US embassy cable - 05THEHAGUE2136 (original version)

NETHERLANDS/VENEZUELA/ANTILLES: DUTCH WORRIED ABOUT CHAVEZ; DETERMINED TO ENGAGE (original version)

Identifier: 05THEHAGUE2136
Wikileaks: View 05THEHAGUE2136 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy The Hague
Created: 2005-08-03 10:36:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL PHUM EPET NA NL VZ
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
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 02 THE HAGUE 002136 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/01/2015 
TAGS: PREL, PHUM, EPET, NA, NL, VZ 
SUBJECT: NETHERLANDS/VENEZUELA/ANTILLES:  DUTCH WORRIED 
ABOUT CHAVEZ; DETERMINED TO ENGAGE 
 
REF: A. A) THE HAGUE 2127 
     B. B) THE HAGUE 2044 AND PREVIOUS 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR CLIFFORD SOBEL FOR REASONS 1.4(B) AND (D). 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  According to Prime Minister Balkenende's 
chief foreign policy advisor, concerns about Venezuelan 
interference in the Dutch Antilles and Aruba have recently 
risen to "the top" of the Dutch list of foreign policy 
priorities.  A Chavez visit to the Netherlands is not 
currently under consideration, but Balkenende may try to 
deliver a firm message to Chavez on the margins of the 
upcoming UNGA.  Foreign Minister Bot and Justice Minister 
Donner both plan to visit Caracas in the next few months, and 
Balkenende is also considering a possible visit in November. 
During a recent briefing by a visiting USG Venezuela expert, 
working level MFA contacts admit that the Dutch feel torn 
between their desire to support an EU consensus on Venezuela 
and protecting Dutch national interests in the Caribbean. 
The Dutch have compiled a list of grievances ranging from 
flyovers by military aircraft to public statements by 
Venezuelan officials recalling Venezuelan territorial claims 
to the islands.  Further U.S.-Dutch consultations in this 
area would be beneficial to both parties.  END SUMMARY. 
 
2. (C) Rob Swartbol, Prime Minister Balkenende's senior 
foreign policy advisor, told Ambassador Sobel on August 1 
that the Dutch government is increasingly concerned about 
Venezuelan President Chavez' efforts to broaden his influence 
in the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba.  Swartbol acknowledged 
that for years the Dutch did not take Venezuelan maneuvering 
seriously, but stressed that "now it is at top of our 
agenda."  Prime Minister Balkenende has taken a personal 
interest in the issue, he added, and has asked for a paper in 
the next two to three weeks to help clarify Dutch options. 
Swartbol confirmed that, contrary to earlier indications, the 
Dutch do not plan to invite Chavez to visit The Netherlands 
in the near future.  If Chavez does come to The Netherlands 
as part of a broader European tour, however, the Prime 
Minister would expect to meet with him, he added. 
 
3. (C) Ambassador Sobel stressed that the U.S. shared Dutch 
concerns about destabilizing Venezuelan moves in the region. 
The Dutch, he added, could play a role in encouraging the EU 
to stand firm against Chavez' destabilization efforts.  The 
EU, he added, needs to be very careful in engaging Chavez, 
who is a proven master at manipulating "engagement" efforts 
to his own advantage.  EU members considering selling weapons 
to Venezuela for ostensibly legitimate purposes, in 
particular, need to understand the broader impacts of such 
sales.  Swartbol agreed that the EU should have a coordinated 
approach on arms sales and other issues that took such 
concerns into account.  Although the Dutch do not want to 
give Chavez a "day in the sun," he added, they also see no 
realistic alternative to engagement at this point. 
 
4. (C) According to Swartbol, Prime Minister Balkenende may 
propose meeting Chavez on the margins of the UNGA in 
September to send a strong signal that Venezuelan 
"infiltration efforts" in the islands are unacceptable. 
Swartbol suggested, however, that a final decision on whether 
Balkenende would engage Chavez in New York would depend in 
part on FM Bot's plans, as the Prime Minister would not want 
to engage Chavez before Bot has had an opportunity to meet 
with him.  (Note:  The MFA told us on July 29 that Bot 
currently plans to visit Venezuela in the October 17-24 
timeframe.)  If a meeting in New York does not take place, 
the next logical time for a Balkenende-Chavez meeting could 
be in November, when the Prime Minister is scheduled to 
travel to Suriname. 
 
