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Cablegate: Chavez Laying the Groundwork for Confrontation

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id: 234042
date: 11/10/2009 11:11
refid: 09CARACAS1443
origin: Embassy Caracas
classification: SECRET
destination: 09CARACAS1351|09CARACAS1367|09CARACAS1376|09CARACAS1419|09CARACAS1426|09CARACAS1430
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 CARACAS 001443

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/09/2029
TAGS: PREL PINS MARR MCAP MOPS VZ
SUBJECT: CHAVEZ LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR CONFRONTATION
WITH COLOMBIA

REF: A. CARACAS 1430
B. CARACAS 1426
C. CARACAS 1376
D. CARACAS 1367
E. CARACAS 1351
F. CARACAS 1419

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Classified By: Acting Pol Counselor Rolf Olson, for reason 1.4 (d)

1. (SE) Summary: On November 8, President Chavez called on
Venezuelans to "prepare for war" due to the threat posed by
Colombia and the United States. Chavez again hammered the
Colombian government for "shamelessly delivering its
sovereignty to the U.S." through the recently signed
U.S.-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA). Chavez's
comments followed dual announcements on November 5 by Vice
President Carrizalez and Foreign Minister Maduro that the
Venezuelan government (GBRV) was deploying 15,000 National
Guardsmen and ramping up its intelligence-gathering
activities in states that border Colombia to "track down and
neutralize irregular groups" in the aftermath of several
violent incidents. These announcements were made against a
backdrop of serious domestic problems for the GBRV.
Venezuelans are unhappy about widespread water shortages,
increasing power blackouts, and spiraling crime rates. Chavez
has a well-established track record of using external threats
to shift attention away from the GBRV's shortcomings. No
meaningful movement of National Guard troops has been noted
since the Carrizalez announcement, and post does not/not
believe a full-scale war between Colombia and Venezuela is
looming or even conceivable at this point. But as Chavez
stares down the bumpy road that leads to the 2010 National
Assembly elections, he appears willing to run the risk of a
more serious incident on the border than we have so far
witnessed. End Summary.

2. (U) During his November 8 "Alo, Presidente" television
broadcast, President Chavez charged his military leaders to
prepare their forces and the Venezuelan public for the
possibility of armed conflict with Colombia and/or the United
States. Chavez asserted that through its signing of the DCA,
"Colombia has delivered its sovereignty to the Empire... the
Government of Colombia is no longer in Bogota, it's been
transferred to the United States." Concluding that the
presence of American soldiers in Colombia would inevitably
lead to an attack against Venezuela, Chavez urged: "Let's not
lose a single day in our principal mission -- preparing
ourselves for war and helping the people prepare themselves
for war, because it's the responsibility of all....
Revolutionary students, workers, women: everyone together..."
Reinforcing the point that this call to arms was simply a
reaction to the nefarious intentions of others, he pondered:
"If we lived in a world in which the sovereignty of the
people and international law were respected, we could
dedicate ourselves to something other than war." Chavez
claimed to be paraphrasing President Lula saying that "the
only thing he had seen from Obama was the coup in Honduras
and the military bases in Colombia."

3. (SE) Chavez's comments follow dual announcements on
November 5 by GBRV officials of an increased Venezuelan
military presence and intelligence-gathering along the border
with Colombia. Vice President and Minister of Defense Ramon
Carrizalez stated that 15,000 National Guard troops were
being deployed in the border states of Zulia, Tachira,
Barinas, Apure, and Amazonas "to identify, track down, and
neutralize irregular groups that are trying to destabilize
our government." While stridently accusing the USG and
Colombia of seeking to undermine the Venezuelan government
(Ref A), Foreign Minister Nicholas Maduro stated that the
GBRV would "increase intelligence efforts" along the border,
as well as "continue strengthening our political and military
capacity... so that not even one U.S. soldier can set foot in
this country." Border tensions have heightened in recent
weeks in the aftermath of the killing in Tachira of ten
kidnapping victims alleged by the GBRV to be paramilitaries,
as well as the November 2 murder of two National Guard
officers at a Tachira checkpoint (Refs B and C). However, in
the three days since Carrizalez's announcement of the
National Guard "deployment," no significant movement of
forces has been observed, and a simple redeployment of forces
already based in the areas in question may constitute the
extent of the mobilization.

4. (SE) The recent events near the Colombian border and the
GBRV's reactions come at the same time that Chavez's
Bolivarian political project faces diminished popular support
due to deteriorating public services and a crime problem that
the GBRV has been unable to contain. Caracas-wide water

CARACAS 00001443 002 OF 002


rationing commenced on November 2, leaving entire
neighborhoods without water service for two days each week
for the foreseeable future. Diminished capacity to meet
electricity demand has led to frequent blackouts across the
country (Ref D). On November 8, local daily El Universal
reported that according to projections, the number of
homicides in Venezuela will grow by 48 percent between 2008
and 2009 -- from 13,129 in 2008 to an estimated 19,400 by the
end of 2009. Even among Chavez's traditional political
supporters, frustration about the lack of progress on such
issues has begun to set in (Ref E).

5. (SE) Comment: Coupled with these serious domestic
challenges and the recent violence in the border area,
Chavez's rhetoric suggests he is willing to run the risk of
-- and perhaps even sees opportunity in -- a low-level
military incident of some sort with Colombia. Such an
incident could have several potential benefits for Chavez: it
would help distract domestic and international critics; serve
to rally his followers around the flag; facilitate the
further militarization and centralization of Venezuelan
society; and create a more favorable security environment on
the Venezuelan side of the border for friendly Colombian
rebels (contact with whom he may still deny). It could even
serve as a possible pretext for postponing next year's AN
elections, should the political climate remain unfavorable.
Finally, he may see value in bloodying Colombia's nose as
talk of a possible third Uribe term continues, or of playing
the victim of a Colombia-originated incident. Chavez appears
to recognize the stiff internal political headwinds he
currently confronts, and the announcement last week that the
AN elections will take place on September 26 (Ref F) provides
him a timeline with which he can map out an electoral
strategy that minimizes the fallout from his government's
shortcomings.

6. (SE) Comment Continued: Post does not/not believe a
full-scale war with Colombia is looming or even conceivable
at this point. While Chavez is manipulating the DCA issue at
least in part to justify certain internal measures, some
local observers think that he really believes a
U.S.-Colombian move against him is possible -- or even in
train. If true, this belief could propel him to take reckless
actions both internally and/or abroad. End Comment.
DUDDY

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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