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Cable de la Embajada de EE UU sobre la preocupación de los colombianos ante una eventual agresión de Caracas

Varios altos funcionarios señalan que Chávez podría intentar desviar la atención de sus problemas internos con una agresión a Colombia

ID: 235936
Date: 2009-11-20 16:41:00
Origin: 09BOGOTA3421
Source: Embassy Bogota
Classification: SECRET//NOFORN
Dunno: 09BOGOTA2449 09BOGOTA3313 09CARACAS1443
Destination: VZCZCXYZ0005
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #3421/01 3241641
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 201641Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1112
INFO RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA IMMEDIATE
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0215
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 0002
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO

S E C R E T BOGOTA 003421

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2034/11/20
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, KJUS, ETRD, OAS, CO, VE
SUBJECT: COLOMBIANS SEE UBIQUITOUS VENEZUELAN THREAT

REF: CARACAS 1443; BOGOTA 2449; BOGOTA 3313

CLASSIFIED BY: William R. Brownfield, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

SUMMARY

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1. (C/NF) Colombian officials and observers are increasingly
concerned about the long-term threat Venezuela poses to their
country. Experts inside and outside the government worry that any
small incident along the tense border could spark a costly
confrontation, given the decrease in communication and increase in
tension between the two countries. Most believe the main risk
comes from an unintentional incident, although influential GOC
advisors claim to be equally worried that President Chavez could
start a war to distract Venezuelans from their economic woes.
Still, most of our interlocutors perceive a broader threat that
transcends the current crisis -- they believe Venezuela has
isolated Colombia, that its arms purchases will allow it to defeat
Colombia militarily, and that Venezuelan trade restrictions will
cause significant economic damage. Real or not, the perception of
the threat posed by Venezuela has widespread implications for
Colombian society. The perception that the USG is not supporting
Colombia is becoming an issue in public commentary and private
conversation. End Summary.



NEAR-TERM WORRIES: BORDER FLARE-UP,

CHAVEZ'S UNPREDICTABILITY

-----------------------------------

2. (C/NF) Few in Colombia assess that Venezuelan President Chavez
plans a full-scale attack on Colombian territory, but officials and
commentators alike see a much greater risk that the heightened
tension and increased Venezuelan military presence along the border
could spark an unintentional armed border conflict. Top Uribe
security advisor Paola Holguin told us that even though it was
clear the GBRV could not move 15,000 troops to the border as
announced (ref A), she worried that what she called the "poorly
trained and undisciplined" state of Venezuelan troops could cause
them to open fire without provocation. An analysis in leading
newsweekly "Cambio" pointed out that the lack of communication
between the two countries -- along with the atmosphere of mutual
recrimination and doubt -- could cause such an incident to spiral
out of control. The analysis concluded that although war is not
imminent, it is much closer now than during any previous bilateral
crisis.



3. (C/NF) These concerns are multiplied by what many here see as
Venezuela's unpredictability. Presidential Communications Director
Jorge Mario Eastman told us this volatility made it particularly
difficult toQredict the Venezuelan leader's reactions in crises
like the current one. Similarly, Carlos Morales, MFA Acting
Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, expressed frustration
over the difficulties his ministry had experienced in trying to
predict the GBRV's decision-making. Holguin cautioned us that "a
dictator like Chavez" calculates risk and reward differently from
that of democratic governments like the USG and GOC --making his
moves hard to foresee. Colombian media frequently portray Chavez
as mercurial or even clownish, but our GOC interlocutors believe he
is quite rational -- just not predictable.



4. (C/NF) Still, Holguin told us she and other Casa de Narino
insiders worry about a full-on Venezuelan invasion, even though the
current conventional wisdom predicts otherwise. She argued Chavez
was desperate to distract his people from Venezuela's economic
crisis, likening the situation to Argentina's 1982 seizure of the

Falklands/Malvinas Islands from the United Kingdom. Holguin
contended the GBRV had killed the nine Colombians, one Peruvian,
and one Venezuelan whose bodies were discovered on October 24 in
the Venezuelan border state of Tachira (ref B) and argued the act
proved the Venezuelan regime's ruthlessness in attempting to
provoke a war with Colombia.



5. (C/NF) Virtually all local observers assess Colombia would
dominate Venezuela in any armed conflict, as its years of
experience and better-trained personnel would outweigh any
Venezuelan hardware edge gained from its recent spree of arms
purchases. Nevertheless, many worry about the havoc Venezuela
could inflict in even a short conflict. General Gustavo Matamoros,
commander of the Colombian military's Joint Caribbean Command
(which includes long stretches of border territory in the
northeast), told us earlier in the year that Colombian armed forces
in the area are far superior to those of the GBRV, but conceded
that the GBRV could inflict unacceptable physical and political
damage in border areas before being defeated rapidly. Similarly,
Eastman noted that given the relatively short distances involved, a
single Venezuelan bomber could easily drop a bomb on a major
Colombian city -- an outcome the GOC could not tolerate. Holguin
argues that Chavez -- whom she called "a soldier who has never
fought a battle" -- simply does not understand these human costs of
combat the way that Colombians do, or else he would not risk it.



