US embassy cable - 99CARACAS811

COLOMBIA-VENEZUELA: COOLER HEADS PREVAIL

Identifier: 99CARACAS811
Wikileaks: View 99CARACAS811 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Caracas
Created: 1999-03-16 23:26:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL PBTS PINS PTER CO VE
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
O 162326Z MAR 99
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3417
INFO AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 
AMEMBASSY PANAMA 
AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 
AMEMBASSY QUITO 
AMEMBASSY LIMA 
USCINCSO MIAMI FL
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CARACAS 000811 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 3/16/09 
TAGS:  PREL, PBTS, PINS, PTER, CO, VE 
 
SUBJECT: COLOMBIA-VENEZUELA:  COOLER HEADS PREVAIL 
 
REFS:  (A) BOGOTA 02179, (B) CARACAS 0778, (C) BOGOTA 2604 
 
 
CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR JOHN F. MAISTO.  REASON:  1.5 (D). 
 
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SUMMARY 
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1.  (C) THE DIPLOMATIC FLAP BETWEEN COLOMBIA AND VENEZUELA 
PROVOKED BY PRESIDENT CHAVEZ'S MARCH 10 PRESS CONFERENCE COMMENT 
IS OVER.  VENEZUELAN FOREIGN MINISTER RANGEL AND HIS COLOMBIAN 
COUNTERPART HAVE WORKED HARD TO RESOLVE THE INCIDENT AND TO FOCUS 
AGAIN ON THE TASK AT HAND:  MANAGING A COMPLEX BILATERAL RELA- 
TIONSHIP IN A WAY WHICH PROMOTES THE COLOMBIAN PEACE PROCESS AND 
TAKES INTO ACCOUNT VALID VENEZUELAN BORDER SECURITY CONCERNS. 
WHILE WORRISOME, THE INCIDENT DOES NOT PRESAGE AN INCREASE IN 
TENSION BETWEEN BOTH COUNTRIES.  NEITHER SIDE IS LOOKING FOR A 
FIGHT.  THE INCIDENT DOES, HOWEVER, SHOW THE FARC'S ABILITY TO 
MANIPULATE LINGERING DOUBTS AND HISTORIC ANIMOSITIES BETWEEN BOTH 
COUNTRIES TO THE FARC'S ADVANTAGE.  IN THIS ENVIRONMENT, WE HAVE 
A SPECIAL ROLE TO PLAY TO HELP BUILD CONFIDENCE AND TO DEFINE 
ROLES AS VENEZUELA SEEKS TO ENGAGE POSITIVELY IN THE COLOMBIAN 
PEACE PROCESS.  END SUMMARY. 
 
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YESTERDAY'S NEWS 
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2.  (C) REFS A AND B INDICATE THAT THE DIPLOMATIC FLAP PROVOKED 
BY PRESIDENT CHAVEZ'S MARCH 10 PRESS CONFERENCE REMARKS IS OVER. 
VENEZUELAN FOREIGN MINISTER RANGEL, ON MARCH 11, DECLARED THE 
INCIDENT "TRANSITORY AND CIRCUMSTANTIAL" AND "WELL ON ITS WAY TO 
BEING RESOLVED."  ACCORDING TO REF A, COLOMBIAN FOREIGN MINISTER 
FERNANDEZ DE SOTO, ON MARCH 12, SAID THE "DIFFERENCES HAVE BEEN 
FULLY RESOLVED."  COLOMBIA'S AMBASSADOR TO VENEZUELA 
LUIS GUILLERMO GIRALDO, ON MARCH 15, TOLD AMBASSADOR, "THE 
INCIDENT IS OVER." 
 
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NEXT STEPS 
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3.  (C) HARD WORK BY RANGEL AND FERNANDEZ DE SOTO HAS PUT THIS 
FLAP BEHIND BOTH COUNTRIES, AND FOCUSED ATTENTION WHERE IT SHOULD 
BE:  MANAGING A COMPLEX BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP IN A WAY WHICH 
PROMOTES THE COLOMBIAN PEACE PROCESS WHILE TAKING INTO ACCOUNT 
VALID VENEZUELAN BORDER SECURITY CONCERNS.  THE NEXT STEP IN THIS 
PROCESS, ACCORDING TO RANGEL, WILL BE A MEETING, AS SOON AS 
POSSIBLE, OF FOREIGN MINISTERS.  THIS MEETING WILL SET THE STAGE 
FOR A MEETING BETWEEN CHAVEZ AND PASTRANA.  FROM OUR CONVERSA- 
TIONS WITH RANGEL AND GIRALDO, BOTH SIDES RECOGNIZE THAT THIS 
PRESIDENTIAL MEETING MUST BE VERY CAREFULLY HANDLED.  GIRALDO 
TOLD US THAT THE COMMUNIQUE AND PRESS CONFERENCES WHICH WOULD 
RESULT FROM SUCH A MEETING WOULD REQUIRE SPECIAL ATTENTION, AS 
THE MEDIA WILL BE PROBING FOR ANY SIGN OF DISAGREEMENT OR DIS- 
PUTE. 
 
