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2005-10-31 17:17:00
Embassy Rome
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ROME 003640 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/01/2015

Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor David D. Pearce, reasons
4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary. Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi delivered our
message on consolidating democracy and ensuring respect for
human rights to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during their
meeting October 17 in Milan. Chavez was in Italy for the
October 17 UN Food and Agriculture Organization's 60th
Anniversary ceremony and the October 17-18 Second National
Conference on Latin America, organized by the Lombardy
regional government and Milan Chamber of Commerce. President
Ciampi canceled a planned meeting with Chavez to attend the
funeral of an assassinated official in Calabria. Although
the Chavez visit grabbed the most headlines, Ciampi and
Berlusconi met with heads of state and/or foreign ministers
from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay,
and Uruguay. Talks focused mostly on trade and investment,
development assistance, and UN reform. End summary.


Chavez meeting comes down to oil and gas


2. (U) Pol M/C and poloff met with DG for Americas Claudio
Bisogniero, MFA Vice Director General for the Americas
Roberto Spinelli, North America Office Director Francesco
Tafuri, and South America Desk Officer Pietro Benassi,
October 25 to discuss the series of visits from Latin
American heads of state and foreign ministers.

3. (C) Flanked by the CEO of ENI and general manager of ENEL,
large Italian energy sector holding companies, Berlusconi met
with Chavez at the Milan Chamber of Commerce October 17 for
about an hour. Berlusconi opened the meeting noting that
Italy was closely following political developments in Caracas
and emphasized the need for Venezuelan efforts to consolidate
democracy and ensure respect for human rights. Bisogniero,
who was present at the meeting, said he "took your line,"
before the two leaders recognized their political differences
and quickly turned to economic matters.

4. (C) The heart of the meeting, according to Bisogniero, was
Chavez's briefing on general plans for oil and gas
exploration, construction of an oil pipeline in Latin
America, and prospects for oil and gas concessions. Chavez
also gave Berlusconi a report on the Venezuelan economy,
emphasizing Venezuela's 16% GDP growth for last year as a
result of high oil prices, poverty reduction; control over
inflation, and his policy to use oil revenues to promote
social sector programs like health and education. The two
leaders also spoke in broad terms about cooperation on
tourism, medical assistance, professional training, and

5. (C) Ciampi was scheduled to meet with Chavez as well, but

the Italian president canceled in order to attend the funeral
of a local official assassinated in the southern province of
Calabria. Bisogniero emphasized that Chavez was not in Italy
on an official visit, the Berlusconi meeting took place at
the chamber of commerce instead of a government building, and
no agreements were signed during the visit.

6. (C) Pol M/C praised positive Italian initiatives in the
Western Hemisphere like anti-drug trafficking and organized
crime cooperation and involvement in the Bolivia Support
Group, but expressed U.S. concerns about Chavez. He
encouraged Italy to assist with democracy promotion in
Venezuela, support civil society and human rights groups, and
encourage political party development. He also asked the
Italian government to take a lead role in ensuring the
success of an EU observer mission for the December 4
legislative elections. Bisogniero agreed that the mission
was important and expressed strong Italian support for
sending monitors and being actively involved in EU
negotiations. He noted, however, that prospects were dim for
a big showing by the opposition. When pressed, Italian
officials could not recall a public statement by Italy in
support of democratic freedoms in Venezuela. They noted that
there was no press conference attached to Chavez's meeting
with Berlusconi. Bisogniero concluded by assuring us that
Italy would continue to monitor political developments in
Caracas and would raise Venezuela issues in EU consultations.


Not the only show in town


7. (C) Although media reports tended to focus on Chavez, his
meeting with Berlusconi was one in a series of visits of
Latin American heads of state and foreign ministers. Placing
the Chavez trip in perspective, Bisogniero briefed on nine
additional visits October 17-24: Brazilian President Luiz
Silva, whose trip was the only one designated as official;
Uruguayan President Vazquez; Chilean President Ricardo Lagos;
Colombian Foreign Minister Carolina Barco; Brazilian Foreign
Minister Celso Amorim; Paraguayan Foreign Minister Leila
Rachid; Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Derbez; and Chilean
Foreign Minister Ignacio Walker.

8. (C) Most of the visitors were already in country for the
Latin America meeting in Milan, which Italy plans to continue
on a biennial basis. Meetings with Ciampi and Berlusconi
focused largely on trade and investment opportunities,
development assistance, and UN Security Council reform.
Although Bisogniero said it was "wishful thinking" to call
the series of meetings part of a broader strategy to increase
Italian involvement in the Western Hemisphere, he noted that
the region had not received much attention in the past two
years because of the focus on Iraq, Afghanistan, and the
Balkans. This year brought renewed attention to Latin
America, Bisogniero said, which Italy hopes to continue.

9. (C) Comment: Bisogniero's offer to brief Pol M/C came
after U/S Dobriansky had earlier raised with MFA our concerns
about the Chavez visit. With its significant commercial
interests and large Italian population in Venezuela, Italy
has a strong motivation to maintain dialogue with Caracas.
However, they seem to have gotten our message to keep
applying pressure on the democracy issue.