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Cablegate: Netherlands/Venezuela/Antilles: Dutch Worried

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



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/01/2015



1. (C) SUMMARY: According to Prime Minister Balkenende's
chief foreign policy advisor, concerns about Venezuelan
interference in the Dutch Antilles and Aruba have recently
risen to the top of the Dutch list of foreign policy
priorities. A Chavez visit to the Netherlands is not
currently under consideration, but Balkenende may try to
deliver a firm message to Chavez on the margins of the
upcoming UNGA. Foreign Minister Bot and Justice Minister
Donner both plan to visit Caracas in the next few months, and
Balkenende is also considering a possible visit in November.
During a recent briefing by a visiting USG Venezuela expert,
working level MFA contacts admit that the Dutch feel torn
between their desire to support an EU consensus on Venezuela
and protecting Dutch national interests in the Caribbean.
The Dutch have compiled a list of grievances ranging from
flyovers by military aircraft to public statements by
Venezuelan officials recalling Venezuelan territorial claims
to the islands. Further U.S.-Dutch consultations in this
area would be beneficial to both parties. END SUMMARY.

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2. (C) Rob Swartbol, Prime Minister Balkenende's senior
foreign policy advisor, told Ambassador Sobel on August 1
that the Dutch government is increasingly concerned about
Venezuelan President Chavez' efforts to broaden his influence
in the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. Swartbol acknowledged
that for years the Dutch did not take Venezuelan maneuvering
seriously, but stressed that now it is at top of our
agenda. Prime Minister Balkenende has taken a personal
interest in the issue, he added, and has asked for a paper in
the next two to three weeks to help clarify Dutch options.
Swartbol confirmed that, contrary to earlier indications, the
Dutch do not plan to invite Chavez to visit The Netherlands
in the near future. If Chavez does come to The Netherlands
as part of a broader European tour, however, the Prime
Minister would expect to meet with him, he added.

3. (C) Ambassador Sobel stressed that the U.S. shared Dutch
concerns about destabilizing Venezuelan moves in the region.
The Dutch, he added, could play a role in encouraging the EU
to stand firm against Chavez' destabilization efforts. The
EU, he added, needs to be very careful in engaging Chavez,
who is a proven master at manipulating engagement efforts
to his own advantage. EU members considering selling weapons
to Venezuela for ostensibly legitimate purposes, in
particular, need to understand the broader impacts of such
sales. Swartbol agreed that the EU should have a coordinated
approach on arms sales and other issues that took such
concerns into account. Although the Dutch do not want to
give Chavez a day in the sun, he added, they also see no
realistic alternative to engagement at this point.

4. (C) According to Swartbol, Prime Minister Balkenende may
propose meeting Chavez on the margins of the UNGA in
September to send a strong signal that Venezuelan
infiltration efforts in the islands are unacceptable.
Swartbol suggested, however, that a final decision on whether
Balkenende would engage Chavez in New York would depend in
part on FM Bot's plans, as the Prime Minister would not want
to engage Chavez before Bot has had an opportunity to meet
with him. (Note: The MFA told us on July 29 that Bot
currently plans to visit Venezuela in the October 17-24
timeframe.) If a meeting in New York does not take place,
the next logical time for a Balkenende-Chavez meeting could
be in November, when the Prime Minister is scheduled to
travel to Suriname.

5. (C) PM Balkenende confirmed to Ambassador Sobel during a
private meeting on July 29 that he hopes to engage Chavez
directly about Dutch concerns over the Antilles, but left
open the issue of timing and venue. In addition to the Bot
and/or Balkenende meetings with Chavez, Dutch Minister of
Justice told the Ambassador on July 30 that he also plans to
travel to Venezuela, Colombia, Suriname, and Curacao
beginning August 27. Although Donner's trip will focus
primarily on improving counter-narcotics cooperation in the
region (especially with Colombia), Donner also expressed
serious concerns about political developments in Venezuela
and Chavez' intentions toward the Netherlands Antilles and
Aruba, which he described as our Malvinas.

6. (C) Separately, during a briefing on Venezuela by a
visiting USG expert on July 28, Dutch working-level
representatives from the MFA's Western Hemisphere Department
expressed deep concern over the increasing frequency and
growing seriousness of Venezuelan attempts to influence and
intimidate the Dutch Antilles' government. Dutch
interlocutors provided a four page list of incidents
(reported in other channels) to illustrate their concerns.
These ranged from an unauthorized 2002 flyover of Curacao by
Venezuelan military aircraft, to Venezuelan accusations
(around the time of the USS Saipan visit) that the Antilles
supported U.S. aggression against Venezuela, to recent public
statements (including by the Venezuelan Consul General in
Curacao and the Governor of Falcon) calling for a restoration
of the historic relationship between Venezuela and the
islands. Most disturbing to the Dutch were the many
instances of Chavez apparently offering assistance to
political figures (including former minister Cova) to
encourage them to challenge Prime Minister Ys' government as
well as existing ties between The Netherlands and the
islands. The Dutch representatives noted that Chavez had a
wide range of tools for exerting influence on the islands,
including the flow of oil, pro-Venezuelan politicians (such
as Cova), and even criminal groups (such as that gathered
around former strongman Godett); used together, these
elements could have a powerful destabilizing effect on the
islands and create serious problems for the Dutch government.

7. (C) The Dutch diplomats noted that they found it difficult
to reconcile their national interests regarding the
Antilles with their general desire to support and implement
EU consensus positions. For example, the Dutch found it
unlikely that the EU could find consensus on taking a
strong public position on Venezuelan Human Rights abuses,
although they argued that EU representatives could and would
deliver tough messages in private. The Dutch diplomats noted
that Chavez had successfully maneuvered to avoid having an EU
team observe elections in the past and predicted he would do
so again, but doubted that this would lead to a public
confrontation between the EU and Caracas. At the same time,
the recent Dutch deployment of F-16s to Aruba -- a move
unrelated to any tensions with Venezuela, but one they hoped
Caracas noticed -- demonstrated that the Dutch remain capable
of defending their national interests in the region if
necessary. In recent meetings with the Ambassador and DAO,
CHOD Berlijn said that the Dutch are exploring options for
boosting the military presence around the islands
(potentially including submarines and naval forces from other
EU members), primarily for counter-narcotics purposes. As
noted ref a, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell has recently
expressed concerns regarding Chavez' illogical approach to
foreign investors and the potential impact of his policies in
the region.

8. (C) COMMENT: As an EU state with Caribbean interests, the
Dutch have good justifications for assuming a leading role
within the EU in developing a strategy toward Venezuela.
Such a role does not come naturally to the Dutch, however,
and they will be reluctant to challenge traditional Spanish
leadership on Latin American issues without serious cause
and/or encouragement. A policy of confronting Chavez would
also be risky domestically given the Dutch public's
ambivalent attitude toward the Antilles and Aruba and the
Dutch colonial legacy in general. That said, senior Dutch
officials, including Balkenende, clearly understand that
Chavez' machinations threaten Dutch interests directly -- in
addition to destabilizing the region more broadly -- but
believe that their options for dealing with this threat are
currently limited. We should continue to seek every
opportunity to engage the Dutch on this issue to help develop
regional options for countering Chavez' destabilizing
policies, and to encourage the Dutch to work within European
circles to help stiffen the spine of the EU. END COMMENT.


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