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WHAT THE FLAP DOES NOT MEAN 
--------------------------- 
 
4.  (C) AS THE COLOMBIANS AND THE VENEZUELANS PUT THIS ASPECT OF 
THEIR RELATIONSHIP BACK ON TRACK, IT IS WORTHWHILE LOOKING AT 
WHAT THE FLAP DOES NOT MEAN AND, THEN, AT WHAT IT DOES MEAN. 
SPECIFICALLY, THE FLAP DOES NOT MEAN: 
 
--  AN INCREASE IN OVERALL TENSION IN THE RELATIONSHIP.  THE 
VENEZUELA-COLOMBIA RELATIONSHIP IS SOLIDLY FIXED IN A TIGHTLY 
WOVEN LATTICE OF COMMERCIAL, CULTURAL, ECOLOGICAL, AND MIGRATION 
PATTERNS AND RELATIONSHIPS.  THIS FOUNDATION HAS WEATHERED FAR 
WORSE TEMPESTS THAN THE RECENT FLAP. 
 
--  A HEIGHTENED POTENTIAL FOR BORDER INCIDENTS, ESPECIALLY IN 
REGARD TO MARITIME BOUNDARIES.  NEITHER COUNTRY IS LOOKING FOR A 
FIGHT.  BOTH COUNTRIES HAVE BUILT AN IMPRESSIVE POLITICAL BUFFER 
OF BINATIONAL COMMISSIONS AND STUDY GROUPS TO ADDRESS ALL THESE 
ISSUES, AND TO MANAGE THEM IN A LOW KEY AND REGULAR FASHION. 
FURTHERMORE, AT AN OPERATIONAL LEVEL, THE MILITARIES OF BOTH 
COUNTRIES HAVE GOOD WORKING RELATIONSHIPS ALONG THE FRONTIER, AS 
GENERAL WILHELM SAW DURING HIS VISIT LAST OCTOBER.  MOREOVER, WE 
UNDERSTAND THAT THE CURRENT VENEZUELAN MILITARY LEADERSHIP HAS 
OPTIMAL RELATIONS WITH THEIR COLOMBIAN COUNTERPARTS.  REGULAR 
REPORTING ON INFORMAL INTELLIGENCE-SHARING ARRANGEMENTS BETWEEN 
BORDER UNITS, VENEZUELAN EXTRACTION AND INSERTION ASSISTANCE TO 
COLOMBIAN UNITS, AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF PROCEDURES TO MANAGE 
CROSS-BORDER PURSUIT AND OTHER INCIDENTS FAR OUTWEIGH PRESS 
REPORTS OF ONE ARMY OR THE OTHER DEFILING THE TERRITORY OF THE 
NEIGHBORING COUNTRY. 
 
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WHAT IT DOES MEAN 
----------------- 
 
5.  (C) WHAT THE FLAP DOES MEAN: 
 
--  CHAVEZ TALKS TOO MUCH.  AS WE NOTED IN REF B, CHAVEZ NEEDS TO 
CULTIVATE SOME DISCRETION WHEN TALKING ABOUT THE COLOMBIAN PEACE 
PROCESS.  FOREIGN MINISTER RANGEL, DEFENSE MINISTER, AND OTHERS 
AROUND CHAVEZ RECOGNIZE THIS.  THEY HAVE TOLD HIM TO MEASURE HIS 
WORDS.  THAT SAID, CHAVEZ IS TALKING TO THE VENEZUELAN PEOPLE 
ABOUT THE CONFLICT IN COLOMBIA, AND ITS IMPACT ON VENEZUELA, IN 
AN OPEN AND TRANSPARENT WAY.  NO PREVIOUS GOVERNMENT HAS DONE 
THIS.  THE CALDERA GOVERNMENT MANAGED A TWO-TRACK POLICY OF 
PUBLICLY DEALING WITH THE GOC WHILE SECRETLY TREATING WITH THE 
GUERRILLAS.  CHAVEZ HAS BROUGHT THIS RELATIONSHIP OUT INTO THE 
OPEN, AND, IN THE PROCESS, TRIED TO ESTABLISH SOME ACCOUNTABILITY 
ON THE PART OF THE GUERRILLAS FOR THEIR ACTIONS IN VENEZUELAN 
TERRITORY. 
 
