Diosdado Cabello is the current President of Venezuela's Congress. He has had many important roles in the chavista revolution, and is considered to be one of the three most powerful men in Venezuela. Cabello hails from the military, and participated in the coup led by Hugo Chavez in 1992. Cabello has recently been mentioned in a Florida lawsuit against Derwick Associates, a company that allegedly paid him a $50 million bribe. Wikileaks provides examples of how American authorities perceive Cabello, and so it is relevant to showcase these opinions, to get a measure of the man. I have chosen a few, among the 116 cables (2003-2010) that mention Cabello. Quote is followed by link to cable.
(C) Vasquez and Tachira DCC leaders asserted that the GOV has links with the FBL [Bolivarian Liberation Forces]. They claimed, for example, that the FBL is using a farm between Coloncito and La Tendida that is allegedly visited by high-ranking GOV officials as a training camp. DCC leader Jose Luis Rincon alleged that Infrastructure Minister Diosdado Cabello purchased the farm with state funds from Banco Industrial de Venezuela through an intermediary two years ago. GOV-aligned National Assembly Deputy Luis Tascon (MVR) vehemently denied any government support of the FBL to poloff August 13. He demanded "liars trying to provoke a coup" produce evidence of supposed FBL connections. He said if any links exist with individual GOV officials, they are not reflective of the GOV or President Chavez's Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) party, which "do not recognize or respect any irregular military group." Tascon said he could not speak for the pro-GOV PPT party. Added in Bold
(C) Minister of Interior and Justice Diosdado Cabello inflamed the situation further on February 6 when he announced that Chavez supporters would occupy Caracas Plaza next to the CNE building and that no one would enter the plaza until the CNE makes its decision. "We're not trying to scare the CNE directors," he said, "but to protect them from the fascists that invent things ... we're going to support the rectors in the street." Cabello made the statements at a ceremony commemorating the foundation of Venezuelan Popular Unity (UPV), a new political party headed by radical Chavista street activist Lina Ron. Ron, who was also inducted into the "Comando Ayacucho" campaign committee during the ceremony, said the GOV is facing "an electoral battle ... if someone tells me the signatures are valid and that they are going to remove Chavez, we can't accept it. One way or the other, there will be combat." Minister Cabello added that he was sure the opposition did not collect a sufficient number of signatures and, therefore, there would be no referendum. Asked by a reporter how the international community would react, Cabello responded, "I don't give a ---- what the international community thinks."
(U) Diosdado Cabello, the GoV Minister of Infrastructure and a long-time Chavez hard-liner, joined in the public war of words on February 11 by saying that the GoV knew how far it was willing to go "to defend democracy" and Chavez's self-declared bolivarian revolution. Cabello denied that the GoV was planning an "autogolpe," or self-coup, to stop a recall referendum, and repeated that the GoV would abide by the decision of the CNE.
(C) HODES TOLD THE AMBASSADOR THAT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COUNCIL (CNE) DIRECTOR JORGE RODRIGUEZ SEEMS PERSONALLY INTERESTED IN FINDING RULES FOR THE APPEALS PROCESS THAT WILL BE MUTUALLY AGREEABLE. HOWEVER, HODES SAID, RODRIGUEZ IS OBVIOUSLY TAKING INSTRUCTIONS FROM MINISTER OF INFRASTRUCTURE DIOSDADO CABELLO AND PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ AND IT IS UNCLEAR WHAT INSTRUCTIONS RODRIGUEZ HAS. HODES NOTED THAT WHILE MIRANDA STATE GOVERNOR ENRIQUE MENDOZA AND FELIPE MUJICA (MOVEMENT TO SOCIALISM) SAY THEY ARE NEGOTIATING ON BEHALF OF THE OPPOSITION, IN REALITY THEY HAVE TO FIRST NEGOTIATE WITH RODRIGUEZ, THEN NEGOTIATE WITH THE OPPOSITION TO SELL WHATEVER DEAL THEY STRIKE. (C) HODES SAID THAT DURING A MEETING WITH FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER IN ATLANTA FEBRUARY 25, CARTER TOLD CABELLO THAT IT WAS ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE THAT FIFTY PERCENT OF THE SIGNATURES WERE ELIMINATED ON A TECHNICALITY, AND AN EX POST FACTO TECHNICALITY AT THAT, AND THAT THE WILL OF THE CITIZENRY SHOULD PREVAIL. CARTER SUGGESTED THAT IF CHAVEZ WOULD WIN A RECALL, THEN THE GOV SHOULD ALLOW ONE TO TAKE PLACE. CABELLO WOULD NOT BUDGE FROM HIS POSITION.
¶8. (C) The odd manner in which the decision was made makes Trastory sure the decision to dismiss her is politically motivated. While the TSJ's Chief Justice signed the order, Trastory is sure the order came from a Chavez ally in the GoV executive branch such as Vice President Jose Vincente Rangel or Minister of Infrastructure Diosdado Cabello. She noted that her court is located in Sucre State, where the local mayor is Jose Vincente Rangel Avalos, the Vice President's son. She also said she signed the petition seeking the recall of Chavez in December 2003 and had since been targeted by Rangel and pro-Chavez activists seeking to purge the court.
¶6. (C) 70% of those polled blamed the Venezuelan government for the poor state of U.S.-Venezuelan relations, while 76% disagreed with President Chavez' threat not to sell oil to the U.S. General attitudes about the U.S. were divided, according to a part of the poll that measured feelings towards various institutions and leaders. The lowest levels of support were for members of the government such as Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, CNE President Francisco Carrasquero, Supreme Court Ivan Justice Rincon, and former Infrastructure Minister Diosdado Cabello.
¶5. Chavez also called on the support of active and retired officials, such as Luis Reyes Reyes, Lara state Governor; Eliecer Otaiza Castillo, president of the National Institute of Educational Cooperation; Diosdado Cabello, candidate to Miranda governorship; Jesse Chacon, Communications and Information Minister; Hernan Gruber Odreman, former Governor of the Caracas area Federal District; Ronald Blanco La Cruz, Tachira state Governor; Florencio Porras, Merida state governor; and Pedro Carreno, National Assembly legislator. "The evaluation of retired officers is underway so that they begin giving military training wherever there is a group of patriots, with the people taking the leading role, together with the Armed Forces, to defend the country," insisted Chavez.
¶2. (U) On May 26, the day before start of the presidential signature appeals process (which will open to the public May 28-30), the pro-Chavez campaign committee Comando Ayacucho formally requested that the National Electoral Council (CNE) demand the removal of OAS chief observer Fernando Jaramillo for allegedly favoring the opposition. Ayacucho Coordinator Ismael Garcia cited Jaramillo's comments to reporters during the May 21-23 appeals for deputies that "fewer people had turned out than expected" as evidence of bias. Former Minister of Infrastructure Diosdado Cabello said Jaramillo had intervened in Venezuelan electoral issues so often that Jaramillo had lost all validity as an impartial observer. Cabello reiterated that the CNE is the only legitimate electoral authority and that quick counts carried out by international observers are not valid. Garcia also said Venezuelan OAS Ambassador Jorge Valero would shortly present a formal complaint to OAS SYG Gaviria requesting Jaramillo's removal.
¶3. (U) CHAVEZ SUPPORTERS PORTRAYED THE OPPOSITION AS VIOLENT, FASCIST, RACIST, AND IRRATIONAL. PRESIDENT CHAVEZ, ON HIS "ALO, PRESIDENTE!" PROGRAM, ASKED GOD TO FORGIVE THE OPPOSITION, SAYING "LORD, FORGIVE THEM, FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO." CHAVEZ BLAMED THE PRIVATE MEDIA FOR "PUTTING THE DEVIL INSIDE PEOPLE, DRIVING THEM MAD." CHAVEZ INSIDER AND MIRANDA STATE GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE DIOSDADO CABELLO TOLD SUPPORTERS JUNE 30 THAT ONE DAY OF RULE BY THE OPPOSITION WOULD RESEMBLE THE EVENTS OF APRIL, 2002: VIOLENCE, DISAPPEARANCES, AND REVENGE.
¶6. (C) SHE LISTED SEVERAL INDIVIDUALS WHOM SHE CONSIDERED TO BE THE MOST DANGEROUS MEN IN GOVERNMENT, INCLUDING DIOSDADO CABELLO (FORMER INFRASTRUCTURE MINISTER, NATIONAL LOGISTICS COORDINATOR FOR THE COMANDO MAISANTA AND GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE FOR MIRANDA STATE); AND ELIECER OTAIZA (FORMER DIRECTOR OF CIVILIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE, DISIP, AND THE CURRENT DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR COOPERATIVE EDUCATION, INCE). AS CHIEF OF INCE, OTAIZA HAS RUN VARIOUS "MISSION" PROGRAMS, ACCORDING TO MARKSMAN. SHE ALSO MENTIONED WILLIAM IZARRA, DIRECTOR OF IDEOLOGY FOR THE COMANDO MAISANTA, JESSE CHACON, COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION MINISTER, AND RONALDO BLANCO LA CRUZ, GOVERNOR OF TACHIRA STATE.
