Cable 100428, Embajador chileno en Venezuela abre la boca y mete la pata
DATE: 3/14/2007 19:25
SOURCE: Embassy Santiago
DE RUEHSG #0425/01 0731925
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 141925Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1170
INFO RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 1659
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 3533
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 0154
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1314
RUEHGT/AMEMBASSY GUATEMALA 0309
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ MAR MONTEVIDEO 3570
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 0231
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 1656
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
C O N F I D E N T I A L SANTIAGO 000425
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/13/2017
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, VE, CI
REF: 06 SANTIAGO 1613
Classified By: Charge Emi Yamauchi for reasons 1.5 (b and d).
1. (C) Chile’s Ambassador to Venezuela, Claudio Huepe, in a March 12 Caracas television interview, said President Bachelet had privately told him she had favored voting for Venezuela in last year’s UNSC vote. But a «»confluence of circumstances»» barred such a vote, leading her to abstain. Huepe claimed that those circumstances included internal political pressure within her governing coalition. Huepe’s observation was contrary to Bachelet’s own public stance that her decision was based solely on Chile’s foreign policy interests. Presidential spokesman Lagos Weber rejected Huepe’s comments as an overstep and «»not within his competence as ambassador.»» President Bachelet is reportedly very unhappy with Huepe and wants him removed, believing he has undermined her credibility. End summary.
2. (U) Huepe’s interview with Venezuela’s «»Telesur»» was front page news in Chile’s leading dailies March 14. It also aired on nationwide Chilean television on March 12. According to the press reports, Huepe said Bachelet’s «»first intention»» was to vote for Venezuela in last October’s election for a seat on the UNSC, but «»lamentably, there was an internal debate within (Chile), not only between the government and opposition, but also within the governing coalition («»Concertacion»»). Precisely within the Concertacion, the Christian Democrats (DC) were categorically opposed to Chile’s UNSC vote (for Venezuela).»» (Note: Huepe himself is a member of the DC and a former government spokesman and ambassador to Argentina under Lagos. He is clearly of the DC’s smaller leftist wing. End note.)
3. (U) Huepe continued that he had spoken with Bachelet in January 2007 and had raised with her his comments of July 2006, when Huepe had noted publicly his support for Venezuela’s candidacy, a gaffe he himself recognized and for which, Huepe said, he had had «»(my) ears pulled»» (reftel). According to Huerpe, Bachelet replied: «»Look, I had the same intention (to vote for Venezuela), but afterwards there materialized a confluence of circumstances, which prevented me from voting this way and I had to abstain, I had to decide Chile’s position.»» The ambassador added his belief that Bachelet has great sympathy for the Venezuelan people and she has a very cordial relationship with President Chavez but, finally, for internal political reasons, she decided to abstain in this very significant vote.»»
4.(U) Government spokeman Ricardo Lagos Weber issued a statement late March 13 categorically rejecting Huepe’s comments, noting that the president had clearly and firmly stated her reasons for the UNSC decision. The President of the Senate’s foreign relations committee decribed Huepe’s views as «»out of bounds,»» and suggested that «»the President speak with him.»» Opposition senator Juan Antonio Coloma noted his «»concern that Chile’s foreign policy is influenced by tensions within the governing coalition.»»
5. (C) Poloff spoke March 14 with Tomas Jocelyn-Holt, former International Affairs Secretary for the Christian Democrats. Jocelyn-Holt had had dinner March 13 with former DC president Gutenburg Martinez and several other DC heavyweights, a monthly get-together to talk about international affairs. The Huepe interview was a hot topic of discussion. According to Jocelyn-Holt, Bachelet was reportedly furious when she heard about Huepe’s comments. She «»threw a tantrum,»» and stated she wanted him removed as Ambassador. Those present believed the incident made her look weak at a time where other factors — for example the debate in Chile over nuclear energy, where Bachelet has stated her opposition but her administration is nonetheless moving forward with exploratory studies — already make her appear to be doing things she would prefer not to do. As reported in the press, Huepe was called on the carpet yesterday and instructed to give an explanation of his actions. Huepe will be at least temporarily recalled to Santiago.
6. (C) Jocelyn-Holt said the DC has already told Foxley they don’t want another of their own named to Venezuela, assuming Huepe actually is removed. They believe this would be a good time to move Chile’s current ambassador to Mexico to Venezuela and give Mexico to a DC loyalist. But there is no indication FM Foxley would do so. Foxley and Huepe are friends, so Foxley will try to protect him. Huepe will be recalled and made to look a fool, but in the end, Jocelyn-Holt was willing to wager that Huepe would return to Caracas. The consensus at the dinner was that Bachelet «»did not have the strength to fire this guy,»» even though Huepe has proven himself a maverick, who tends to say what he thinks, rather than toe the government line.
7. (C) Jocelyn-Holt speculated that Huepe was trying to improve his access to Chavez’ circle by playing «»good cop,»» showing sympathy for Venezuela but saying «»bad cop»» forces at home prevent the GOC from drawing closer. Huepe is swimming against the tide, however, Jocelyn-Holt said, with Chavez’s currency dropping in Chile. There are no «»strong brokers»» for Chavez/VZ interests in the GOC or Concertacion (in contrast with the situation during the UNSC vote). Still, while there is little support for Huepe’s good cop routine or even continuance as ambassador, Jocelyn-Holt doesn’t believe he will be sacked.
8. (C) Huepe’s public revelations are consistent with ours and others’ views that Bachelet truly favored a vote for Venezuela and abstained only after concluding that a vote for Caracas was too high a price to pay domestically. Over 70 percent of the Chilean people, the DC, and all the opposition opposed voting for Chavez. What Huepe’s comments do do is embarrass her, including on the eve of a visit to Caracas in April. This incident mirrors one that occurred just before the UNSC vote. Inappropriate remarks by the then-Venezuelan ambassador to Chile, including on Concertacion internal dissent, led to his recall, under strong pressure from the GOC. It will be interesting to see if Bachelet will be as firm with one of her own. End comment.