US embassy cable - 05MADRID741

MFA READOUT OF CUBA/VENEZUELA DISCUSSIONS IN WASHINGTON

Identifier: 05MADRID741
Wikileaks: View 05MADRID741 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Madrid
Created: 2005-02-25 15:32:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL CU CO SP VZ
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MADRID 000741 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/25/2015 
TAGS: PREL, CU, CO, SP, VZ 
SUBJECT: MFA READOUT OF CUBA/VENEZUELA DISCUSSIONS IN 
WASHINGTON 
 
REF: A. A) STATE 29323 
     B. B) MADRID 703 
 
Classified By: Political Counselor Kathy Fitzpatrick; reasons 1.4 (B) a 
nd (D). 
 
1. (U) This is an action message.  Please see request for 
guidance on Venezuela in paras 4 and 15. 
 
2. (C) Summary.  MFA Director General for Latin America 
Javier Sandomingo requested a meeting with polcouns on 
February 24 to discuss his recent meetings at the Department 
and the NSC, which he said had gone very well.  Sandomingo 
said he believed Spain shared a "common vision" with the USG 
on our broad objectives in Cuba despite our tactical 
differences and that there was an opportunity for coordinated 
efforts to improve human rights conditions.  He assured 
polcouns that EU missions in Havana would soon put into 
effect a "structured dialogue" with the opposition to 
demonstrate continued EU support for democracy activists.  He 
said the MFA would also instruct the Spanish Embassy in 
Havana to increase its own contact with dissidents.  Polcouns 
welcomed the news on the beginning of a structured outreach 
to the dissidents since this was supposed to be a key element 
in the easing of the EU's restrictive measures.  Regarding 
assertions of a "common vision," however, polcouns noted that 
there was still considerable doubt in Washington regarding 
the EU's recent overtures to Castro, which we believe 
strengthen Castro at the expense of the opposition and will 
be used by Castro to undermine USG-EU unity in favor of 
democratic reforms.  Sandomingo confirmed that Cuban Foreign 
Minister Perez Roque will visit Madrid March 14-15. 
 
3. (C) On Venezuela, Sandomingo said Spain hopes to use its 
influence with Chavez to halt the erosion of democratic 
rights in Venezuela, end Chavez' regional adventurism, and 
ease Colombian-Venezuelan tensions.  Spain's view, he said, 
was that Chavez should not be isolated as long as there is a 
chance he can be turned back from his current course.  He 
said there has been no final decision on the composition of 
the Spanish weapons sale to Venezuela, nor on whether 
Zapatero will travel to Venezuela in late March.  Polcouns 
said the weapons sale and the Zapatero visit to Caracas were 
not consistent with Spain's stated objectives in Venezuela, 
since they would only embolden Chavez' negative tendencies 
and play into Chavez' hands as he will exploit any perceived 
split in our policies.  Sandomingo admitted that he was not 
optimistic that Chavez could be deviated from his path, but 
said Spain was determined to try.  Polcouns again noted that 
it was difficult to understand how Spain's gestures, rather 
than a common policy of pressure to reform, would influence 
Chavez.  Sandomingo (protect) admitted that the 2004 decision 
not to sell tanks to Colombia had been made in response to 
appeals to halt the sale by unnamed NGOs that had aided 
Zapatero's electoral campaign.  He urged WHA A/S Noriega to 
visit Madrid at the earliest opportunity to discuss possible 
areas of U.S.-Spain cooperation in Latin America. 
 
4. (C) This meeting and previous discussions with 
Sandomingo's subordinates reveal considerable unease within 
the MFA regarding weapons sales to Venezuela.  If we want to 
influence Spain's decision, we should do so as soon as 
possible.  Press reports indicate Zapatero's trip to Caracas 
is scheduled for March 28-30 and the GOS will surely make a 
decision on the final weapons package prior to that visit. 
We may not be able to prevent a sale, but we should at least 
highlight the contradiction of selling large quantities of 
weapons to Chavez at the same time that Spain claims to be 
trying to ease Colombian-Venezuelan tensions.  On Cuba, the 
MFA may be feeling defensive, but we have little confidence 
that Zapatero feels pressure to demonstrate Spain/EU 
commitment to the democratic opposition.  The proof will come 
in the nature of the EU's engagement with dissidents in the 
coming months.  Action request: Post requests Department 
guidance on the issue of the Spanish weapons sales to 
Venezuela.  End Summary. 
 
