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Viewing cable 07LAPAZ3153, VENEZUELA-BOLIVIA: HOW MUCH FIRE BEHIND THE SMOKE?

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07LAPAZ3153 2007-11-30 23:11 2010-12-03 21:09 SECRET Embassy La Paz
VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLP #3153/01 3342314
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 302314Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5844
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 7362
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 4730
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 8637
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 5864
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 3082
RUEHGE/AMEMBASSY GEORGETOWN 0486
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 3284
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 3718
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 5067
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 5719
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 0326
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0749
RUMIAAA/USCINCSO MIAMI FL
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
S E C R E T LA PAZ 003153 

SIPDIS 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/28/2017 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR VE CU BL
SUBJECT: VENEZUELA-BOLIVIA: HOW MUCH FIRE BEHIND THE SMOKE? 

REF: A. LA PAZ 3013 
B. LA PAZ 3119 

Classified By: Ecopol Counselor Mike Hammer for reasons 1.4 b and d. 

1. (C) Summary. A common cry among opposition circles is 
that Hugo Chavez is pulling Evo's strings, particularly as 
Morales forcefully pushes forward to adopt a new constitution 
that would provide for indefinite reelection. Evo for his 
part does nothing to hide his admiration for Chavez; on the 
contrary he acts like a smitten school girl when he is with 
Chavez and constantly touts their personal/ideological bond. 
But, how much influence does Chavez have? Is Venezuelan 
money buying loyalty within the Bolivian armed forces? Are 
there sizable numbers of Venezuelan troops in country? Is 
Venezuela smuggling arms into Bolivia? While it is difficult 
to separate fact from fiction, there is little doubt here 
that Evo listens to Chavez, and that the Venezuelan and Cuban 
Ambassadors here play a central advisory role. We have heard 
enough to indicate that Venezuela is impatient with the pace 
of change in Bolivia and is pushing Morales hard to 
consolidate his hold on power. The results of Venezuelan 
December 2 constitutional referendum may impact Evo's 
thinking on how he should proceed with a similar referendum 
in Bolivia. End summary 

Alleged Venezuelan Coaching on Constituent Assembly 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - 

2. (C) While the opposition sometimes exaggerates Chavez' 
influence over Morales, Brazilian and Peruvian diplomats 
based in La Paz assert that it is becoming increasingly 
evident that Chavez is pushing Evo to follow Venezuela's 
script. These diplomats recounted a GRULAC dinner hosted by 
the Cuban Ambassador on November 26, attended by President 
Morales (who arrived with the Venezuelan Ambassador), during 
which Evo told the group that "there is no going back." 
Morales expressed displeasure with how his MAS party handled 
the Constituent Assembly process in Sucre but was vehement 
that a new constitution must go forward. To the astonishment 
of the Latin American diplomats present, the Venezuelan 
Ambassador then launched into a 30-minute ramble about the 
common history Bolivia and Venezuela share and how their 
futures are linked. 

3. (S) According to the Brazilian political counselor, an 
"extremely reliable" source had reported that the Venezuelan 
Ambassador was at an Evo cabinet meeting November 29 as the 
MAS-led Constituent Assembly was proceeding in Sucre. 
Apparently, when a couple of ministers expressed concern 
about moving forward unilaterally with the Constituent 
Assembly, the Venezuelan Ambassador urged that the government 
go ahead. Comment: While we are quite skeptical that the 
Venezuelan Ambassador would actually attend a cabinet 
meeting, ROAL sources independently place the Venezuelan at 
the Palace that day. Whether or not the Venezuelan 
Ambassador actually attended the cabinet meeting, Evo meets 
regularly with him and undoubtedly seeks his advice. End 
Comment.) 

Venezuelan Military Presence in Beni Department 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

4. (C) In a discussion with Peruvian, German, Argentine and 
Brazilian diplomats here, all expressed concern about a known 
Venezuelan military presence in the northeastern Beni 
department (bordering Brazil). It is quite public and in 
fact touted that a Venezuelan engineer company is building 
levies around the Beni capital of Trinidad. Beni local 
authorities are, however, convinced that the Venezuelans are 
also training Bolivian military in special operations and 
have sizable arms caches for a possible further deployment. 
The German reported that without a doubt there is a 
Venezuelan base in San Borja, but the other diplomats were 
dismissive of this information and argued that the Beni 
authorities tend to greatly exaggerate. We cannot confirm 
that there is a "secret" Venezuelan base at that location and 
suspect that the opposition is exaggerating and/or is simply 
expressing concern about the Venezuelan military presence. 
Our Defense Attach was told by the Mayor of Trinidad on 
November 26 that there are 200 to 300 Venezuelans in 
Trinidad. The group of diplomats affirmed that the number of 
Venezuelans is about 300, but no one is completely certain. 
We understand that the Venezuelans have exclusive control 
over Venezuelan flights and cargo, and exercise an inordinate 
amount of control over the military portion of the Trinidad 
airport. 

