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Viewing cable 07LAPAZ3262, MILITARY STANDDOWN MORE LIKELY THAN HEAVY HAND

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07LAPAZ3262 2007-12-14 23:11 2010-12-03 21:09 SECRET Embassy La Paz
VZCZCXYZ0002
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLP #3262/01 3482321
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 142321Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5974
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 7435
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 4800
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 8713
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 5939
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 3153
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 3355
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 5138
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 5790
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 0399
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUMIAAA/USCINCSO MIAMI FL
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0818
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/15/2027 
TAGS: ASEC PREL PGOV PINL VN CU BL
SUBJECT: MILITARY STANDDOWN MORE LIKELY THAN HEAVY HAND 
 
REF: A. LA PAZ 3261 
     B. LA PAZ 3119 
 
Classified By: EcoPol Chief Mike Hammer for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
1. (S) Summary:  Over the past couple of days statements from 
military leaders have taken a conciliatory tone and moved 
away from the confrontational rhetoric from Armed Forces 
Commander General Wilfredo Vargas.  Vargas relayed a message 
to the Ambassador that his troops would only intervene in 
"Media Luna" opposition states if leaders clearly break with 
the constitution, for example by declaring independence.  The 
Vice President echoed a similar message in a December 14 
meeting when he told the Ambassador that the government is 
not planning a state of siege or military action unless it is 
required to defend government offices or protect the people. 
Although the military is making plans to deploy 70 additional 
companies to opposition-led departments (states), military 
planners have told us that President Evo Morales has given 
them instructions not to incur civilian casualties.  Field 
commanders continue to tell us they will require a written 
order from President Morales if asked to commit violence 
against opposition demonstrators.  Even with such an order, 
commanders are prepared to stand down and confine their 
troops to barracks.  Imposing a police state on rebel 
departments presents several difficulties: the military views 
this as strictly a police function; the military does not 
presently have the supplies or logistics in place to conduct 
such an operation; many key officers have ties with the 
opposition departments in the Media Luna; and the military 
knows based on past history that they will be held 
accountable.  An influential senator told us the opposition 
is not nearly as concerned with military heavy handedness as 
they are with altiplano police and mysterious "foreign" 
fighters.  End Summary. 
 
Vargas: With Evo or Against Evo? 
-------------------------------- 
 
2. (S)xxxxxxxxxxxx asked Military 
Group Commander on December 13 to tell the Ambassador that in 
case of confrontations in opposition-led "Media Luna" 
departments (states), troops would be deployed in the same 
manner as during the violent November 23-24 Sucre 
demonstrations: troops would protect military and government 
property, but would not enforce a crackdown on civilians. 
This contradicted xxxxxxxxxxxx' December 7 public statement that 
"the true cowards are in the (opposition-controlled) Media 
Luna"  and that the military would "defend the homeland" in 
Santa Cruz to ensure "the security of all."  Although he 
called for increased political dialogue, xxxxxxxxxxxx laid the 
blame for any conflict in the future squarely with the 
opposition for provoking and misinforming Bolivians, without 
offering "any substantive solutions."  But now xxxxxxxxxxxx has 
changed his tune, saying he would only use the military to 
quell civil disorder if the opposition acted in a clearly 
unconstitutional way, for example by declaring independence. 
He did not consider the proposal of autonomy statutes to be a 
clear violation of the constitution. xxxxxxxxxxxx did stress, 
however, that he would not tolerate insubordination or coup 
plotting within his ranks.  The Ambassador was also assured 
by Vice President Garcia Linera on December 14 that the 
government would not declare a state of siege or use the 
military unless it needed to defend government offices or 
protect people. 
 
3. (S) That xxxxxxxxxxxx made his highly-political comments xxxxxxxxxxx angered many 
commanders.  Many commanders were also critical of xxxxxxxxxxx, as they feared it 
opened the military to charges of taking political sides 
beyond its institutional role.xxxxxxxxxxxx
 
4. (C) xxxxxxxxxxxx had been,xxxxxxxxxxx a supporter 
of U.S.-Bolivian military relations.  Although he continues 
to cooperate enthusiastically with us at a working level, 
xxxxxxxxxxx his 
public comments in the last few months have irritated 
Bolivian military officers and raised eyebrows within the 
Embassy.  When given an opening to defend us regarding 
conspiracy charges, he only said the charges should be 
investigated.  When given a chance to opine on Morales' 
celebration of Che Guevara,s 1967 rebellion and criticism of 
Bolivian troops, he said everyone has the right to their own 
opinion. 
 
Setting the Groundwork for Possible Military Action 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 
5. (C) Government rhetoric calmed somewhat this week, with 
officials including Morales making empty overtures about 
dialogue and stressing that the opposition, not the 
government, is pushing the country to conflict.  But 
government officials also warned that if dialogue failed and 
opposition "sedition" continued, the government would have no 
choice but to use force.  "The state is disposed to use 
institutions of force to preserve internal order and 
democratic stability," said Government Minister Alfredo Rada. 
 Rada's Vice-Minister Ruben Gamarra said the government would 
not allow department or civic officials to "threaten the 
unity of the country" as a matter of constitutional 
obligation.  Gamarra said the military also supports this 
position.  The Vice President also told the Ambassador that 
"the president and I must guarantee the country's integrity 
and stability."  The Ambassador made clear that the United 
States supports a united and democratic Bolivia. 
 