¶7. (C) Mendoza noted that it would be folly to simply abandon the political space to Chavez. He said there are those in the opposition who advocate mass resignations, for example, presuming that Chavez is working from the same assumptions as they are. Mendoza recalled that during the December 2002-January 2003 strike he had attempted to negotiate end to the stoppage with then Minister of Interior Diosdado Cabello and none of the arguments about jobs and commerce worked. To participate in the elections, however, Mendoza said there would have to be some adjustments to the conditions, such as agreement to reconcile paper receipts with the electronic tabulation, which the government is unlikely to do.
¶3. (U) On September 30 Anderson announced that he expected to call 400 persons to testify, possibly as suspects, over the course of two months. He said he intended to investigate Carmona's ministers first, then those who signed the decree publicly, then those who signed privately after Carmona was sworn in, and finally those who were present at Miraflores during Carmona's swearing in ceremony as president. For this last group, Anderson plans to use videos to identify people. Anderson told the press that the investigation was beginning from the assumption that the crime committed was civil rebellion. Depending on the level of complicity, suspects might be charged as author, co-author, participant or accomplice. Anderson said he would not call Gen. Lucas Rincon, who announced Chavez' resignation, or the Vice President at the time, Diosdado Cabello, to testify.
¶4. (U) While MVR candidate Diosdado Cabello was giving his victory speech for his 52-48% win in Miranda State, Governor Enrique Mendoza publicly announced that his count showed otherwise. Mendoza claimed that his tabulation of copies of tally sheets showed a 53-47% tilt in his favor. Cabello said Mendoza's reaction is "damaging" to the State and called on Mendoza to make his appeal via the courts.
¶4. (C) The "three vices" -- corruption, bureaucracy, and inefficiency -- have become the mantra for the newly elected pro-Chavez governors and mayors. Upon taking office, most denounced their predecessors for allegQ administrative irregularities. In Miranda State, for example, Governor Diosdado Cabello declared the health and education sectors to be in a state of emergency. Cabello's supporters on Miranda State's legislative council told reporters they are considering granting Cabello power to legislate by decree. Patria Para Todos (PPT), the third largest pro-Chavez party, has staked out its role as the GOV conscience. PPT Secretary General Jose Albornoz told poloff November 4 his party is organizing "brigades" in every state and municipality to monitor government programs and spending. Alberto "Chino" Carias, an aide to incoming Metropolitan Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto, told poloff November 5 they planned to use "social intelligence" networks whereby political sympathizers inform on the misconduct of police and, in the case of public hospitals, medical personnel. Carias, a member of the radical Tupamaro armed political group, also said he is participating in a committee to restructure and "improve the image" of the Metropolitan Police.
¶3. (U) GoV authorities initially only speculated that the victim was Anderson, and more than half a dozen officials visited the site of the incident. Among the officials present were Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, Ministers Andres Izarra (Communication and Information), Rafael Ramirez (Energy) and Jesse Chacon (Interior), Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez, National Electoral Council director Jorge Rodriguez, Mayors Juan Barreto and Freddy Bernal, Miranda State Gov. Diosdado Cabello and numerous pro-GoV National Assembly deputies. An official at the capital's morgue confirmed that the victim was Anderson nearly twelve hours after the incident.
¶5. (C) Having hinted at the involvement of the USG ("hegemonic groups") in the Granda affair during the previous Sunday's "Alo Presidente" address, Chavez pulled no punches in his 90-minute speech to marchers at Miraflores. He taunted the Secretary designate, using highly offensive language, and called the crisis over Granda's capture a "provocation" from Washington. State and local leaders also participated in the march and offered the press conspiracy theories about US participation in the Granda capture. "Forget about the FARC," said Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello, "the fundamental issue is (US designs on) Venezuelan oil."
¶12. (U) Former Army Lieutenant Diosdado Cabello's relationship with the President goes back to his student days in the AMV, when Chavez played on his baseball team, according to press reports. During the 1992 coup, Cabello led four tanks to the Presidential palace. He joined Chavez's presidential campaign early, while Chavez was still low in the polls, press reports note. When Cabello was part of the Chavez administration, the opposition accused him of leading the Bolivarian circles, which he has defended as an unarmed social movement.
¶13. (U) Named for the head of the Masons and then Philippine President, Diosdado Macapagal, Cabello was born in El Furrial, Monagas on April 15, 1963. He graduated from the AMV in 1987 with honors. He has degrees in engineering project management from UCAB and in systems engineering from IUPFAN. He served as general director of the national telecommunications commission (CONATEL) from 1999-2000. Having held more positions in Chavez's cabinet than any other official, Cabello has been Minister of the Secretariat of the Presidency (2001-02), Vice President (2002), Acting President (a few hours during the 2002 coup), Minister of Interior and Justice (2002-03), and Minister of Infrastructure (2003-04). Upon entering office as governor in 2004, he declared a state of emergency in the Miranda health sector. He and his wife, Marlene, have three children.
¶5. (C) In a public broadcast April 15, President Hugo Chavez acknowledged that officials had been using the list and ordered a halt to its use, saying it was time to "bury the Tascon list." The reference is to Movimiento Quinta Republica Deputy Luis Tascon, who put the data base of those who had signed the petitions requesting a recall referendum on his web site shortly after the signatures were submitted to the CNE. Other officials, including Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello, and Patria Para Todos Secretary General Jose Albornoz praised the President's decision. The discrimination against petition signers had been gaining increasing media coverage in the week preceding Chavez's declaration.
¶2. (U) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called on officials to "bury the Luis Tascon list", during a televised cabinet meeting on April 15. Chavez said he received constant complaints from people claiming to have been denied jobs because they appeared on the Tascon list. He said the "famous list undoubtedly played an important role at one specific moment, but it has passed." He also called on governors and mayors to work with small and medium businessmen, regardless of whether their names appeared on the list. Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello told reporters Chavez's order put in their place those "who think they are more Chavista then Chavez."
¶7. (C) Keller said the military--rather than the ruling Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) party--was the true center of power within the Chavez administration. As an example, Keller asserted that about three years ago, Chavez threatened to disband the MVR and replace it with the small military group MBR-200, which had helped Chavez plot his coup attempt in 1992. According to Keller, the most powerful government officials were active or former military officers, with the exception of Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel. Keller cited Miranda Governor and former army lieutenant Diosdado Cabello as the GOV figure closest to Chavez and most likely to follow in his presidential footsteps.
¶3. (U) In a separate judicial ruling March 13, a Caracas court determined there was enough evidence to send the case of El Nacional columnist Marianella Salazar to trial. Salazar is accused of defamation for a column she wrote in June 2003 in which she denounced Vice President Jose Vincente Rangel and then-Defense Minister Diosdado Cabello for "irregularities" in the purchase of military radars. Upon learning of the court's decision, Salazar noted that neither the Vice President or Cabello had responded to the charges three years ago, and accused the BRV of using the judiciary against the media to criminalize dissent in an election year. Salazar is free pending trial.
¶7. (C) IDEOLOGY vs. VENALITY. Reporters attempt to discern divisions by hyping differences in Chavista officials' character traits. Chavismo contains, for example, officials who appear extremely ideological, such as firebrand deputy Iris Varela, former human rights lawyer Governor Tarek William Saab, and mob leader "comandante" Lina Ron. It also includes less reactionary officials who appear to be devoting considerable energies into getting rich, such as Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello and Interior Minister Jesse Chacon.
¶4. (C) Chavez has also delegated disciplinary actions within his party to prominent lieutenants. For instance, Chavez appears to have entrusted much MVR discipline to Communications Minister William Lara and Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, who have treated party dissenters harshly. These officials' unpopular responsibilities as BRV enforcers raise the question of whether Chavez charged them with such roles to offset their positions of influence. Similarly, in September 2004, Chavez tapped the powerful Jesse Chacon to head the Interior Ministry, a position in which he stood to make enemies in the government. Indeed, Chacon has since butted heads with senior public officials such as Supreme Court Justice Luis Velazquez Alvaray and Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez. The Interior portfolio also puts Chacon in the thick of Venezuela's out-of-control crime problems, putting a brake on his popularity. Why Chavez would allow the popular Diosdado Cabello to take the Miranda State Governorship--where he could conceivably develop a power base--is unclear. Cabello has largely withdrawn from the national stage as he works on his state administration, which gets high marks even from the opposition. Yet, Pollster Alfredo Keller's surveys indicate Cabello's popularity declined gradually throughout 2005.
¶11. (SBU) Despite the tough initial reaction from Chavez and some of his closest supporters, Chavez also announced the formation of a new, MVR-dominated committee headed by Vice President Jorge Rodriguez to promote the formation of the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela. Rodriguez is joined by General Alberto Muller Rojas of Chavez' General Staff, Liberatador (central Caracas) Mayor Freddy Bernal, Vargas Governor Diosdado Cabello, Socialist League Secretary General Fernando Soto Rojas, and "Vea" editor Guillermo Garcia Ponce. That committee met with representatives of Podemos, PPT, and the Communist party March 7-8, and all sides to the internal dispute expressed satisfaction in the renewed dialogue.