5. (C) PM Balkenende confirmed to Ambassador Sobel during a 
private meeting on July 29 that he hopes to engage Chavez 
directly about Dutch concerns over the Antilles, but left 
open the issue of timing and venue.  In addition to the Bot 
and/or Balkenende meetings with Chavez, Dutch Minister of 
Justice told the Ambassador on July 30 that he also plans to 
travel to Venezuela, Colombia, Suriname, and Curacao 
beginning August 27.  Although Donner's trip will focus 
primarily on improving counter-narcotics cooperation in the 
region (especially with Colombia), Donner also expressed 
serious concerns about political developments in Venezuela 
and Chavez' intentions toward the Netherlands Antilles and 
Aruba, which he described as "our Malvinas." 
 
6. (C) Separately, during a briefing on Venezuela by a 
visiting USG expert on July 28, Dutch working-level 
representatives from the MFA's Western Hemisphere Department 
expressed deep concern over the increasing frequency and 
growing seriousness of Venezuelan attempts to influence and 
intimidate the Dutch Antilles' government.  Dutch 
interlocutors provided a four page list of incidents 
(reported in other channels) to illustrate their concerns. 
These ranged from an unauthorized 2002 flyover of Curacao by 
Venezuelan military aircraft, to Venezuelan accusations 
(around the time of the USS Saipan visit) that the Antilles 
supported U.S. aggression against Venezuela, to recent public 
statements (including by the Venezuelan Consul General in 
Curacao and the Governor of Falcon) calling for a restoration 
of the "historic" relationship between Venezuela and the 
islands.  Most disturbing to the Dutch were the many 
instances of Chavez apparently offering assistance to 
political figures (including former minister Cova) to 
encourage them to challenge Prime Minister Ys' government as 
well as existing ties between The Netherlands and the 
islands.  The Dutch representatives noted that Chavez had a 
wide range of tools for exerting influence on the islands, 
including the flow of oil, pro-Venezuelan politicians (such 
as Cova), and even criminal groups (such as that gathered 
around former strongman Godett); used together, these 
elements could have a powerful destabilizing effect on the 
islands and create serious problems for the Dutch government. 
 
7. (C) The Dutch diplomats noted that they found it difficult 
to reconcile their "national interests" regarding the 
Antilles with their general desire to support and implement 
EU consensus positions.  For example, the Dutch found it 
"unlikely" that the EU could find consensus on taking a 
strong public position on Venezuelan Human Rights abuses, 
although they argued that EU representatives could and would 
deliver tough messages in private.  The Dutch diplomats noted 
that Chavez had successfully maneuvered to avoid having an EU 
team observe elections in the past and predicted he would do 
so again, but doubted that this would lead to a public 
confrontation between the EU and Caracas.  At the same time, 
the recent Dutch deployment of F-16s to Aruba -- a move 
unrelated to any tensions with Venezuela, but one they hoped 
Caracas noticed -- demonstrated that the Dutch remain capable 
of defending their national interests in the region if 
necessary.  In recent meetings with the Ambassador and DAO, 
CHOD Berlijn said that the Dutch are exploring options for 
boosting the military presence around the islands 
(potentially including submarines and naval forces from other 
EU members), primarily for counter-narcotics purposes.  As 
noted ref a, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell has recently 
expressed concerns regarding Chavez' "illogical" approach to 
foreign investors and the potential impact of his policies in 
the region. 
 
8. (C) COMMENT: As an EU state with Caribbean interests, the 
Dutch have good justifications for assuming a leading role 
within the EU in developing a strategy toward Venezuela. 
Such a role does not come naturally to the Dutch, however, 
and they will be reluctant to challenge traditional Spanish 
leadership on Latin American issues without serious cause 
and/or encouragement.  A policy of confronting Chavez would 
also be risky domestically given the Dutch public's 
ambivalent attitude toward the Antilles and Aruba and the 
Dutch colonial legacy in general.  That said, senior Dutch 
officials, including Balkenende, clearly understand that 
Chavez' machinations threaten Dutch interests directly -- in 
addition to destabilizing the region more broadly -- but 
believe that their options for dealing with this threat are 
currently limited.  We should continue to seek every 
opportunity to engage the Dutch on this issue to help develop 
regional options for countering Chavez' destabilizing 
policies, and to encourage the Dutch to work within European 
circles to help stiffen the spine of the EU.  END COMMENT. 
 
 
SOBEL 

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