Military Leaders Stress Calm and Police Role 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
6. (C) On December 12, the military spoke for itself, backing 
away from confrontational remarks.  Minister of Defense 
Walker San Miguel confirmed that the armed forces were on 
alert, but said the motive was to protect public and private 
property, not to quell unrest.  San Miguel told the press the 
police are responsible for maintaining civil order, not the 
military.  San Miguel discounted any possibility of declaring 
a state of emergency in opposition departments and criticized 
"paranoid" opposition leaders for asserting that President 
Morales had ordered an imminent "militarization." (Note: 
Opposition rumors include appointing military officers 
temporarily to state and city civilian leadership positions. 
End Note.)  San Miguel explained although there had been no 
troop mobilizations, the military remains "concerned."  Army 
Commander Freddy Bersatti said he hoped God would guide 
opposition leaders to make good decisions "for the peace and 
coexistence of all Bolivians." 
 
Military to Retreat from Civilian Confrontations 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
7. (C) Planning of troop deployments to opposition 
departments was conducted December 7 and 8 and continued to 
be refined this week.  Participating commanders told us the 
deployment would involve 70 companies.  Army Chief of Staff 
Gen. Freddy Mackay, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel 
Salazar, and Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Ernesto Roca are the 
chief planners. 
 
8. (S) A senior military planner told DAO December 13 that 
President Morales wants the military to be careful to avoid 
violent confrontations with demonstrators if called upon to 
support Bolivian police.  Despite public bravado, the planner 
said Morales understands deaths will erode political support. 
 He confirmed some units have already deployed to key 
locations throughout the Media Luna to secure gas lines, 
public utilities, and government buildings.  The planner said 
the units would not be armed and would incorporate local 
indigenous to minimize the potential for conflict.  If the 
opposition attempts to take these strategic locations by 
force, the military would retreat. 
 
Santa Chavez to Fund Bolivian Deployments 
----------------------------------------- 
 
9. (S) Until recently, it was unclear how such a deployment 
would be funded.  However, military contacts said December 13 
that $5 million became available this week to fund an 
increased military presence in opposition-led departments and 
another $1.3 million had been allocated for non-lethal 
supplies, such as riot-control gas.  The money was supposedly 
freed up from Venezuelan sources, but this is not confirmed. 
It will take time, at least two weeks, before the new funding 
results in equipped troops on the ground in opposition 
departments. 
 
10. (C) Supply and logistics issues continue to be an 
operational impediment to any proposed military crackdown, 
and it may take months before the new funding resolves these 
shortcomings at remote posts.  Bolivia has not spent any 
money on ammunition in two years, and the capacity to quickly 
move troops remains in doubt.  xxxxxxxxxxx told xxxxxxxxxxx he had 
only two trucks and enough fuel to send his single plane on 
one reconnaissance mission. 
 
Venezuelan Cash and Foreign Fighters 
------------------------------------ 
 
11. (S) xxxxxxxxxxx said Morales understands he risks 
losing the military if he pushes them into a police force 
role.  Because of this, he felt Morales would rely on the 
police from the altiplano and "volunteers from other 
countries" to combat opposition forces should an open 
conflict develop.  xxxxxxxxxxxx said Cuban hospitals could easily 
be "converted to barracks," but had no idea how many 
Venezuelan and Cubans would be willing or available to fight 
for Evo's government. 
 
12. (S) Military contacts are concerned a few rogue 
commanders might obey orders to enforce a police state, their 
loyalty greased with Venezuelan pay-offs.  They asserted 
Venezuelan money would also make it difficult for the 
high-command to refuse such orders.  Although Venezuelan 
"bonuses" have cemented some loyalty, it has also created 
much resentment in the mid- and lower-ranks and cost the high 
command significant legitimacy.  According xxxxxxxxxxx and field 
commanders, there is also a high degree of frustration with 
the perceived meddling of Venezuelan advisors in the internal 
functions of the military and of overtly political statements 
and actions of the high command (such as Army Commander 
Bersatti's decision to wear a red poncho in solidarity with 
the violent, pro-government Red Ponchos group a year ago). 
 
Mixed Signals on Holiday Troop Strength 
--------------------------------------- 
 
13. (C) Although planning and funding appear to be in place, 
the military was sending out mixed signals as to its 
intentions.  There has been no order to extend assignments or 
cancel leave, as would be expected prior to a major military 
undertaking.  About 70 percent of the army's conscript force 
will be rotating during the first two weeks of January. 
Allowing inexperienced troops to transfer into the bulk of 
Media Luna enlisted positions, rather than keeping its 
existing troops in place, might signal that the government 
does not anticipate a major conflict in the near-future. 
However, a senior military planner told DATT that keeping the 
conscripts from rotating would be "more trouble than it is 
worth" and that new troops would be more motivated.  He also 
anticipated an order canceling leave before December 19. 
Another potential tripwire: graduations at the military 
academy in Cochabamba Department were moved up four days to 
December 12. 
 