¶3. (U) A total of twelve governors, over 100 mayors, and various local legislators are on the recall list. Among the more notable Chavistas are Chavez crony and Miranda state Governor Diosdado Cabello, the formerly described "Scribe of the Revolution" and Anzoategui Governor Tarek William Saab, Carabobo state Governor Luis Acosta Carlez, and Caracas Libertador municipality Mayor Freddy Bernal.
-- May 29: Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez told reporters that 97 protests were officially reported nationwide. Post received reports of pro-RCTV student marches in Aragua, Zulia, Anzoategui, Carabobo, Barinas, Tachira, Trujillo, and Nueva Esparta States. Some student leaders have reportedly called for a nationwide student strike. A pro-RCTV group returned to Chacaito intending to march to the nearby OAS office and were tear gassed and shot at. Some 100 minors and 80 adults have been arrested, including an Amcit, who said he was beaten after informing authorities that he was a U.S. citizen. One human rights contact told us that some of those arrested claimed that they were doing routine errands and were not marching at the time of their arrest. They may be arraigned May 30. Popular Power Minister of Interior and Justice Pedro Carreno met with Miranda State Governor Diosdado Cabello, Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto, Baruta Mayor Henrique Capriles, and Chacao Mayor Lopez that night to coordinate police response to future protests.
¶2. (SBU) President Chavez announced during his August 25 speech to United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) activists that he passed the name of a "national leader" to the PSUV's new discipline committee. Chavez named Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello to head the committee. Vice President Jorge Rodriguez, Education Minister Adan Chavez, National Assembly President Cilia Flores, National Assembly Member Eustoquio Contreras, former Nutrition Minister Erika Farias, Science and Technology Minister Hector Navarro, Lara Governor Luis Reyes Reyes, and National Assembly Second Vice President Roberto Hernandez reportedly make up the rest of the committee.
¶6. (SBU) President Chavez selected a number of senior BRV leaders to lead his Zamora Command "Yes" election campaign, named after 19th century Venezuelan land reform proponent and general Ezequial Zamora. Vice President Jorge Rodriguez, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, Miranda State Governor Diosdado Cabello, Telesur President Andres Izarra, Information Minister William Lara, Information Vice Minister Helena Salcedeo, and National Assembly Deputies Dario Vivas, Gabriela Ramirez, and Carlos Escarra make up the Zamora Command's leadership. Escarra has been one of the BRV's principal intellectual proponents and defenders of the proposed constitutional reform. This central "Yes" campaign committee will direct the efforts of similar state and local "Yes" campaign committees.
¶5. (C) Press contacts reported throughout the day that the BRV stymied international media attempts to cover the event live. One Spanish correspondent claimed he was even presented with a document stating that CNN, and Colombian and Spanish broadcasters were prohibited from transmitting live video footage. CNE President Tibisay Lucena reportedly ordered the dismantling of part of the stage, claiming that some posters violated campaign regulations prohibiting the use of the national colors and historic figures. She threatened the opposition and Globovision that she would request suspension in media coverage if the opposition failed to remove the images. March organizers removed a large portrait of Venezuelan founder Simon Bolivar from the stage backdrop, but left up the "No" flanked by the Venezuelan national colors. Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello did his own news report live on state television station VTV looking out from a building allegedly on Bolivar Avenue and showed selective images of scant crowds to try to prove that the opposition had not drawn as many supporters as it claimed.
¶3. (C) The Mayor indicated that the opposition is now focusing on the October 2008 state and local elections and that he was considering running either for the mayor of Caracas (Caracas has a mayor as well as five borough mayors, including Capriles), or for governor of the state of Miranda (which surrounds the eastern and southern sections of Caracas). Diosdado Cabello, the current governor is largely viewed as corrupt, Capriles said, and has ties to some of the persons charged in Florida in the Antonini case. Capriles noted that he knew one of the indicted individuals, Carlos Kauffmann, but had broken off contact with him when Kauffmann began doing business for the government.
¶4. (C) While ostensibly a party being forged "from below," the formation of the PSUV appears to be closely supervised from above by a small, powerful group of Chavez supporters who make up the PSUV Support Committee, successor to the larger PSUV Promotion Commission. Chavez designated former Vice President Jorge Rodriguez to lead the Support Committee's efforts. Miranda State Governor Diosdado Cabello, former Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, and National Assembly Deputy Dario Vivas are also reportedly playing a key role. The Support Committee meets with and answers to the Venezuelan president.
¶5. (SBU) Former VP Jorge Rodriguez and Miranda State Governor Diosdado Cabello announced on Venezuelan state television February 16 that the PSUV founding congress unanimously voted to expel National Assembly Deputy Luis Tascon from the party. Days before in the National Assembly, Tascon accused recently appointed Tax Authority (SENIAT) Director Jose David Cabello, brother of Diosdado, of purchasing some 200 cars and microbuses at grossly inflated prices when Jose David Cabello was at the Ministry of Infrastructure in 2004. The PSUV voting bloc in the National Assembly also expelled Tascon from its parliamentary group on February 21.
¶6. (SBU) Diosdado Cabello denied the corruption accusation against his brother and in a press release accused Tascon of being an "instrument of the (U.S.) empire." Cabello added that Tascon had spent a month "in the offices of Bill Gates" and suggested that while there a chip was injected into Tascon's blood. Cabello also produced a purported written request by Tascon for a diplomatic passport for a banker that Cabello said is associated with narcotrafficking. National Assembly President Cilia Flores reportedly tried to dismiss the NA Comptroller Commission chairman who received Tascon's complaint, but failed.
¶5. (SBU) The large majority of Chavez' nominees to the PSUV party leadership are well-known and loyal Chavistas. They include Education Minister and presidential brother Adan Chavez, former VP Jorge Rodgriguez, former ministers Aristobulo Isturiz, William Lara, Maria Cristina Iglesias, Rodrigo Cabezas, and David Velasquez. Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello, Portuguesa State Governor Antonia Munoz, Lara Governor Luis Reyes Reyes, and Libertador Mayor Freddy Bernal are on the list. The list also includes Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, Finance Minister Rafael Isea, Secretary of the Presidency Jessie Chacon, Justice and Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, as well as National Assembly President Cilia Flores and NA Deputies Carlos Escarra and Dario Vivas. State-run television talk show hosts Mario Silva and Vanessa Davies also made the cut.
¶1. (C) Summary. In February President Chavez removed the Director of the Venezuelan tax and customs service (SENIAT) Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora and replaced him with Infrastructure Minister Jose David Cabello. Vielma Mora was widely regarded within Venezuela as an efficient administrator, who by dint of heavy-handed tactics had substantially improved tax collection efforts. Extensive rumors are circulating in Venezuela speculating on the causes of Vielma Mora's relatively sudden sacking. Emboffs spoke with close confidants of Vielma Mora regarding Mora's current political aspirations and the reasons for his falling-out with President Chavez. While there are credible allegations of corruption against Vielma Mora, it appears that his removal was more a combination of perceptions he was not loyal enough to the revolution, was a potential rival to other Chavistas, such as Miranda governor Diosdado Cabello, and that he reportedly disagreed with President Chavez too often in front of others. Chavez sometimes exiles colleagues to discipline them and then returns them to the fold. There are signs he might do this in Vielma Mora's case.
¶1. (C) Summary. President Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela's (PSUV) held intra-party elections March 9 to fill the PSUV's 15-member leadership committee. PSUV local ("battalion") leaders elected well-known loyalists to one-year terms on the party's steering committee from the 69 names put on the ballot by Chavez. Education Minister and presidential brother Adan Chavez, National Assembly President Cilia Flores, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro were among the top 15 vote-getters. Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello, widely considered a potential successor to Chavez some day, did not make the cut. The much-delayed and divisive formation of the PSUV will be completed March 14 when Chavez plans to swear-in the leadership committee. The PSUV still needs to register formally with the National Electoral Council (CNE) as a political party and begin preparations for state and local elections in November.
¶4. (SBU) At the same rally, Chavez also named 10 loyalists as regional party Vice Presidents. He named Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello to head up Miranda and Guarico States. Top PSUV steering committee vote-getter and former Education Minister Aristobulo Isturiz will lead the PSUV in Caracas and Vargas State. The President's brother, Education Minister Adan Chavez, will lead the PSUV in Apure and Barinas states. Ali Rodriguez will not only head up the Ideology Committee, but is a party VP for the western states of Tachira, Merida, and Trujillo. Similarly, Finance Committee Chairman Rodrigo Cabezas is VP for Zulia and Falcon states. Justice and Interior Minister Rodriguez Chacin is the party VP for Nueva Esparta, Monagas, and Sucre states. Organizing the PSUV party into 10 regions (vice 23 states) is consistent with Chavez' proposal to change the political geography of Venezuela, part of his proposed constitutional reform package that voters turned down in the December 2007 referendum.