//CUBA// 
 
5. (C) Sandomingo said he had had excellent meetings on both 
Cuba and Venezuela with A/S Noriega and with NSC Senior 
Director for Latin America Tom Shannon.  On Cuba, Sandomingo 
expressed his conviction that there that the USG and GOS 
shared "the same vision" for Cuba's future, to include a 
peaceful transition to democracy that would include a role 
for the opposition.  He said Spain and the USG are also of a 
similar mind on the need to improve political conditions in 
Cuba even while Castro remained in power.  Sandomingo said 
that differences would obviously remain on the question of 
how to achieve these objectives, including Spain's negative 
view of the U.S. embargo and rejection of Helms Burton, but 
said he was certain that there was ample room for bilateral 
cooperation on Cuba beyond these differences. 
 
6. (C) Sandomingo said he understood from his meetings in 
Washington that the USG wanted to see clear evidence that the 
new EU approach on Cuba did not imply diminished support for 
pro-democracy activists.  He said that EU heads of mission in 
Havana were to meet on February 24 to "determine concrete 
modalities for putting into effect the EU's structured 
dialogue with the opposition."  He promised to share a copy 
of the report on the Havana COM meeting with the Embassy and 
said he expected the initial meeting to be primarily 
"symbolic."  EU missions in Havana would invite 20-25 
dissident leaders to a luncheon or reception for discussions, 
with minimal objectives on substance.  Though it would be a 
closed meeting, the EU participants would release a press 
statement at the end to draw public attention to the event. 
(NOTE: Sandomingo later said that the EU was trying to avoid 
too much publicity in order to prevent an immediate 
confrontation with the Cuban government over the issue. END 
NOTE.)  Future meetings would be in the form of working 
sessions and would probably involve fewer dissidents at a 
time, given the differences among the various groups.  Apart 
from participating in broader EU contacts with the 
opposition, Sandomingo said the Spanish Embassy in Havana 
would be issued "specific instructions" to engage activists 
on a bilateral basis.  He said the Spanish Embassy had always 
been in the forefront in supporting the opposition in Havana, 
recalling his own experience in Cuba as the Spanish charge 
d'affaires in the mid 1990s. 
 
7. (C) Polcouns welcomed Sandomingo's readout and information 
on the EU's next steps in Cuba, but cautioned that there were 
still grave doubts in Washington regarding the EU's course 
and actions thus far.  The USG has seen months of overtures 
to Castro, but little to substantiate Spain's commitment to 
balance the easing of the EU's restrictive measures with 
greater outreach to the opposition.  In our view, the visit 
of PSOE President Chaves to meet with Castro and (briefly) 
with the opposition had been a failure and a gift to the 
Castro regime.  Moreover, we'd seen the news that Cuban 
Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque would soon visit Madrid, 
giving Castro another chance to claim victory over the EU's 
previous tough stance on Cuba.  Sandomingo said that the USG 
would soon see concrete EU measures to ramp up contact with 
dissidents and insisted that Spain and the EU are not "giving 
Castro any gifts" in the new relationship.  He confirmed that 
Perez Roque would be in Madrid March 14-15 and said that 
immediately after that visit he and Cuba desk officer Pablo 
Gomez de Olea would travel to Miami for meetings with Cuban 
exile groups. 
 
//VENEZUELA// 
 
8. (C) Sandomingo called Venezuela "a much more complex" 
issue than Cuba, though again he said that the USG and Spain 
shared a similar outlook.  "The only difference is that Spain 
believes that Chavez is on his way to becoming another 
Castro, while the USG believes he already is another Castro. 
We don't believe that now is the time to isolate Venezuela, 
since that would only push Chavez in a negative direction." 
Sandomingo outlined Spain's top three priorities in Venezuela: 
 
A. Help preserve the freedoms that still exist, including 
freedom of the press and independent political parties.  He 
acknowledged that these and other centers of independent 
thought were under continuing assault by the Chavez 
government. 
 
