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05BOGOTA3929 2005-04-25 21:12:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Bogota
Cable title:  

SENATE HEARING ON VENEZUELAN ARMS PURCHASES:

Tags:   PREL PTER MASS VE CO PBTS 
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					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BOGOTA 003929 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SOUTHCOM FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PTER MASS VE CO PBTS
SUBJECT: SENATE HEARING ON VENEZUELAN ARMS PURCHASES:
REGIONAL THREAT OR SELF DEFENSE?

REF: BOGOTA 3863



1. (U) Summary: On April 19, the Senate Second Committee
(Defense, Foreign Relations, Trade, and Borders) conducted a
public hearing on Venezuelan arms purchases (reftel details
the purchases). Foreign Minister Barco and Minister of
Defense Uribe were called to testify. Committee Chair Ramiro
Velasquez put Chavez in the context of a country-by-country
leftist takeover of Latin America. Noting Chavez's populism,
history of coup and counter-coup, and militarization of the
GOV, Velasquez and others expressed concern about the
Venezuelan arms buildup, a Chinese-Venezuelan satellite deal,
and Chavez's destabilizing impact on the region. Independent
senators argued that Chavez was buying arms to discourage a
U.S. intervention, and was not a military threat to Colombia.
FM Barco expressed GOC respect for the GOV's right to arm
itself, noting however that arms purchases should be
transparent. MOD Uribe said an arms race was in neither
country's interest. Poloffs consulted with leading senators
and staff on the margins, and will attend another discussion
of Venezuelan arms in the Senate Plenary on April 26. End
summary.



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


Conservatives Concerned


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





2. (U) Committee Chair Ramiro Velasquez (Conservative)
stressed that the hearing was an "analytic debate." He
recognized the GOC's tact and diplomacy in the face of
Chavez's "cold war." The 1990 Forum of Sao Paolo initiated a
movement to the left in Latin America, which he characterized
as populist, projecting an illusion of independence, blaming
the "oligarchy," and usurping national symbols. Colombia is
practically the only country without a leftist orientation
and the only one with an internal armed conflict. He said
there was a country-by-country leftist takeover of Latin
America and that Chavez was arming for offensive, external
war. Velasquez called for a Latin American security
structure, ideally under the OAS.



3. (U) Former Senate President and GOC Ambassador to the OAS
Luis Alfredo Ramos said Chavez is a destabilizing influence
in the region -- a populist, "coupist," militarist.
Venezuela remains poor despite the flow of oil money, said
Ramos; Secretary Rice has got Chavez pegged right. Jesus
Carrizosa worried about the number of Venezuelans with
Colombian identification cards and their possible impact on
next year's elections. Enrique Gomez requested the GOC
provide details regarding the new Venezuelan satellite
(Chinese origin), and if it could be used for other purposes,
intelligence gathering in particular. Chavez's propaganda
was another concern for Gomez.



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


Independents Insouciant


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





4. (U) Jimmy Chamorro (independent; center-left) noted that
Chavez's paranoia is new for Venezuelan presidents and that
border incursions are worrying. Chavez's arms purchases are
motivated by anti-US, not anti-Colombian, sentiment -- the
arms are a dissuasive force. He argued that unbridled market
forces have produced injustice, inequality and poverty in
Latin America, and explained the leftward continental drift
as a reaction to the damage brought about by neoliberal
policies. Chamorro acknowledged, however, that Chavez wants
to export his revolution.



5. (U) Efren Tarapues (indigenous peoples member; left of
center) said the indigenous in Colombia want better internal
policies to deal with poverty. He echoed Chamorro's view
that Chavez is arming to protect Venezuela from the U.S. The
indigenous don't fear Venezuela, he said, they want the GOC
to confront poverty.



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


Government Tries to Play Down Arms Sales


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





6. (U) FM Carolina Barco cited public statements from the
November 2004 Uribe-Chavez meeting and the March
four-president summit. "The GOC respects the decision of the
GOV." Every country has the right to defend its sovereignty.
She professed to accept at face value Venezuela's position
that the arms were to protect the border and combat
international crime, though she stressed the importance of
transparency in arms purchases. She said President Uribe had
earlier stated that the Spanish arms would contribute to the
struggle against narcotrafficking and terrorism and would
help Colombia. Barco noted that neither Colombia nor
Venezuela were signatories of the Acquisition of Conventional
Arms Treaty. In view of the military assistance Colombia
receives, the GOC has taken care not to take part in
declarations or conventions that might compromise its own
defense. She also noted Colombia's planned acquisition of
more than 20 attack aircraft.



7. (U) MOD Jorge Uribe stated that an arms race would be
contrary to the interests of both Colombia and Venezuela.
Uribe did not repeat his remarks of concern over Venezuela's
purchases. He stressed that the GOC intended to focus its
resources on combating illegal armed groups and on social
spending. The Senate has called FM Barco and MOD Uribe for
another discussion of Venezuean arms in full plenary session
on April 26.



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


Little Media Coverage


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





8. (U) In media terms, the event was overshadowed by the
selection of the new Pope, which took place the same morning.
El Tiempo columnist Juan Camilo Restrepo noted on April 20
that oil prices have given Chavez deep pockets which he has
used for rampant arming. Restrepo said Chavez's arms buildup
is dangerous for the region and remained dubious of Uribe's
public statement that the boats and planes from Spain will be
used to fight narcotrafficking and terrorism and are thus
good for Colombia.



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


Comment


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





9. (SBU) Some members of the Congress (Sens. Velasquez and
Gomez in particular) have publicly expressed strong concern
over Chavez for some time. Gomez achieved a near unanimous
Senate resolution calling for invoking the OAS Democracy
Charter in Venezuela prior to last year's referendum on
Chavez. The GOC's public rhetoric on Chavez continues to be
moderate, owing to the positive spin from the March
four-country summit and the follow-on visit of Spanish
President Rodriguez Zapatero.
WOOD