¶4. (SBU) Chavez concluded ceremonies for the week by leading an April 13 mass rally in Caracas. Despite free bus and subway service, the crowd looked significantly smaller and less animated than previous Chavez rallies. Chavez thanked the loyal soldiers who returned him to power, especially Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello and former Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, and other "loyal comrades of the revolution." Coverage of the rally in the pro-government tabloid "VEA" bannered with "Venezuela pledges its loyalty to the Bolivarian Revolution." Chavez pledged solidarity with neighboring leftist leaders, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa. Chavez praised Correa's idea of an organization of Latin American states without the U.S. or Canada. Chavez received his greatest applause when he announced "Mision 13 Abril," a new social program to address the needs of 15 million poor Venezuelans and to be financed with up to USD 250 million from his proposed oil windfall profit tax. The second phase of this mission would be the formation of "socialist communes," part of an idea included in constitutional reforms rejected in the December 2007 referendum. Chavez called this an effort "to plant socialism from below" to achieve the "supreme social happiness that Karl Marx spoke of."
¶3. (SBU) Upon Capriles' return to watch a performance by a fraternal order known as the Dancing Devils, however, Rivas threw a water bottle at him. The state legislator's men then scuffled with Capriles' companions. The dancers came to Capriles' assistance and held the Chavistas at bay with their wooden dancing sticks. Rivas' men, some of which were reportedly armed, left. (Note: Rivas has a history of resorting to violence. In early 2007, his supporters physically attacked reporters affiliated with the opposition media (Reftel). Rivas is also reportedly a close ally of current Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello. End Note.)
¶1. (C) Summary. President Chavez and his close confidant Miranda State Governor Diosdado Cabello publicly and unambiguously declared recently that the Venezuelan president intends to run for a third term in 2012. Chavez will still need to alter the 1999 Constitution's two-term limit, one of the reforms that was voted down in the December 2007 constitutional referendum. Neither Chavez nor Cabello specified how or exactly when they intend to do that. Chavez' restatement of his intention to govern until at least 2021 may be part of an electoral strategy to frame the November state and local elections as a referendum on his presidency. He also appears to be trying to enhance his ability to impose party discipline on his increasingly divided supporters. End Summary.
¶4. (C) Long-time, loyal supporters of President Chavez dominated the PSUV intra-party election. Former Education Minister Aristobulo Chavez will be the PSUV's candidate for the Caracas mayorship and former Vice President Jorge Rodriguez will run for the mayorship of Caracas Libertador borough. Four out of five sitting PSUV governors won the party's nomination for re-election, including Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello. Mario Silva, the hard-line pro-Chavez host of the government political talk show "La Hojilla," will be the PSUV nominee in Carabobo State, although he has never resided there. President Chavez' brother and former Education Minister Adan Chavez won over 90 percent of the PSUV vote to become that party's nominees for the governorship of Barinas State.
¶4. (C) Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello, a PSUV leader and candidate running for re-election, met with leaders of several small pro-government parties for four hours on July 29 and afterward announced that the PSUV and its allies reached agreement on PSUV gubernatorial candidates in nine states and the mayoral candidate for Caracas. The PSUV and allied parties also agreed to form a technical commission to try to reach agreement on as many more candidates as possible. Interestingly, Cabello and Caracas Mayoral candidate Aristobulo Isturiz will represent the PSUV on the technical commission, essentially replacing PSUV negotiator Muller Rojas, who continued to accuse the small pro-government parties of "blackmail" in comments to the local press.
¶3. (C) Noting that he was Chavez's campaign coordinator in central Venezuela for several years, Bolivar asserted that Chavez is not really campaigning hard for his candidates. Bolivar suggested that Chavez is more afraid of long-time close associates Diosdado Cabello and Jessie Chacon winning their races than he is of their respective opposition candidates. He also noted that many of Chavez's favored candidates are not campaigning with a message because their ultimate intention after winning is to transfer their state and local powers back to Chavez. On the other hand, certain presumably strong pro-Chavez candidates, such as Henri Falcon in Lara State and Jose Gregorio Briceno in Monagas State, represent a real threat to Chavez's efforts to centralize even more authority. If elected, neither Falcon nor Briceno is likely to be willing to transfer effective authority back to the national government.
¶5. (SBU) During a September 15 PSUV rally in front of the Attorney General's office, Miranda state governor and 1992 Chavez coup attempt veteran, Diosdado Cabello accused Ravell, Otero, newspaper editor Andres Mata of El Universal and the leaders of the opposition parties of being involved in the assassination/coup plot. Freddy Bernal, Chavista mayor of Caracas, instructed followers to find "the nearest opposition center of power, big mansion or communications media and if anything happens, burn it!" Adding insult to injury, Cabello's brother Jose David Cabello, chief of the tax authority SENIAT, is auditing Ravell and Globovision.
¶6. (SBU) On September 12, President of the National Assembly Cilia Flores strongly affirmed her support for the expulsion, publicly claiming the Embassy has been behind all "destabilizing actions" since 2002, including the latest alleged coup plot. Echoing Chavez's original message, she added that relations could improve under a new government in Washington, provided it "respects" the BRV. The following day, the PSUV National Committee issued a communiquQ lauding Chavez's decision and warning its followers to remain vigilant against the "imperialist onslaught" in Latin America. At a PSUV event held in support of Chavez, Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello called the expulsion a sovereign decision and alleged that the USG was "without a doubt" behind a purported Chavez assassination plot. Prominent and obscure PSUV candidates for the November 23 gubernatorial and mayoral elections publicly backed the expulsion as part of their campaigns.
¶5. (SBU) Tascon has stated that he would be willing to support certain PSUV candidates, including those contenders for the governorships in Zulia, Falcon, Lara, Tachira, Merdia, and Guarico states. He has also specifically denounced several candidates close to Chavez, including Diosdado Cabello (Miranda), Bolivar Governor Francisco Rangel Gomez, and Jose Gregorio Briceno (Monagas), while falling short of denouncing the President himself. Tascon instead claimed that Chavez has been "kidnapped" by these followers and suffers from Stockholm syndrome, having "fallen in love with his captors."
¶7. (C) In the swing state of Miranda, Consultores 21 asserts that PSUV Governor Diosdado Cabello, a close confidant of Chavez, is currently trailing opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski in his bid for reelection. According to the poll conducted in early September, participants are split regarding Cabello's performance as governor, 44% say he has done a good job while 52% say he has not, and the findings indicate he would lose 35% to 44% to Capriles Radonski if elections were today. Although Cabello has Chavez's backing and resources to count on, he has high unfavorability ratings. Forty-six percent of those polled said they would not vote for Cabello, whereas just 20% claimed the same for Capriles Radonski. Cabello's poor polling numbers may reflect a widespread perception that he has used public office for self-enrichment. The same poll gives an early lead to the opposition's Antonio Ledezma in the Caracas mayoral race, who currently holds 39% of the vote over 26% for the PSUV's Aristobulo Izturiz.
¶3. (C) Chavez visited Miranda state October 22 to stump for Diosdado Cabello, the current governor and PSUV candidate, who is facing tough competition from two-term Baruta borough mayor Henrique Capriles Radonski. The GBRV reopened a criminal case against Capriles Radonski on October 17 despite his 2006 acquittal on charges of inciting violence at the Cuban Embassy during the April 2002 interregnum. According to a recent Seijas poll, Cabello leads Carpiles Radonski 40 to 37 percent. Opposition pundits have told us that Radonski is actually leading in other polls. Cabello, who is close to the President, is probably suffering from allegations that he has used public office for self-enrichment and the inability of his government to curb the skyrocketing crime rate in urban areas of Miranda State. Seijas reports that 86 percent of those polled nation-wide listed insecurity as the principle problem facing the state, followed by traffic, trash collection, and other unsolved infrastructure problems.
¶5. (C) The 1992 Coupsters: Miranda Governor Diosdado Cabello, the person most widely mentioned locally as a possible Chavez successor, is in a close re-election race against Baruta Mayor Henrique Capriles Radonski. Former Interior and Justice Minister Jessie Chacon appears to be trailing Primero Justicia Secretary General Carlos Ocariz in the mayoral race in the densely populated Sucre Borough of Caracas. Former Bolivar governor Antonio Rojas Suarez is running a strong gubernatorial race against an unpopular PSUV incumbent governor, but splitting opposition votes. Local pundits believe Rojas Suarez, who reportedly drove the tank that crashed the gates of the Miraflores presidential palace in 1992, may be staying in the race at the opposition's expense to get back into Chavez's good graces.
¶4. (C) In Miranda State, Chavez has tried to rally support for his PSUV candidate for governor, Diosdado Cabello, by seeking to shift blame for enduring housing shortages on to wealthy residents. On November 17, the President publicized that the state was in the process of building over 700 apartments for low-income families, with much of the cost being born by the National Housing Bank. The same day, he called for the eradication of large land holdings, telling supporters that "we have to liberate the land from the estate holders," noting that many owners lived in the cities and left their land abandoned. Chavez contended that "a group of people that own the riches, refuse to the majority the minimum resources to be able to live. (These) are the greatest inequalities." While standing next to Cabello at a rally, Chavez told supporters that "in Miranda, Chavez rules. Never again will the squalid (opposition) return to rule in Miranda."
