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Cablegate: Rice Letter On Sumate Gets Attention

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS CARACAS 002596

SIPDIS


NSC FOR CBARTON
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM OPRC KIRC VE
SUBJECT: RICE LETTER ON SUMATE GETS ATTENTION


---------------
Summary
---------------

1. On July 31, one of Caracas' most important
opposition dailies, "El Nacional" carried an article
entitled "Condoleezza Rice Criticizes the Political
Persecution of Sumate Directors." That same week the
Venezuela press has included coverage of a letter from
members of the House Committee on International
Relations, remarks by State Department spokesman during
the regular press briefing, and the "Washington Post"
editorial that also expressed concern for Sumate's
officers. On August 12, the "Daily Journal" printed an
article whose first paragraph reads, "The U.S. government
has once again come to bat for Sumate." and cites both
Dr. Rice and the House letter. On The opposition press
underscored these messages' support for democracy and
human rights. The GoV reacted to these letters and
remarks by saying that they were further proof that the
U.S. was the leader of the opposition. End summary

-----------------------------------
Dr. Rice's Letter
-----------------------------------

2. National security advisor Condoleezza Rice wrote a
letter July 22, 2004, responding to a missive about
Sumate from the president of the Venezuelan chapter of
the Stanford alumni. The daily newspaper "El Nacional"
extensively quoted rice's letter in an article entitled
"Condoleezza Rice Criticizes the Political Persecution of
Sumate Directors." The first quote was taken from the
letter's last paragraph, "we call on the Venezuelan
government to cease its harassment of these individuals
and others and to dedicate itself to guaranteeing the
free exercise of democratic rights."

-----------------------------------
Remarks by Other Officials and U.S. Sources
-----------------------------------

3. "El Nacional" (July 31, 2004) carried a second article
on the same page entitled, "U.S. Condemns Intimidation of
Civil Society." This second article referred to July 31,
2004 remarks by the department of state spokesman
expressing concern "about harassment and intimidation of
civil society, whether it be in Venezuela or whether it
be anywhere else." This same article also referred to
the "Washington Post" editorial on the same subject. GoV
media also reported Vice-President Rangel's
acknowledgement that the then U.S. Charge had discussed
the Sumate and Capriles cases with him on July 29.

-----------------------------------
House Committee Letter Gets Media Attention
-----------------------------------

4. A July 12 letter, to president Chavez from the House
Committee on International Relations defending Sumate,
also received significant play in the Venezuelan press.
It was read in its entirety at least twice on 24-hour
news channel Globovision and heard on Union Radio
(opposition). All the major Caracas dailies carried the
letter, with "El Nacional" running the entire text.
Beneath the letter was the response of the Venezuelan
ambassador in Washington, who remarked, " I must admit
that it's unusual for U.S. legislators to give a legal
opinion on a specific case in the judicial system of
another country."

-----------------------------------
Pro-Chavez Reaction
-----------------------------------

5. President Chavez, Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) Deputy
Nicolas Maduro, and other GoV officials and media have
used the letter to criticize the USG, saying the USG

letters are nothing more than an attempt to defend its
lackeys. Samuel Moncada, of the Chavista Comando
Maisanta, held a press conference in which he noted that
the letters sent by the National Security Advisor
Condoleezza Rice and comments by other officials "put
into question the mandate of the Venezuelan people, which
will be tested in the referendum election of August 15."
These accusations follow months of direct criticism and
accusations by President Chavez during his Sunday Alo
Presidente program. He has used the program as a
platform to accuse the USG of giving intellectual and
financial support to the opposition. Using
"declassified" NED documents requested through the FOIA,
he is convinced that he has "presented proof."

-----------------------------------
Sumate Case
-----------------------------------

6. Sumate, an NGO founded in 2002, was founded to
support individual freedom and the exercise of
constitutional, specifically electoral, rights. While
not a party, its immediate goal is to recall Chavez. On
June 10, 2004 the GoV formally accused Maria Corina
Machado, vice-president of Sumate of conspiracy and
treason. In July the prosecutor's office accused three
more officers. A fifth official has been summoned for
questioning, but has not been formally accused. While
currently free, they fear they could be taken into
custody at any time.

-----------------------------------
The International Visitor Connection
--------------- -------------------

7. Machado and another Sumate officer (Aldejandro Plaz)
were nominated to participate in a FY 2004 multi-regional
project on NGO management, but due to their activities,
neither could travel. One Sumate representative did
participate in a voluntary visitor program to observe the
2004 Florida presidential primary election. On the other
side, Luisa Ortega, the public prosecutor in charge of
these cases, was nominated to participate in a FY-2004 RP
on anti-corruption but she cancelled her participation at
the very last minute.

-----------------------------------
Comment
-----------------------------------

8. President Chavez, party members, and official media
have used the letter to renew criticisms of the USG. Dr.
Rice's letter complemented expressions of concern by U.S.
congressmen and U.S. media.

Shapiro


NNNN
2004CARACA02596 - UNCLASSIFIED

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