--  VENEZUELA IS ASSERTING ITS INTEREST IN THE COLOMBIAN PEACE 
PROCESS.  WHETHER RIGHTLY OR WRONGLY, VENEZUELANS PERCEIVE THAT 
THE GOC IS NOT REALLY INTERESTED IN WHAT IS HAPPENING ON THE 
VENEZUELAN SIDE OF THE FRONTIER.  VENEZUELANS TELL ALL WHO WILL 
LISTEN THAT THEIRS IS THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE REGION WHICH WOULD 
LIKE TO SEE LARGE CONCENTRATIONS OF NEIGHBORING TROOPS ON THE 
BORDER.  WHILE ACKNOWLEDGING THAT THE GOC IS HARD-PRESSED JUST TO 
MAINTAIN THE SECURITY OF MAJOR CITIES AND ECONOMIC CENTERS, THE 
GOV RESENTS THAT BORDER SECURITY HAS DEVOLVED ALMOST SOLELY TO 
THE VENEZUELAN ARMED FORCES.  IN THIS REGARD, THE COLOMBIAN PEACE 
PROCESS IS NOT SIMPLY AN INTERNAL AFFAIR OF COLOMBIA. 
 
--  THE COLOMBIAN PEACE PROCESS IS MORE COMPLICATED THAN THE GOV 
ANTICIPATED.  WHILE THE GOV HAS HAD A RING-SIDE SEAT SINCE THE 
BEGINNING OF THE INSURGENCY, AND HAS WATCHED WITH FASCINATED 
HORROR WHILE COLOMBIANS SLAUGHTERED EACH OTHER, IT ENTERED THE 
PEACE PROCESS AS AN INGENUE.  CHAVEZ THOUGHT HIS PERSONAL RELA- 
TIONSHIP WITH PASTRANA WOULD BE ENOUGH TO SECURE THE TRUST OF THE 
GOC, AND THAT HIS BOLIVARIAN RHETORIC AND THE CONNECTION OF SOME 
OF HIS POLITICAL ALLIES TO THE GUERRILLAS WOULD BE ENOUGH TO WIN 
THEIR COLLABORATION.  HE DID NOT ANTICIPATE THAT BOTH SIDES OF 
THE COLOMBIAN CONFLICT WOULD VIEW WITH SUSPICION AND DISTRUST HIS 
BARGING INTO THE PEACE PROCESS.  HE ALSO DID NOT ANTICIPATE THAT 
ELEMENTS OF BOTH SIDES WOULD LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO EXCLUDE 
HIM FROM THE PROCESS.  FOLLOWING THE EVENTS OF THE PAST TWO 
WEEKS--SPECIFICALLY, THE KILLING OF THE THREE U.S. CITIZENS AND 
THE PASTRANA MEETING POSTPONEMENT--CHAVEZ AND HIS GOVERNMENT 
LEARNED AN IMPORTANT LESSON.  AS RANGEL TOLD US (REF B), THEY ARE 
NOW REFLECTING ON THEIR ROLE IN THAT PROCESS. 
 
--  THE GUERRILLAS ARE CAPABLE OF MANIPULATING LINGERING SUSPI- 
CIONS AND HISTORIC ANIMOSITIES BETWEEN COLOMBIA AND VENEZUELA. 
THE FARC AND THE ELN ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO BENEFIT FROM THE 
RECENT FLAP.  BY TRYING TO PLAY ONE COUNTRY OFF AGAINST THE 
OTHER, THEY SEEK TO CREATE DIVISIONS AMONG THE PROTAGONISTS OF 
PEACE.  AS RANGEL TOLD US, THE GOV VIEWS THE RECENT GUT-WRENCHING 
BRUTALITY OF THE EXECUTION OF THE THREE U.S. CITIZENS AS JUST 
SUCH A PROVOCATION, DESIGNED TO CAUSE PROBLEMS AND DOUBTS AMONG 
VENEZUELA AND COLOMBIA, AND THE THIRD PLAYER IN THE PEACE PRO- 
CESS:  THE U.S. 
 
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WHAT WE MUST DO 
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6.  (C) THE VENEZUELANS HAVE REACHED OUT TO US AND REQUESTED OUR 
HELP IN EVALUATING RECENT EVENTS AND IN DEFINING THEIR ROLE IN 
THE PEACE PROCESS.  WE SHOULD RESPOND QUICKLY AND POSITIVELY TO 
THIS REQUEST.  AS AMEMBASSY BOGOTA NOTES IN REF A, COOLER HEADS 
HAVE PREVAILED IN THIS MOST RECENT INCIDENT.  HOWEVER, GIVEN THAT 
THE ANTAGONISTS IN THIS DRAMA ARE THE FARC AND THE ELN, WE CAN 
EXPECT MORE PROVOCATIONS. 
 
 
MAISTO 

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