¶5. (C) Diosdado Cabello announced November 18 that he was asking the Ministry of Justice to investigate a mass cell phone message, allegedly originating from a company in Maracaibo, that advised recipients not to vote for him because he had "betrayed the people." He alluded to a backer who had paid the company to send the message. Cabello will likely finger Zulia governor and Maracaibo opposition mayoral candidate Manuel Rosales, or one of his associates, given the smear campaign carried out by Chavez and his PSUV cronies over the election campaign. On November 18, National Assembly Deputy Mario Isea pledged that Rosales will be arrested for corruption after the elections, whether he wins or loses. Also in Zulia, the mayor of the Paez municipality accused Rosales of discriminating against the indigenous minorities that live in the state by abandoning promised works in the Guarjira area.
¶3. (C) The opposition's gubernatorial wins in Tachira and Carabobo States were comparably less decisive, with Cesar Perez Vivas eking out a victory over the PSUV's Leonardo Salcedo, 49.54 to 48.04 percent and Henrique Salas Feo winning 47.72 percent over Mario Silva's 44.29 percent. In Miranda State, the opposition's Henrique Capriles Radonski defeated PSUV governor Diosdado Cabello by six points, 52.56 percent to 46.64 percent. Despite Chavez's frequent campaign visits to Zulia State, the opposition won the governorship with a comfortable margin, Pablo Perez receiving 53.59 percent to PSUV candidate Giancarlo Di Martino's 45.02 percent. The incumbent governor of Nueva Esparta scored the opposition's strongest win, 57.64 percent to the PSUV's 41.69 percent.
¶9. (C) Close Chavez Confidants: A number of prominent close Chavez acolytes lost at the polls or eked out victories. Incumbent Miranda governor and 1992 coup partner Diosdado Cabello, the person most frequently mentioned by pundits as a possible Chavez successor, lost his re-election bid. Former Justice and Interior Minister and 1992 coup partner Jessie Chacon lost his bid for the Sucre borough mayorship. Former Education Minister Aristobulo Isturiz, who received the most votes of any PSUV official in internal party elections, was defeated in the Caracas mayoral race. Brother of the Venezuelan president Adan Chavez narrowly escaped defeat in the Barinas gubernatorial race and former Vice President Jorge Rodriguez faced considerably more competition from former student leader Stalin Gonzalez in the Liberatador Borough mayoral race than local analysts believed possible.
¶7. (SBU) In Miranda, the local press reported similar thefts taking place in offices belonging to Miranda state government. Hardest hit was the Governor's information office where cameras, video kits, monitors, sound and video editing suites were being carried away by red-shirted looters. Outgoing PSUV governor Diosdado Cabello reportedly transferred three state hospitals and state bus lines to the central government. Incoming opposition mayor of the Sucre borough of Caracas Carlos Ocariz told the local media that the GBRV removed garbage trucks from the municipality and the borough's trash compactor disappeared overnight. (Note: Sanitation was a key point of dissatisfaction among urban voters that turned away from Chavez. End Note.)
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Chavez appointed Diosdado Cabello Rondon, the person most frequently mentioned as a possible successor, as the new Minister of Infrastructure (Minfra) on December 6. Cabello lost his re-election bid for the governorship of Miranda State in the November 23 election. We have already seen indications that Cabello may be using his influence in the Venezuelan civil aviation authority (INAC) to retaliate against domestic, political enemies. It is uncertain whether his appointment will have an impact on our efforts to arrange a February 2009 US Coast Guard port visit. Although our contacts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) seem to view the visit positively, we have not yet received written confirmation from the Venezuelan government on the proposed January 12 meeting to discuss the Coast Guard request. END SUMMARY.
--------------------------------------------- -------- CHAVEZ REARRANGES HIS CABINET WITH THE SAME OLD FACES --------------------------------------------- --------
¶2. (C) President Chavez recently re-appointed three of his partners in the 1992 coup attempt to his cabinet, after two lost elections in November and a third could not run again due to term limits. On December 6, Chavez announced his appointment of former military academy classmate Diosdado Cabello to his second stint as Minister of Minfra. Cabello lost his re-election bid for the Miranda governorship in November (ref A). On the same day, Chavez also appointed former Justice and Interior Minister Jesse Chacon, who lost his bid for the Sucre borough mayorship in Caracas, to once again serve as Minister of Communications and Information. The shuffle continued on December 10 with the appointment of a new Minister of the Secretariat of the Presidency Luis Reyes Reyes (Septel) whose profile is very similar to that of Cabello and Chacon. Cabello, who has held more positions in Chavez' cabinet than any other official, was Minfra Minister from January 2003 to March 2004. (NOTE: For a long list of Cabello's other roles, which include a brief term as both the Venezuelan Vice President and a few hours as President in 2002, see ref B. As further evidence of Cabello's influence in the current administration, Jose David Cabello rode his brother's coattails to Minfra where he also served as Minister from March 2006 to February 2008. Jose Cabello is currently the head of Venezuelan tax authority Seniat (ref C). END NOTE.)
---------------------------- CABELLO NO FRIEND TO THE USG ----------------------------
¶3. (C) Cabello, who is fond of accusing his enemies of being "instruments of the (US) empire", is well known for his anti-USG statements. In one example, on September 12, Cabello called the expulsion of Ambassador Duddy a sovereign decision, adding that the USG was "without a doubt" behind a purported Chavez assassination plot (ref D). During a September 15 speech Cabello also memorably insulted the head of TV station Globovision, Alberto Ravell, by saying "Ravell is the Charge of the American Embassy... If you (Ravell) touch a hair on Chavez' head, I will find you."
¶4. (C) In addition to complaints that Cabello failed to address the serious crime problem in Miranda state, Cabello's recent election loss was likely also due to frequent allegations that Cabello has used his string of high level appointments for self-enrichment. Cabello is one of Chavez' wealthiest confidants and there is considerable speculation regarding the source of his fortune (ref E). Among his many CARACAS 00001754 002 OF 002 holdings, Cabello is reportedly the majority shareholder in Venezuelan airline Santa Barbara (SBA), one of two Venezuelan airlines with direct flights to the US. An aviation contact told Econoff on November 4 that Cabello, while not involved in drug trafficking to his knowledge, is just as bad in his own way as the current owners of Aeropostal, the Makled family (ref F).
¶5. (C) On December 17, Juan Carlos Escotet, the President of Banesco, Venezuela's leading bank, asked the Embassy for assistance with a bank-owned US registered aircraft. INAC withdrew permission for the aircraft to fly in Venezuelan airspace (and thus leave the country) this week in what Escotet believes is direct retaliation for his decision to freeze Miranda State bank accounts after Cabello lost his re-election bid for the governorship. Escotet said the Bank froze the accounts to ensure that Cabello did not avail himself of the funds before leaving office. Minfra, which until earlier this year had formal authority over INAC, still enjoys considerable influence in the agency and Escotet believes Cabello is using INAC to punish the bank for freezing the Miranda accounts.
-------- COMMENT --------
¶6. (C) In his current position, Cabello is ultimately in charge of Venezuelan ports and will play a role in the final decision on whether or not Venezuela will allow a proposed February 2009 Coast Guard visit to Venezuelan ports (ref G). As one of his first acts, Cabello replaced the President of INEA with his former Miranda State Director of Budget and Finance, Luis Rodriguez Guevara. There is reason to believe that the MFA sees the port visit as its opportunity to demonstrate to the incoming US administration that Venezuela is serious about cooperating. However, after sending two diplomatic notes to the MRE dated December 5 and 9 respectively, Post still does not have written confirmation that the Venezuelan government will allow the port visit to take place. The ultimate resolution of this issue may serve as an indicator of the strength of the hard-line faction in the government versus those that might seek a rapprochement with the Obama Administration.
¶4. (C) Chavez has historically framed elections as a plebiscite on him personally -- a tactic he is likely to continue given his relative popularity and the weakened state of other figures within Chavismo. Several of his key allies lost closely contested races, including Jesse Chacon for the mayorship of the Sucre Borough of Caracas and Diosdado Cabello in Miranda State. Although both subsequently received Cabinet positions, their electoral failures suggest they are unlikely to be effective -- or trusted -- on the campaign trail as substitutes for Chavez. In fact, the President named Jorge Rodriguez to run his amendment referendum campaign, despite his considerable responsibilities as the incoming mayor of the Liberator Borough of Caracas municipality. Rodriguez appears to have been chosen for his unconditional loyalty to the President given that he spearheaded the unsuccessful effort to win public approval of Chavez's constitutional reform package in December 2007.
