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Cablegate: Costa Rica: Venezuela's "Peace Base" Causes Controversy

VZCZCXYZ0009
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0959/01 3241721
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 201721Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0046
INFO WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS

UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000959

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL VE CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA: VENEZUELA'S "PEACE BASE" CAUSES CONTROVERSY

1. (SBU) Summary: The Venezuelan government's establishment in
late September of an anti-US "Peace Base" in San Jose is causing
continuing controversy in Costa Rica, and proving to be a large
public relations misstep for the GBRV. The "Peace Base", which is
billed as Hugo Chavez's response to the US - Colombia Defense
Cooperation Agreement, appears to be little more than an
attention-getting title for a discussion forum. That said, it
has riled Costa Ricans who pride themselves on a history of
pacifism and consider the US a close ally. To date the GOCR has
criticized but tolerated Chavez's newest initiative, and the MFA is
waiting for an "official explanation" from the Venezuelan Embassy
as to the purpose of the "Peace Base". End Summary.

---------------------------------------------

PEACE BASE IN A COUNTRY OF PEACE

---------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Venezuela's Ambassador to Costa Rica, Nestor Pineda Prada,
officially opened the "Peace Base" in the Venezuelan Embassy on
September 30, to create a forum to discuss the "militaristic threat
that advances the American empire...under the guise of the war on
drugs." The "Peace Base" came after the opening of similar fora in
Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico and Nicaragua, with a center in Panama
scheduled to open in the coming months.

3. (SBU) However many Costa Ricans, whose government abolished its
military in 1948 and whose country often provides a refuge in an
otherwise turbulent region, were perceptibly offended by the
Venezuelan initiative. Pineda's public statement that "many Costa
Ricans had told (him) that they would like a Chavez in Costa Rica,"
also struck a sour note. Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace
Laureate Oscar Arias blasted the center, stating that "one can
learn how to play baseball from Venezuela, but they can't teach us
anything about peace." A Facebook group immediately sprung up
named "No to the Peace Base in Costa Rica", quickly attracting over
2,300 members. And Minister of the Presidency (and the President's
brother) Rodrigo Arias questioned whether the "Peace Base" violated
the Vienna Convention, ordering the MFA to "examine in detail the
implications of (the) initiative."

-------------------

MFA RESPONSE

-------------------

4. (SBU) Yet the tough talk by Costa Rican officials has led to
little action by the GOCR. The MFA has sent a diplomatic note to
the Venezuelan Embassy asking for more information about the "Peace
Base", and says that it is closely monitoring the program. Foreign
Minister Bruno Stagno has called on the GRBV to change the name of
the initiative, deeming "Peace Base" inappropriate in "a country of
peace." But the GOCR has not called on the GBRV to cancel the
program, or officially stated that it violates the Vienna
Convention. An MFA official privately told us that their options
for regulating the program seemed limited, as the GBRV has not
established any new physical building for the "Peace Base", and it
currently exists only as a loose forum that occasionally meets at
the Venezuelan Embassy.

-----------------------------------------

THE PUBLIC RELATIONS PROBLEM

-----------------------------------------

5. (SBU) The strong condemnation by Costa Rican officials and

negative reaction by the public over the "Peace Base" initiative
seem to have taken the Venezuelans by surprise. The last
significant "Peace Base" meeting was held in mid-October, with
roughly fifty attendees. Since then the GBRV, in a weak attempt to
deflect criticism, has made the dubious claim that the "Peace Base"
in Costa Rica was not directed by Caracas, but instead was an
initiative of Ambassador Pineda.

-----------------------------------

COMMENT: A GRBV MISSTEP

-----------------------------------

6. (SBU) One of the GBRV's primary missteps in launching their
"Peace Base" was as simple as the name itself. If they had named
their program anything else the reaction of Costa Ricans, who
proudly guard their reputation as the "most" peaceful country in
the region, would have been much less severe. Additionally, the
activist, aggressive approach of GRBV Ambassador Pineda since his
arrival in 2008, and his vituperative public comments about the US,
have generally not gone over well with the Costa Ricans.

7. (SBU) Just Prior to Pineda's announcement of the "Peace Base",
post combined efforts wit the Colombian embassy to put out an op-ed
piece in the popular newspaper "The Nation" (copied to the
diplomatic community), based on WHA guidance, to explain the actual
basis and facts regarding the CDA with Colombia. That piece was
well received by the MFA and others, and our subsequent follow-up
with President Arias on the occasion of the visit of Southcom
Deputy Civilian Commander Ambassador Trivelli prompted Arias to
immediately instruct the MFA to look in the "Peace Bases."

8. (SBU) That said, the harsh words of a month ago have generally
led to a 'wait and see' approach on the part of the GOCR. While
Venezuelans have been very quiet since the strong GOCR reaction,
this issue could easily come to the forefront again, especially as
Costa Rica moves into full campaign-mode ahead of the February 2010
national elections.
BRENNAN

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