B. Convince Chavez not to involve himself in foreign 
adventures in the region. 
 
C. Prevent conflict between Colombia and Venezuela. 
 
9. (C) Sandomingo said that while the USG had many levers of 
influence over Venezuela and could apply painful pressure if 
necessary, Spain had far more limited options.  He said Spain 
had gained Chavez' confidence and was now analyzing how to 
use that influence in support of the objectives described 
above.  Spain's policies towards Venezuela were also 
conditioned by the fact that Chavez was, "for the moment," a 
legally elected leader and therefore a legitimate 
interlocutor. 
10. (C) Polcouns replied that the USG could not understand 
Spain's proposed weapons sale (ref B) and President 
Zapatero's plans to visit Caracas in March in the context of 
the objectives discussed by Sandomingo.  Chavez would only be 
emboldened by his belief that Spain, and therefore the EU, 
somehow endorsed his undemocratic actions or was at the very 
least prepared to ignore his autocratic tendencies.  The USG 
did not seek to isolate Chavez, but we were deeply concerned 
that Chavez was steering Venezuela and the region towards a 
serious crisis.  We also believed that a common voice 
pressuring for reform would have more influence on Chavez 
than Spain's gestures. 
 
11. (C) Sandomingo said that neither the weapons sale nor 
President Zapatero's plans to visit Venezuela had been 
finalized.  He described the proposed weapons package for 
Venezuela as the subject of a vigorous internal debate, with 
the guiding principle a determination not to provide 
materials that could be transfered by Chavez to subversive 
groups or militias.  Sandomingo became flustered when pressed 
for details on the types of vessels being considered for sale 
to Venezuela and for clarity on how the final decision would 
be made, making clear that final decisions would be made at a 
high political level.  He noted that the commercial value of 
the deal (over USD 700 million and potentially up to USD 1 
billion) would be critical in light of the importance such a 
sale would have for Spain's cash-strapped Izar Shipyards. 
 
12. (C) Sandomingo said no final decision had been made 
regarding Zapatero's possible visit to Caracas.  He said that 
if Zapatero does go to see Chavez, he will also go to 
Colombia to demonstrate that Spain is not siding with Chavez. 
 Also, while in Venezuela Zapatero would make it a point to 
have several meetings with the political opposition.  When 
polcouns questioned how Spain would get it's message across 
under Chavez' headlines on the visit, Sandomingo expressed 
confidence that Spain would be able to publicize its sessions 
with the opposition. 
 
 Sandomingo emphasized that Spain was keeping Colombia 
informed on the weapons deal and that the Colombians had 
given their approval.  Polcouns expressed concern that Chavez 
would nevertheless turn the Zapatero visit into a propaganda 
coup.  Interestingly, Sandomingo (protect) raised Zapatero's 
2004 decision not to follow through on former president 
Aznar's sale of tanks to Colombia, admitting that unspecified 
Spanish NGOs had persuaded Zapatero to withdraw the offer. 
He said Zapatero's advisers had felt indebted to these NGOs, 
which had helped get him elected, and had bent to their 
demands. 
 
13. (U) Sandomingo asked that we reiterate his invitation 
made in Washington for A/S Noriega to visit Spain.  He said 
A/S Noriega would be assured good high-level meetings and 
that it would help both sides identify potential areas for 
cooperation. 
 
//COMMENT// 
 
14. (C) For the past several months, we have used every 
opportunity to signal the USG's concerns with respect to 
Madrid's overtures to Chavez.  This meeting with Sandomingo 
and previous discussions with his subordinates reveal 
considerable unease within the MFA regarding weapons sales to 
Venezuela.  If we want to influence Spain's decision, we 
should do so as soon as possible.  Press reports indicate 
Zapatero's trip to Caracas is scheduled for March 28-30 and 
the GOS will surely make a decision on the final weapons 
package prior to that visit.  We may not be able to prevent a 
sale, but we should at least highlight the contradiction of 
selling large quantities of weapons to Chavez at the same 
time that Spain claims to be trying to ease 
Colombian-Venezuelan tensions.  On Cuba, the MFA may be 
feeling defensive, but we have little confidence that 
Zapatero feels pressure to demonstrate Spain/EU commitment to 
the democratic opposition.  The proof will come in the nature 
of the EU's engagement with dissidents in the coming months. 
 
//ACTION REQUEST// 
15. (C) Recent events supersede the points we have used in 
previous discussions with the GOS on Venzuela, therefore post 
requests Department guidance on the issue of Spanish weapons 
sales to Caracas.  We would like to convey to the GOS a clear 
USG message regarding our concerns on the sale so that they 
can factor in our response during the course of their 
internal deliberations. 
MANZANARES 

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