¶3.(C) The Venezuelan government's failure to follow through on its December 1 promises may in part be due to the December 6 appointment of Diosdado Cabello Rondon, well known for his strident pro-Chavez views, as the new MINFRA minister (ref C). On January 16, the Coast Guard issued a Federal Register notice announcing the imposition of its "conditions of entry" for vessels arriving from Venezuelan ports. From January 20-23, a few short articles appeared in local and international press regarding the Coast Guard action. Since then, the media largely appears to have lost interest.
¶1. (C) Summary: President Chavez and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) party are the big winners of the February 15 referendum in which almost 55% of Venezuelans voted to remove term limits for all elected officials. Chavez now can run for a third six-year term and currently faces no real viable opponent. The PSUV mobilized over a million more voters to the polls than the "No" campaign, despite the fact that the opposition mobilized their largest voter turnout in a decade. PSUV Mayor the Libertador borough of Caracas and "Yes" campaign manager Jorge Rodriguez basked in the "Yes" camp's electoral victory, and vindicated himself after managing the unsuccessful "Yes" campaign in the 2007 constitutional reform referendum. University student activists reasserted themselves as effective and energized campaign organizers. Perhaps the biggest losers are opposition political parties, who arrived late to the game with limited resources and no discernible strategy. In addition, Chavez's confirmation that he will run again in 2012 effectively undermines any potential succession by any other senior PSUV leader, such as Infrastructure Minister Diosdado Cabello. Despite his political momentum, Chavez still faces the considerable challenge of a very difficult economic scenario for 2009 and possibly beyond that may complicate his post-2012 plans.
¶5. (C) Chavez recently proclaimed he is "hitting the accelerator" on "socializing" the country. Since February 15, there has been a sharp increase in highly publicized land nationalizations and renewed discussion of "communes" with Chavez emphasizing that "ground is not private, rather it is social property... this earth is the property of every Venezuelan." The two most publicized "interventions" in past weeks have been the "Hato El Maizal" and "Hato El Pinal" estates, which amount to nearly 8,000 acres. The smaller of the two estates, Hato El Pinal, is owned by Ireland's Smurfit Kappa. The media reports the estate is valued at over 500,000 Euros. Minister of Housing and Public Works Diosdado Cabello confirmed the decision to take the estates was "irreversible". In a sign that he is not done yet, during another public appearance on March 8, following his "Alo Presidente" show Chavez said "early, when the roosters are still crowing, we will intervene in more 'latifundios' (large agricultural estates)".
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: The Venezuelan Government passed a "Decentralization Law" on March 12, that moves authority over state-run airports, roads and ports to the central government (Ref A). The morning of March 16, a senior Carabobo state official reported that the National Guard had arrived and fear and uncertainty reigned at the airports and ports in some opposition-controlled states. The newly constituted Ministry of Public Works and Housing under close Chavez confidant Diosdado Cabello (Ref B) will now control all airport and port operations and will likely replace senior state government staff with his own personnel. Cabello, who has not proven supportive of USG requests to conduct security assessments of Venezuelan ports and airports in the past, will now be in charge of their operations throughout the country (Ref C). END SUMMARY.
¶5. (C) On March 16, Econoff spoke to William Bracho (strictly protect throughout), President of domestic aviation association CEVETA, who posited that Minister Cabello will not lose any time in replacing key airport and port staff in opposition states with his own personnel. Bracho said the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, which is becoming a "super ministry", will assume total control of state-run airports and ports and will be quick to channel all revenue to the Ministry, rather than the states. He suggested that this reversal of 1980's era decentralization under the Presidential Plan for State Reform (COPRE) would not necessarily increase corruption at Venezuelan airports, but would instead change the cast of characters benefiting from corrupt airport operations. Central, rather than state government officials will now reap the spoils, he added.
¶3. (SBU) In the same broadcast, Chavez accused the United States of exporting terrorism and suggested that the United States will "end up being a paper tiger." He urged the United States to follow China's example to become "a great power for the good, a great power for progress, a great power for development." Chavez also alleged that five states led by opposition governors (Tachira, Zulia, Miranda, Carabobo, and Nueva Esparta) are supported by mafiosos, had "separatist pretensions," and "want the head of Chavez." He threatened that the opposition governors would not succeed because he was backed by both popular and military support. Chavez alleged that the "half-moon" plot, in reference to the western states of Zulia and Tachira which form a half-moon shape, is "an old project propelled by the yankee empire." He called on Minister of Public Works Diosdado Cabello to maintain a "firm hand" in taking over the ports and airports in opposition-controlled states.
¶2. (C) The day after the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (GBRV) promulgated the Law of the Federal District (Reftel), Chavez appointed Jacqueline Faria as the Capital District Chief of Government. She is rumored to have close ties to one of Chavez's closest loyalists, Minister of Public Works Diosdado Cabello. Given Cabello's failed reelection bid in the November 2008 elections for Miranda State governorship, the pick of Faria may represent an opportunity for him to reestablish his influence over Venezuela's capital city area. During Faria's swearing-in, Vice President Ramon Carrizales asserted that "dialogue is not possible" with Ledezma or with anybody who "tries to make decisions or deals behind the people's backs." He added that Ledezma would remain as a "planner" and "coordinator" and that his office's hitherto budget was "temporary, and its temporality has ended." Ledezma will reportedly have the lead only on city transportation and parks.
¶2. (C) The Public Ministry announced that it would begin investigating former Mayor of Greater Caracas (2005-2009) Juan Barreto on charges of corruption. Barreto is a longtime Chavista but allegedly had a falling out with Chavez's current right-hand man, Minister of Public Works Diosdado Cabello while the two were serving as Caracas Mayor and Governor of Miranda State, respectively. Barreto is slated to be formally charged April 29, but has pledged that he has "nothing to fear" and has no plans to go to Caracas for the court hearing. Current opposition Governor of Miranda State Henrique Capriles Radonski called the charges against Barreto a "smokescreen" and fingered Cabello for widely rumored corruption while he was governor, calling him "untouchable before justice." Primero Justicia's (PJ's) Ismael Leon described Barreto's prosecution as "judicial theater" intended to create the illusion of a fair and unbiased judiciary.
¶3. (C) Chavez appointed long-time loyalists to regional vice-presidential slots. In addition to Maduro, these include: PSUV President and Minister of Energy Rafael Ramirez (western region, including oil-rich Zulia State), Minister of Public Works Diosdado Cabello (central), AN Deputy from Carabobo State Francisco Ameliach (central-western), and former Minister of Education Aristobulo Isturiz (eastern). Minister of Agriculture Elias Jaua has the Planes regional vice-presidency, which includes the rural states of Apure, Barinas, Guarico, Portuguesa, and Cojedes. Curiously, Cabello's zone includes Greater Caracas and Miranda State (as well as Vargas and Aragua States), suggesting Chavez is turning a blind eye to Cabello's poor governance skills and rumored corruption which contributed to his failed reelection bid for the Miranda State governorship in 2008.
¶12. (C) Chavez's May 15 decision to transfer authority of the GBRVs media regulatory body (CONATEL) to the Department of Public Works bodes poorly for media freedom in Venezuela. The bureaucratic restructuring of Conatel places it squarely under the authority of close Chavez confidant and cabinet minister Diosdado Cabello. The new authority of Cabello, who as recently as May 17 promised to end "radio's latifundio," is likely to further politicize any investigations against any media outlets that are bold enough to criticize the Government. The restructuring of Conatel's chain of command, when coupled with the May 12 publication in the official registry announcing the hiring of inspectors for future investigations of radio and TV stations across the country, clearly serve as ominous premonitions for the days ahead.
¶7. (C) In another interesting twist to the new contract, the GBRV removes all mention of PDVSA as the party responsible for making payment. Beauchemin said that Del Pino explained that while he could put PDVSA back on the new contract, it would still not make the payments as PDVSA is "overextended" and could not offer Holcim a dime. Instead, the contract lists the responsible party as a GBRV institute which falls under the authority of the new, Diosdado Cabello-led Ministry of Public Works and Housing (Ref G). (Note: Beauchemin could not recall the institute's name, but it may be the National Institute of Housing. End Note.) When Beauchemin asked Holcim lawyers why the Ministry itself was not listed as the payer, his legal counsel explained that if the GBRV listed a ministry as responsible for payment, when (not if) the GBRV defaults on the payments, the country itself would be considered to be in default. Counsel advised Beauchemin that the GBRV's many institutes, while wholly government owned and operated, are legally independent of the government and thus offer a fig leaf to hide behind when the GBRV defaults.
¶4. (SBU) The National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) informed Globovision on June 16 that the government was also initiating a criminal investigation of Globovision programming in April and May, without specifying any particular broadcasts. Based on the Organic Law of Telecommunications, the criminal charges are directed at the cable station and also at any individuals involved in the programming. Minister of Public Works and Housing Diosdado Cabello recently declared publicly that should the Attorney General determine that Globovision had commited a crime, the station would be closed.