LONGER TERM WORRIES: REGIONAL ISOLATION,

MILITARY IMBALANCE, ECONOMIC DECLINE

----------------------------------------

6. (S/NF) Beyond the current crisis, we hear similar perceptions
about the broader threat Venezuela poses to Colombia. First,
officials and observers alike worry Chavez's regional diplomacy
(fueled in equal measures by oil and ideology) has left the GOC
alone in the region and surrounded by unfriendly countries. The
MFA's Morales told us of GOC concern that this has left Colombia
isolated, with few regional powers willing to speak out against
Chavez's aggressive rhetoric. Holguin said the region's current
silence only emboldened Chavez to continue to speak and act
aggressively -- and to keep generating crises. Although she
credited the Brazilian Senate's November 11 vote to delay
Venezuelan entry into Mercosur with Chavez's newly-toned down
rhetoric, she hoped other countries would be more willing to stand
up and actively denounce Chavez. Professor Sandra Borda of the
Universidad de los Andes, an international affairs specialist and
member of the GOC's Mission on Foreign Policy, told us that
President Uribe had told a recent Mission meeting that he believed
this was a deliberate GBRV strategy aimed at spreading
Bolivarianism and isolating Colombia as one of the few remaining
opponents of the ideology.



7. (C/NF) Second, GOC officials in particular are worried about
Chavez's recent arms acquisitions from Russia, Iran, and other
countries outside the hemisphere. Morales told us the hardware
increasingly allowed the GBRV to back up its hostile rhetoric,
while Holguin conceded that the improved weaponry would eventually
overwhelm the GOC's current advantages. This is creating political
pressure on the GOC to respond in kind. According to local press,
the lower House of Congress will hold hearings in early December to
determine whether the GOC is adequately prepared to face the
Venezuelan threat, while U Party Senator Juan Carlos Velez publicly
insisted the GOC needed to purchase upgraded air defense systems to
counter the Venezuelan threat. Minister of Defense Gabriel Silva
told the Ambassador the GOC was also interested in discussing the
acquisition of anti-tank systems. Professor Borda noted this
dynamic could spread into a dangerous bilateral arms race, given
that neither country finds credible the other side's claims to be

focusing on defensive capabilities.



8. (C/NF) Finally, Colombians worry about short- and medium-term
damage to their economy caused by sharply decreased trade with
their number-two trade partner. September exports to Venezuela
dropped by 52%, compared with September 2008 numbers. For the
first half of October, Colombian exports were down 77% compared to
the same period in 2008. Colombian imports from Venezuela are down
56% for the first nine months of 2009. Given the high degree of
interdependence in border areas, such as Cucuta, trade restrictions
and temporary border closings take a tremendous toll on the border
region, and the GBRV has taken other punitive steps that will
continue to drive down trade (ref C). Paradoxically, many in the
GOC and Colombian business community see potential long-term
benefits for Colombia in the drop off in bilateral trade, as it
will put greater pressure on Colombian exporters to diversify their
markets.



9. (C/NF) Alfredo Ramos, Director of Economic Integration at the
Ministry of Trade, described the two countries as natural trading
partners, noting that neither can readily replace the other.
Nonetheless, he said it was entirely possible that Chavez could
drive bilateral trade down to virtually zero in the coming months,
suggesting continued downward pressure on Colombian economic growth
against a backdrop of increasing unemployment and stagnant economic
activity. In a letter to President Obama dated October 29, 2009,
President Uribe presented this same argument as a reason to push
forward on the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.



USG BECOMING AN ISSUE?

----------------------

10. (C) On November 17, Foreign Minister Bermudez summoned the
Ambassador to express concern about the USG position in the dispute
with Venezuela. He suggested that helpful neutrality was not the
position the GOC was hoping for, and predicted Uribe would drive
this point home in the upcoming visit by Deputy Secretary
Steinberg. Perhaps not coincidentally, the lead editorial in
leading Colombian paper "El Tiempo" on November 20 focused on the
issue of USG neutrality.



COMMENT: LEGITIMATE CONCERN OR PARANOIA?

----------------------------------------

11. (C/NF) We can argue the extent to which Colombians have a
legitimate reason for concern or are simply paranoid. The point,
however, is that worry about Venezuela abounds in Colombian
society. It affects politics, diplomacy, the economy, and,
increasingly, military doctrine. We are confident that Colombian
leadership will maintain calm in its immediate dealings with
Caracas, but there will be increasing pressure to demonstrate that
Colombia is prepared to deal with its volatile neighbor to the
east.
BROWNFIELD