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Cablegate: Former President Urges Usg to Counter Chavez

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INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 6407
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BRASILIA 002151

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/19/2017
TAGS: PREL PBTS MASS MCAP BR GY VE IR RS
SUBJECT: FORMER PRESIDENT URGES USG TO COUNTER CHAVEZ

REF: A. BRASILIA 2132
B. BRASILIA 313

Classified By: AMBASSADOR CLIFFORD SOBEL, REASONS 1.4 B AND D

1. (C) Summary. Former President and sitting senator Jose
Sarney (PMDB, Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, governing
coalition; of Amapa) urges the USG to do more to counter
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's increasingly destabilizing
actions in the region. Sarney said Chavez threatens to
create a hotspot of regional conflict like the Balkans, and
he reiterated that Chavez will seize Guyana's Essequibo
region (ref B), and he hoped Brazil and the U.S. would step
in and confront Chavez if he did anything extraterritorial.
He expressed concern over an increasing flow of foreign arms
into the region and urged the USG to pressure Russia to stop
selling arms to Venezuela, emphasizing that this is not a
U.S.-Venezuela problem, but a regional one. The growing link
between Venezuela and Iran is part of Chavez's plan to spread
his destabilizing influence, Sarney said, but he considers it
unlikely that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will
visit Brazil (ref A). Sarney predicted the Brazilian Senate
would not approve Venezuelan accession to Mercosul, and he
recommended the U.S. and Brazil make positive gestures toward
Bolivia. Sarney belongs to a growing chorus of elites
worried about destabilization from Caracas, but he supports
President Lula's conflict-averse approach and, like many,
looks to Washington to take the lead in countering Chavez.
End summary.

Chavez will destabilize a divided South America
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (SBU) Jose Sarney, former president of Brazil, now an
influential senator, told Ambassador on November 13 that
Chavez "is a big danger for us and the U.S.," the USG should
be more concerned about Chavez's destabilizing effects in the
region, and the U.S. should engage more, and more visibly,
throughout the region. South America has changed from a
continent of similar countries to a divided continent where
Chavez exploits divisions, destabilizes states, and will
replace the previous generations' peaceful legacy with a
divisive and bellicose legacy, Sarney explained. He believes
Brazilian President Lula is aware of the dangers Chavez
presents, and understands the concerns and needs of the
Brazilian armed forces, but added that the Foreign Ministry
is "infiltrated" with Chavez sympathizers. Asked about the
effort to revive the moribund Amazonian Parliament
("Parlamaz," ref A), Sarney replied, "Chavez wants what
serves him."

Chavez will attack Guyana
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

3. (C) Sarney repeated his firm conviction that "Chavez
wants to do what all dictators do, start an external war,"
and will attack Guyana to seize the Essequibo region, claimed
by Venezuela. (Sarney previously expressed this view, ref
B.) (In a private conversation with the Ambassador a few
days later, Defense Minister Nelson Jobim expressed a
personal concern that if Chavez started to have domestic
problems, he could decide to focus public attention on
unresolved claims on Venezuela's borders.) He hoped Brazil
and the U.S. would step in and confront Chavez if he did
anything extraterritorial. While Brazil and the U.S. would
be drawn into the conflict, Bolivarian Circles in Brazil (ref
A) would support Chavez's Essequibo aggression, Sarney said,
recalling that Brazil-Nicaragua friendship groups harvested
coffee in Nicaragua during Daniel Ortega's first presidency.
(Note: Brazilian media reported on November 17 that Guyana
accused Venezuela of invading its territory with a military
operation on November 15 against gold mining operations
inside Guyana; Venezuela reportedly said the action was
inside Venezuela. End note.)

Pressure Russia to stop arms sales
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

4. (SBU) Sarney said the USG must pressure Russia and
others who sell arms in the region, even if it appears to be
a futile effort, otherwise South America will have a Balkan

BRASILIA 00002151 002 OF 002


or Korean conflict on its soil. Arms sales do not merely
involve Venezuela, but will destabilize the whole region, and
the USG should view it as such, Sarney said, emphasizing that
this is not a U.S.-Venezuela problem, but a regional one. He
suggested there ought to be more arms embargoes for the
region, and recalled how as president he helped ensure the
imposition of an embargo on Chile at a tense time in
Chilean-Argentine relations.

Iran-Venezuela Ties
- - - - - - - - - -

5. (SBU) Venezuela's growing relationship with Iran is but
"a part of Chavez's plan" that includes fomenting
anti-Americanism and replacing Fidel as the regional leftist
leader, but Sarney said he did not think Ahmadinejad would
come to Brazil, although he was to have come in September and
canceled on short notice. (ref A).

Venezuelan Mercosul Accession
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

6. (SBU) Sarney predicted Venezuelan accession to Mercosul
will be defeated in the Brazilian Senate because everyone
understands what Chavez is up to. (Note: The accession bill
is in the Chamber of Deputies and has two more hurdles to
pass before it reaches the Senate. There is a growing chorus
in both houses of Congress voicing deep concerns about
Venezuelan behavior, and Senate approval is uncertain. End
note.)

Bolivia
- - - -

7. (SBU) President Sarney told the Ambassador he has long
believed that because of Bolivia's historical baggage over
its loss of territory to Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Peru,
and now the historical baggage that Evo Morales expresses
(the indigenous as oppressed and rightful owners of the
land), Brazil and the U.S. would do well to make joint,
positive gestures to Bolivia. Bolivia is barely viable as a
country and needs help, even concessions, from Brazil, Sarney
said, in order to prevent Chavez from taking over management
of Bolivia.

8. (C) Comment. Sarney's urging of more USG involvement in
South America indicates he believes Brazil and her neighbors
cannot by themselves overcome the problems Chavez is causing
in the neighborhood. The chorus of anti-Chavez warnings is
growing, but prescriptions vary: while Sarney favors fewer
arms in the region, another leading senator favors more arms
to create a balance (ref A). Sarney has publicly praised
Lula's approach of avoiding interference in Venezuela's
internal affairs and maintaining good ties with Chavez, while
opposition politicians criticize Lula's approach as weak and
fearful of conflict. Although Chavez still has his
supporters in Brazil -- Lula himself publicly defended
Venezuelan democracy the day after the Ambassador's meeting
with Sarney -- the mood is changing, and there is growing
agreement among the political and foreign policy elites that
Venezuela represents a threat to stability and that something
must be done. Despite the growing pride here in Brazil's
global and regional role, many nonetheless look to the U.S.
to lead in countering Chavez; few seem to be considering the
possibility that Brazil might take more public leadership on
the issue.

Sobel

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