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: The Venezuelan government continues to centralize power over the country's ports under the Diosdado Cabello-led Ministry of Public Works and Housing with its seizure of privately owned port warehouse operations. On June 10, the Ministry announced that, within 30 days, the government would review past concessions granted to the private sector for port operations with a view towards additional nationalizations. As of June 11, Lloyd's of London and other insurers have added Venezuela to the "Hull War, Strikes, Terrorism and Related Perils List," meaning that insurance companies may no longer insure maritime assets against confiscation in Venezuela. A Lloyd's spokesman referenced deteriorating conditions in the country, including the seizure of offshore marine assets last month, as well as USG concerns with Venezuelan port security (Ref A), as justification for the action. END SUMMARY.
-------------------------- CABELLO'S "SUPER MINISTRY" --------------------------
¶2. (C) On March 12, the National Assembly passed a law giving President Chavez the authority to take control of ports and airports from state governments. Following passage of this law, the central government used the National Guard to seize the majority of the country's state government-run port authorities (Ref B). Port administration was transferred to a centralized body (Bolivariana de Puertos, i.e., Bolipuertos) under Diosdado Cabello, one of Chavez's closest supporters. Cabello was named Minister of Public Works and Housing following his failure to win re-election to the governorship of Miranda state in the November 2008 elections (Ref C).
¶3. (C) The central government subsequently passed a resolution authorizing the Ministry to review concessions granted for port operations. On June 10, the Ministry declared that within 30 days, the government will "review each (private) company's contract for its use of port space and infrastructure." Cabello explained the move by saying that a few families had been "brutally enriching themselves by administering state-owned (port) space" and that these strategic activities "will be newly assumed by the National Executive." Our sources tell us that the Bolipuertos board named by Cabello includes his nephew as well as other figures associated with his administration of Miranda state (septel).
--------------------------------------------- - PORT SERVICES COMPANIES TAKEN "FOR THE PEOPLE" --------------------------------------------- -
¶4. (C) On June 12, Post received word that the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (GBRV) had seized the majority of the privately held warehouse operations in the port of Maracaibo. Ana Maria D'Andrea (strictly protect throughout), Vice President of Venezuelan customs broker Ansetrami, confirmed to Econoff June 18 that rather than merely reviewing port concessions, the GBRV had simply seized Maracaibo warehouse operations. Although the GBRV review is not scheduled to be completed until July 10, Diosdado Cabello has already made statements to the press about taking over the private companies. Cabello told the press June 11 that private companies at one port alone (Puerto La Guaira) were paying the central government five percent of their profits, workers 30 percent, and were keeping 65 percent, or USD 220 million, for themselves. He said the hundreds of millions these private companies were generating from their port activities will now be used "for the people.
1. (C) Summary: Diosdado Cabello, a top aide to President Hugo Chavez, announced July 4 the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (GBRV) would potentially revoke the licenses of 240 radio stations across the country. Citing incomplete tax payments and improper regulatory filings as reasons for canceling the licenses, Cabello criticized the control of radio stations by "elite families" and implied that tax fines were likely to be imposed in the days ahead. As Chavez continues to consolidate his control of the Government, independent or critical media in Venezuela continues to be shuttered via bureaucratic regulation, technical harassment, and financial penalties designed to silence dissent in the country. End Summary.
¶2. (C) The Minister of Public Works and Housing, Diosdado Cabello, announced over the holiday weekend that the GBRV would revoke the licenses of 154 FM radio stations and 86 AM radio stations that were not in compliance with the national telecommunications commission's, (CONATEL's) May 29 demand for "updated information." Radio station license holders were given 15 days in June to submit "updated information" to the government, including original licenses, bureaucratic records, and many other documents from all television and radio stations. Owners widely opined throughout the month of June that the purpose of this process was to intimidate, and ultimately close, any remaining opposition leaning radio stations across the country. (Reftel) Technically, radio stations have five remaining days to operate freely, however Cabello has already stated that "administrative proceedings" against the stations could involve the actual seizure of broadcasting equipment at any time.
¶3. (SBU) Pro-Government paper Diario VEA reported on July 5 that out of 285 stations whose records were reviewed, 20% of AM radio stations, 23% of FM radio stations, and 25% of TV stations across the country were not in compliance with the tax code, implying that future fines are likely to be imposed on many of the same stations in the weeks ahead. Pro-Government media further reported that according to Cabello only 51% of TV stations have correctly paid their taxes. International media reported over the weekend on Cabello's criticism of the control of radio stations exercised by elite families. Justifying the revocations Cabello declared "a need to democratize spectrum use."
¶1. (C) Summary: Pressure and attacks against the independent media have continued during the first-half of July. Government Minister Diasdado Cabello told lawmakers that any draft legislation on media social responsibility should include provisions to limit radio networks, restrict joint programming, and place cable networks under controls similar to free-to-air broadcasters. In response to a series of controversial advertisements against proposed changes to property law, the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (GBRV) attacked the media for carrying advertising against the draft legislation. Harassment against Globovision continued, with the GBRV opening a fifth case against the network related to the controversial advertisements. Supporters of the GBRV continue to intimidate journalists who are critical of the GBRV and government officials. In opposition controlled Carabobo, militant groups backed by a pro-Chavez Mayor physically attacked a local opposition oriented newspaper on two separate occasions. As summer begins to heat up in Venezuela, the GBRV clearly is continuing to pressure the media and attempting to limit any criticism of Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution. End Summary.
--------------------------------------------- -------- GOVT MINISTER TELLS LAWMAKERS TO REGULATE RADIO/CABLE --------------------------------------------- --------
¶2. (C) In a move designed to cripple opposition oriented media, Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (GBRV) Minister of Public Works and Housing, Diosdado Cabello, addressed the National Assembly (AN) on July 9 insisting that pro-Chavez lawmakers limit radio networks to a maximum of three stations under the proposed "Law on Social Responsibility for Radio and Television." If Cabello's proposal is adopted, radio networks would further be atomized by limiting their ability to conduct joint programs to only 30 minutes a day. Cabello emphasized, "Radio transmissions are one of the few areas where the revolution has not yet been felt." Cabello added, "We are going to continue moving forward with this; we will democratize the spectrum and end radio's latifundo." Cabello further used the occasion to accuse the Venezuelan Radio Association (CVIR) of running "clandestine broadcasts" and informed lawmakers he is no longer willing to hold dialogue with the union.
¶3. (C) Further fueling worry among supporters of independent media, (the vast majority of which receive their news from private international or local cable providers), Cabello instructed lawmakers to include in any draft legislation a provision requiring cable TV stations with less than 70% foreign content be subject to the same Government regulations as free-to-air broadcasters. Currently, cable stations are able to continue broadcasting in the country (and are immune from CONATEL regulations) operating as "international broadcasters."
¶4. (C) In a calculated move designed to prevent free-to-air television station Globovision from moving to cable (as the now shuttered Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) did following its closure in 2007), Cabello told lawmakers that cable TV stations should be considered "national producers" and subject to GBRV regulation. Cabello declared, "If a station has Venezuelan authors, Venezuelan capital, transmission rights, Venezuelan directors, Venezuelan assets, Venezuelan Commercials, Venezuelan locations in their programs, Venezuelan technicians or broadcasts Venezuelan culture, it should comply with Venezuelan regulations."
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¶5. (C) Following a series of controversial advertisements sponsored by the conservative think-tank Cedice against a GBRV backed proposal to change property legislation (Septel), on July 3 Cabello ordered the organization to stop airing the televised spots. The highly successful ads included depiction of pregnant women accompanied by the slogan "the social property law takes away what's yours." Cabello warned that television and radio stations would face sanctions if they did not follow his order and immediately cancel the ads. On the same day, however, Conatel initiated a fifth CARACAS 00000887 002.2 OF 002 investigation against Globovision, together with similar charges against Venevision, Meridano TV, Televen, and two radio stations for running the ads. The regulatory agency accused the stations of causing "anxiety and fear in the population and undermining the security of the nation." Media reported on July 7 that additional charges were also being considered for violations of the "Organic Law on the Rights of Women to Live a Life Free of Violence."
¶6. (C) Following on the heels of the SENIAT tax agency's June 16 announcement that the network owed 9 million BsF (USD 4.2 million at the official exchange rate) for failing to pay taxes on programming aired for free in 2002 and 2003 (REF B), and the subsequent collection of private donations to pay the fine from over 400,000 citizens, on July 10 Globovision executives paid GRBV tax authorities the arbitrarily imposed debt.
------------------------------- IF ALL ELSE FAILS, TRY THUGGERY -------------------------------
¶7. (C) Supporters of the GBRV continue to intimidate journalists who are critical of the GBRV and government officials. In opposition controlled Carabobo, militant groups attacked a local opposition oriented newspaper "El Carabobeno" on two separate occasions. On June 30, in the first attack, vandals spray painted the words "information criminals" and "palangrista (paid informant)" on the exterior windows and walls of the newspaper's headquarters. In a more serious attack on July 1, pro-Chavez (PSUV) Mayor Edgardo Parra and his supporters physically attacked the same building aboard motorcycles, throwing stones, ransacking an exterior cafe, briefly penetrating the interior lobby area, and intimidating employees causing serious panic. The attackers, donning red shirts and megaphones shouted phrases such as "Carabobeno fascists," "Tell the truth," and "Honduras hang on, the people will rise."