Beni on Venezuelan Mystery Flights: 
We're Not Gonna Take It, Anymore 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

5. (S) Defense Attach also met with Trinidad Mayor Moises 
Shiriqui following a meeting between Beni Department Prefect 
Ernesto Suarez and Beni Mayors. The Mayor brought up the 
0100 arrival of a Venezuela C-130 cargo plane at the Beni 
airport November 24, which local authorities suspected was 
shuttling arms. After unloading seven large wooden crates, 
the plane immediately departed. Authorities told the media, 
which were forced to leave shortly after the landing, that 
the boxes contained medical supplies. (Note: We have not 
been able to determine what is in the crates. End note.) 

6. (C) Prefect Suarez announced publicly November 29 that 
Venezuelan planes would not be allowed to land at Trinidad. 
If provided advance landing notice from the government, local 
authorities plan to block the runway with vehicles in order 
to prevent any Venezuelan plane from landing or taking off. 
(Note: Official Airport hours are between 0800 and 2200. 
There is a history of opposition accusations the Venezuelans 
are shipping in arms, perhaps destined for nefarious 
pro-government groups. The opposition also complained about 
an early morning Beni stopover by Venezuelan President Hugo 
Chavez as an affront to Bolivian sovereignty. Ref A. End 
Note.) 

Will Evo Turn To Comandante Chavez? 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

7. (C) The Peruvian political counselor was extremely 
concerned that Venezuela, at Evo's invitation, would 
intervene militarily in Bolivia to back Morales should he be 
unable to exercise control over the opposition departments of 
Beni, Pando, Tarija and Santa Cruz. The Peruvian believes, 
and the Brazilian agreed, that the rank-and-file military 
will not/not use lethal force against fellow Bolivians. We 
too share this assessment (Ref B). The Peruvian and 
Brazilian both commented that funds coming in from Venezuela 
to the Bolivian military do not flow down from the senior 
ranks, and therefore, there is much resentment. The top 
military commanders, however, are opportunists that will 
follow Evo's orders out of self-interest. In fact, Generals 
Vargas, Bersatti and Trigo are reportedly fighting to stay in 
their jobs, causing further disgruntlement among those who 
would like to move into their positions. So, there are 
strong indications that the military is split and could be 
quite reticent to follow orders. Hence, with no Bolivian 
military to enforce Evo's will, Peru fears he will turn to 
Chavez. 

Chavez Stirs the Pot 
- - - - - - - - - - 

8. (SBU) Chavez's November 27 statement that the U.S. 
"empire" is "promoting violence" in order to overthrow the 
Morales administration builds on a constant barrage of 
inflammatory statements indicating a willingness, or perhaps 
an eagerness, to send Venezuelan troops to Bolivia to bolster 
his erstwhile ally. Chavez's October 14 threat to turn 
Bolivia into Vietnam should "oligarchs" attack Morales 
provided the opposition with traction for long-standing 
complaints of Venezuelan "imperialist" designs. Morales 
defended the remarks in November 4 magazine article. Both 
leaders reiterated and expanded upon the Vietnam remarks 
during their November 10 addresses at the Ibero-American 
Conference in Chile, where Chavez warned Bolivian supporters 
of the United States ("pitiyanquies") that any attempt to 
remove Morales would be met with "a thunder of rifles and 
machine guns." Questions over possible Venezuelan 
involvement in the October 18 Bolivian military takeover of 
Santa Cruz's Viru Viru Airport further ignited criticism of 
the Bolivian-Venezuelan relationship. Venezuelan 
"imperialism" has stayed in the headlines since, fed by 
heated exchanges between opposition and government officials, 
an alleged attack on the Venezuelan consulate in Santa Cruz, 
and a scandal involving $11 million in missing Venezuelan 
micro-credit loans. 

Comment 
- - - - 

9. (C) The opposition's cries of Chavez the big bad wolf are 
over the top, but they are right when they express concern 
that Evo is getting advice from the Venezuelans and Cubans. 
With checks and doctors, the Venezuelan and Cuban ambassadors 
are doing what they can to bolster Evo and push his change 
program. For example, it is estimated that Evo has 
distributed around $60-80 million in Venezuelan checks to 
municipalities since he came to office. That said, beyond the 
financial support and advisory role, we find little hard 
evidence to support the prospect of actual Venezuelan 
military intervention in Bolivia. The opposition will 
continue to point to Chavez to discredit Evo and are hoping 
that a victory for the "no" vote in Venezuela's referendum 
will give Evo pause about proceeding with his. Likewise, the 
opposition fears that if Chavez wins, he will embolden Evo to 
push ahead 
GOLDBERG