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Latin America - U.S. secret blueprint to undermine Chavez

María Luisa Rivera for Wikileaks, 9 December 2010, 13.30 GMT

Craig Kelly, the U.S. ambassador to Chile, drew up a secret list of strategies to undermine Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president. His memo - dated June 15, 2007 (click here) - was one of a series drawn up by various U.S. embassies in the Southern Cone region. 

Kelly summed up his vision as follows: "Know the enemy: We have to better understand how Chavez thinks and what he intends; —Directly engage: We must reassert our presence in the region, and engage broadly,  especially  with the "non-elites"; —Change the political landscape: We  should  offer a vision of hope and back it up with adequately-funded  programs;  —Enhance military relationships: We should continue to  strengthen ties  to those military leaders in the region who share our  concern over  Chavez."

Specifically, Kelly  proposed strengthening U.S. intelligence  operations in Latin America  in order to better understand Chavez’s  long-term objectives and blackmailing neighboring countries  to turn against Chavez such as by excluding Venezuela from regional free trade agreements.

Kelly, who just retired after serving as the second highest ranked diplomat for "western hemispheric affairs" at the State department, acknowledged in his memo that “Chavez has made significant inroads, particularly with local  populations, by providing programs for the underprivileged.” 

Despite admitting that Chavez had been successful, Kelly also described the Venezuelan president’s vision as  “distorted” and mocked his “tirades and antics” claiming that "Chavez’s mouth (often) opened before his brain has engaged." Kelly recommended telling "the  truth  about Chavez — his hollow vision, his empty promises, his  dangerous international relationships starting with Iran."

Yet the cable also warns that Chavez must be  taken seriously noting that “it would be a mistake to dismiss Hugo Chavez as just a clown or old school caudillo. He has a vision, however distorted, and  he is taking calculated measures to advance it”.

Kelly noted that few countries in the region had proven capable of resisting  the appeal of Venezuela’s aid and investment packages. "Poor countries, like Uruguay, are vulnerable not so much to Chavez’s ideology but to his petrobolivars," he wrote.

Another example that  Kelly used to illustrate this point was Argentina’s ties to Venezuela. Due to Argentina’s lack of access to capital markets Kelly noted that Chavez “bought” support through financial assistance, reccommending that  the "obvious counter to the influence that Chavez’s financial support  has bought him in Argentina is to help the GoA (government of Argentina) regain direct access to  international financial markets." 

In order to reduce Venezuela’s influence in regional affairs, Kelly also proposed holding up Brazil and Chile as “case studies” of “countries that are leftist-led but are democratic and fiscally responsible”.

Acknowledging Chavez’s success at creating   the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) - a 12 nation group modeled after the European Union - that pointedly excluded the U.S. Kelly suggested that the U.S.  block further integration of the region by threatening to stop trade with Southern Cone countries if Venezuela is  allowed to join MERCOSUR, a free trade zone made up of  Argentina,  Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. 

The cable further shows  the intention of the U.S. to destabilize Chavez’s authority. Kelly  recommended using “public diplomacy” to fight a “battle of ideas and visions”. One suggestion was that the embassy should track “local elite appetites for corruption" and any examples of the Chavez administration "fail(ing) to deliver on their  promises." 

He also recommended exploiting the fears of the anti-Chavez leaders and opinion makers that “appreciate the importance of relations with the U.S.” 

Kelly claims that the five-country visit by Bush in March 2007 was a major diplomatic success against Chavez, so he encouraged further senior-level visits to wean other Latin American countries away from Venzuela’s influence.

"When we make these visits, it is  important we be seen not just with government officials and elites, but  also with those who have been marginalized or are on the fringes of  society. We need visits not only to those countries where leaders praise  us, but even more importantly where governments have distanced  themselves from us. In these places, showing the flag and explaining  directly to populations our view of democracy and progress can change  views about the U.S. that may have become distorted or out of date."

Finally Kelly recommended increased funding for "critical programs such as  International Military Education and Training (IMET) and traditional  Commander Activities (TCA) and the elimination of other important  programs such as Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Excess Defense  Articles (EDA).

Much of this funding has been cut in recent years as a punishment to countries who refuse to shield U.S. citizens from the  prosecution of the International Criminal Court.

In the past, however, the U.S. was deeply involved in the training paramilitary forces in Latin  America many of whom were associated with right wing regimes, notably at the School of the Americas (SOA) located at Fort Benning, Georgia, which was renamed the “Western  Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" in 2001.