Field Commanders Set to Stand Down 
---------------------------------- 
 
14. (S) Although xxxxxxxxxxx and others in the high command may be 
coy, many field commanders continue to tell us they will not 
participate in violence against opposition demonstrations. 
xxxxxxxxxxx was on hand when a high-ranking civil defense 
officer told the commander in Tarija Department to demand a 
written order from President Morales if asked to take action 
against opposition leaders or demonstrators.  If they 
received such an order, the officer advised non-compliance 
and a post lock down to commanders from Cochabamba, Santa 
Cruz, and Tarija.  The civil defense officer told MILGP 
Commander he expects commanders will not use force. 
 
15. (C) xxxxxxxxxxx told Emboff that 
Minister of Government Rada contacted the Navy leadership 
when violent protests broke out in Cobija, Pando on November 
30 and asked the Navy to step in and enforce order (Note: 
the Navy is the strongest military branch in the department 
of Pando).  Navy commanders said they would comply when 
provided a signed order from Morales.  Rada never called 
back.  xxxxxxxxxxxx told PolOffs the air force in 
Cobija was similarly requested to take control of the 
civilian airport, requested a written order, and never got 
one. 
 
X-Factors: Institutionalism, Regionalism, and Wives 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 
16. (C) xxxxxxxxxxx told us despite government and high-command 
rhetoric about the military's "constitutional role," most 
commanders thought the government violated the law and the 
constitution by excluding the opposition from key sessions of 
Congress and the Constituent Assembly and, therefore, "have 
no right to invoke the constitution."  A strong commitment to 
institutionalism would require a rock-solid constitutional 
argument before commanders would participate in any action 
that could be considered "political." 
 
17. (C) xxxxxxxxxxx said commanders ultimately place loyalty to 
their region above all other considerations.  Although most 
commanders are originally from the altiplano, they have spent 
most of their careers stationed in the Media Luna.  He said 
many officers worked with the same opposition leaders the 
government might call on them to unseat, a prospect he found 
"very unlikely."  Many altiplano officers marry in the Media 
Luna and have family there.  As for the large minority of 
officers from the Media Luna, including himself, Suarez said 
there is "no way any of us are going to attack our own 
people."  Rather, he said, they would side with the 
opposition if forced to take sides. 
 
xxxxxxxxxxx "Divided" Military Won,t Intervene 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
18. (C) xxxxxxxxxxx told PolOff 
December 14 the opposition did not believe the "divided" 
military would repress them, but were more concerned about 
irregular pro-government militias organized and financed by 
Venezuelans and Cubans.  xxxxxxxxxxx, however, provided no details 
on the supposed paramilitary organizations.  xxxxxxxxxxxx said, in 
any event, he expected no violent stand-off with the 
government before January as both sides are "disorganized." 
 
Comment: 
-------- 
 
19. (C) The best the government can hope for if it gives the 
order to bust opposition heads is sporadic and half-hearted 
compliance from a minority of commanders.  Although they can 
be expected to protect government infrastructure and 
transportation, most commanders are likely to sit out any 
violent confrontation with opposition forces.  Consistent 
with out November assessment (Reftel B), we continue to 
believe the military will choose to ignore orders that are 
not solidly linked to their constitutional role, in writing, 
or that requires them to spill Bolivian blood. 
 
20. (C) Despite bravado from field commanders, DAO expects 
them to frame any potential insubordination as "selective 
non-compliance" to their superiors.  Although field 
commanders may be anxious about day after scenarios if they 
disobey orders, it would be difficult for the government to 
replace "insubordinate" officers, particularly if officers 
refused such orders en masse.  It is unlikely the government 
would find more loyal commanders in the lower ranks, 
uncertain if rank and file troops would recognize them, and 
unclear if such an overly political reorganization would be 
tolerated by the high command.  Unlike his erstwhile ally 
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Evo does not have a network 
of personal friends within the military (although his 
Presidency Minister Juan Quintana does), and the military is 
leery of taking on any role considered remotely political. 
The military fears above all a repeat of the bloody 
military-civilian conflicts in El Alto in 2003, which brought 
down the Goni government.  Many commanders are still bitter 
about the fallout from those events and believe the military 
took the risks and the blame for political decisions. 
 
21. (C) xxxxxxxxxxx remains an enigma.  Some commanders suspected, 
at least xxxxxxxxxxxxxx, that he might be 
sympathetic to a coup.  He is widely characterized as an 
"opportunist" xxxxxxxxxxx.  Under intense pressure from both political sides, 
he plays both sides.  We cannot expect him to stand behind 
his assurances.  End Comment. 
 
GOLDBERG