanza, but it is being wasted,"
he added. Quiroga also noted the surge in coca production
and drug trafficking, noting that his government had made
great strides but, "now drugs are coming back, it makes me
sad, it breaks my heart," he said.

11. (SBU) On the political front, Quiroga stressed the
threat that Hugo Chavez poses to the Hemisphere, and Bolivia
in particular. "He (Chavez) is looking to spread his
tentacles, establish satellites and Bolivia is a prime
candidate...Evo, like Chavez, wants to centralize power,
liquidate institutions, perpetual reelection -- impose a
constitution, legitimize a bad government." But, Quiroga
said defiantly, "we will not let him, we will sort this out,
we know we are in for a long, protracted fight, but we are
determined."

12. (SBU) Senator Dodd inquired what the opposition was
doing to appeal to the indigenous majority, noting that the
opposition has a reputation as being antithetical to
indigenous interests. Quiroga proudly replied that he had
the first indigenous women in his cabinet and that the issue
of indigenous rights was being manipulated by Evo. Quiroga
explained that on civil rights, the indigenous have had equal
rights since 1953, but that the real issue is economic
empowerment. Tuto said that his government worked to improve
economic conditions, provide better education, better health
care. What was Evo doing? "The government exploits the
perception that if "you have a pale face, you are against the
indigenous," remarked Quiroga. "The reality is that 300,000
Bolivians (out of population of 9 million) have left to Spain
under Evo's two years in office in search of jobs."

13. (SBU) Dodd asked if other leaders in the region, Uribe,
Garcia, Lula, were providing a counterweight to Chavez and
helping bring stability to Bolivia. Quiroga complained that
Brazil has ceded its leadership to Chavez and "does nothing"
in Bolivia. Quiroga commented that the opposition is well
aware that it has to defend democracy, "our problems will not
be fixed by Brussels or Washington, we know we need to fix
them."

14. (SBU) Representative Becerra asked about the prospects
for a new constitution. Quiroga explained that the
government had been poised to push for a vote to approve the
constitution it drafted, while physically blocking the
opposition from sessions where the language was "approved."
Therefore, he decided that in order to avoid a referendum on
the constitution, the opposition would approve the
governments original proposal for a recall referendum. "It
was our move to stop the constitution," Quiroga said. (Note:
Under Bolivian law, there can only be one national
referendum per legislative session so in effect by having a
recall referendum, the government will have to wait until
2009 to have a referendum on the constitution. End note.)
Quiroga added that the opposition is determined to prevent
Evo from codifying his totalitarian regime with a
constitution. Quiroga believes that the recall move had
significantly reduced the prospects for a new constitution,
although he is sure Evo will try again.


CODEL's Press Opportunity: "Attacks on Ambassador Unhelpful"
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15. (U) Senator Dodd's opening statement focused on
highlighting the common interests between the United States
and Bolivia, promoting education, health, and economic
prosperity. The Senator noted that he had a good and frank
discussion with the Vice President and Foreign Minister,
stressing the need for both countries to work together.
Becerra for his part highlighted the ties between the
American and Bolivian people, a common desire to see growth,
and remarked that much had been done in this regard but more
needed to be done.

16. (U) In response to press questions regarding the
constant attacks by the government on Ambassador Goldberg and
the Embassy, Senator Dodd said "I have a lot of faith in our
Ambassador here, he is a professional, a man with
considerable experience, and who understands very well the
importance of working every day to have good relations
between our two countries. Hopefully, in the coming days we
can have a lowering of the temperature, I understand that
politically (those attacks) are popular in certain places but
it is important when change is coming (a new U.S.
Administration), as we have an opportunity to improve
relations between our two countries. It is in the interest of
both countries to improve the lives of our people.
Therefore, attacking an Ambassador, an Embassy, maybe has
political value, but ultimately those words do not help
much." Becerra added: "what we are looking for is friendship
and the will to move forward, so that our democracies
progress. Although words matter, I believe we are family and
what matters most in the family are actions, not words."

17. (U) After departing La Paz, the CODEL met with Peace
Corps volunteers in Santa Cruz prior to taking off for Buenos
Aires. CODEL Dodd cleared this message.

GOLDBERG

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