¶8. (C) Immediately following the attack, opposition Carabobo Governor Salas Feo phoned PolOff to cancel his planned attendance at Embassy's annual Fourth of July reception. In a July 2 interview with the media, PSUV Valencia Mayor Parra denied his involvement in the attacks and made counter claims that there was no aggression against the paper. According to his version of events, the only demonstrations that occurred were against the coup in Honduras and minor incidents of graffiti at the paper's headquarters.
¶9. (C) Comment: This is the first time Post has seen the GBRV twist a law designed to protect women and adolescents from exploitation and discrimination into a tool for pressuring, silencing and censoring the opposition. The Government is clearly trying to limit any criticism of its regime by pressuring any and all media that are critical of President Chavez or his self-styled Bolivarian Revolution. Using all the tools at his disposal -- redrafting legislation, CONATEL regulations, harassment by tax authorities, and good old fashioned thuggery -- Chavez continues to show he is not at all hesitant to bully his critics in the media. End Comment.
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: The Venezuelan government has seized all port operators in Maracaibo and is threatening to do the same throughout the country. The seizures have further deprived an opposition state of tax revenue and sources indicate costs and opportunities for corruption have already increased at the Maracaibo port. Close Chavez associate Diosdado Cabello is reportedly a "shadow partner" in the country's largest port operations company, which has thus far escaped nationalization. Private companies operating cargo services at airports may be next as the political and financial benefits the government is reaping from wide-spread nationalizations continue to outweigh the costs. END SUMMARY.
¶5. (C) In December 2008, DARFA, a bureau of the Venezuelan Army responsible for gun control, seized more than 3000 firearms from PoliMiranda leaving the state police with pistols and one shotgun for every eight officers. Although the law has been in effect for years, DARFA saw no need to enforce it when Chavez confidant Diosdado Cabello was governor. PoliMiranda's Guzman noted that the GN had tried to decommission PoliMiranda's police helicopter in January, and helped take over two other police substations in the last month. When asked why, he replied, "to annoy us, to make it impossible to govern."
¶1. (C) In a lunch with EconCouns and Econoff on July 10, respected political economist Orlando Ochoa (strictly protect throughout) alleged Minister of Public Works and Housing Diosdado Cabello was expanding his network of corruption into the financial sector. According to Ochoa, Cabello and several other former military officers who participated with Chavez in his 1992 coup attempt (specifically Vice Minister of Finance Alejandro Andrade, Governor of Aragua and former Minister of Finance Rafael Isea, and Science and Technology Minister Jesse Chacon) recently backed the purchase of several small banks and insurance companies. The front man for the group's foray into the financial sector, Ochoa continued, is Pedro Torres Ciliberto, owner of the small, Tachira-based investment bank Baninvest (to which he had named Chacon's brother as president). Ochoa speculated the group was moving into the local financial sector in part to gain easier access to arbitrage opportunities related to Venezuela's currency controls, particularly if the Central Bank began auctioning hard currency to financial institutions (as has been rumored to be under consideration). Ochoa characterized Cabello's group as one of the three major poles of corruption close to or within the GBRV. The second pole, operating in the oil sector, is associated with Oil Minister and PDVSA President Rafael Ramirez, and the third, operating in the food distribution sector, is associated with "Mercal King" Ricardo Fernandez.
¶2. (C) On the political front, Ochoa argued the "fascist and military" trend associated with Cabello was gaining ascendancy within Chavismo. (Note: By invoking the term fascist, Ochoa was referring to the movement's desire for authoritarian government control over society and the economy in a way that brooks no dissent. End note.) He characterized Cabello's strident speech in the National Assembly July 9 outlining increased state control over the media (ref A) as an indication of this ascendancy. Another indication, Ochoa continued, were reports from his financial sector contacts that former Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel was a partner in Cabello's group's investments (or at least allowing his money to be managed by Torres Ciliberto). In tandem with the rise of the fascist/military trend, Ochoa argued, the two key representatives of the "traditional Marxist left" in Chavez's cabinet, Planning Minister Jorge Giordani and Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez, were losing influence, with Rodriguez's health in decline and Giordani "looking to get out." Ochoa felt the traditional left was becoming increasingly disenchanted, at least in private, with Chavez's Bolivarian revolution, largely due to blatant corruption and the realization that desire for power, rather than achievement of socialist goals, was its driving force.
¶3. (C) Ochoa described Cabello as a potential "Montesinos-like" figure for the Chavez regime, i.e. someone who, like intelligence chief Vladimir Montesinos under President Fujimori in Peru, was amassing great power and control over the regime's apparatus as well as a private fortune, often through intimidation behind the scenes. Ochoa speculated Chavez himself might be concerned about Cabello's growing influence but unable to diminish it. Ochoa said he was coordinating with several others, including Tal Cual editor Teodoro Petkoff, to expose Cabello's questionable business dealings publicly, though he acknowledged the need to proceed carefully given how "dangerous" Cabello was. Ochoa hoped this exposure would cause further disillusion within the traditional left, part of a process through which this trend might ultimately withdraw its support from Chavez.
¶4. (C) Comment: Ochoa is a well-respected political economist with strong contacts in the financial sector and a growing network of contacts within the traditional left. We know from other contacts that people close to the government CARACAS 00000918 002 OF 002 have been buying, or trying to buy several small banks, and we would not be surprised if Diosdado Cabello and his associates were involved. Cabello's increasing influence in government is clear: Chavez appointed him Minister of Infrastructure in December 2008 (after Cabello lost his reelection bid for governor of Miranda; ref B); Chavez added the housing portfolio to Cabello's ministry on March 3, renaming it the Ministry of Public Works and Housing (ref C); the National Assembly passed a law on March 12, 2009 which effectively gave control over ports, airports, and roads (previously managed by the states) to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing (ref D); and CONATEL, the GBRV's media regulatory body, was transferred to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing on May 15 (ref E). What bears closer watching is Cabello's behind-the-scenes power, or at least the specific ways he exercises it. End comment.
¶4. (C) With five investigations against the station currently pending in the offices of the government media regulatory agency CONATEL, Minister of Public Works and Housing, Diosdado Cabello, is likely to continue to use his position as head of the agency to further harass the network. Globovision President Aberto Federico Ravell, in a private email shared with PolOff on July 16, opined that Cabello will shut the network down when he decides it is time. Ravell hypothesized "As the concession for Globovision was given to two persons, and one of them has died, we anticipate they will use legal mechanisms to recover 50% of the station, especially because they claim it (the concession) is not inheritable."
¶2. (C) Nearly a month after the July 4 announcement by Minister of Public Works and Housing, Diosdado Cabello, of plans to revoke the licenses of 240 radio/TV stations across the country (Ref A), the government media regulatory agency CONATEL suspended the licenses of 32 radio and 2 television stations during the late evening hours of July 31, forcing the networks off the air. GBRV officials argued that the stations targeted for closure had committed various infractions and failed to maintain their licenses or had irregular paperwork. On August 1, immediately following the closures of the networks, President Chavez told PSUV party officials by phone, (and simultaneously broadcast on state media), "We are implementing the law... we have to put them (stations) back in the hands of the people and not the bourgeoisie."
¶1. (SBU) On July 31, Minister of Public Works and Housing, Diosdado Cabello, named Puerto La Cruz-based radio station Orbita Radio 107.5 as one of 34 radio and television stations to be closed by the media regulatory agency Conatel. Following weekend shutdowns of numerous stations across Venezuela (reftel), the station continued to broadcast for an additional 24 hours before finally being shuttered. On August 3 a group of people who claimed they were from Conatel (but refused to provide identification to station personnel) arrived unannounced at the headquarters of Orbita Radio and told managers they would have to cease transmissions. Station executives questioned the legality of the order and decided to continue to broadcast, arguing they had never received official written notification to leave the airwaves. On August 4, despite demonstrations against the closure by members of the National Press Association, NGO representatives, and students, members of the National Guard arrived at the station's headquarters and ordered it to cease broadcasting. Government officials who accompanied the National Guard also threatened to confiscate the station's broadcast equipment. At 6:50PM, August 4, the station ended its last broadcast by playing the national anthem. Midway through the final broadcast, however, Conatel representatives reportedly cut the signal from the antennae, preventing the final seconds of the station's last broadcast. Station employees departed the building without further incident.
¶2. (U) In a decree published in the National Gazette dated July 30, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing (MPWH), headed by Chavez confidant Diosdado Cabello, declared the immediate nationalization of private warehouse operations at four key ports: Puerto Cabello (Carabobo state, Venezuela's largest port); La Guaira (Vargas state, serving Caracas); Maracaibo (Zulia state); and Guamache (Nueva Esparta state). Private warehouse operators were ordered to turn over all equipment and infrastructure to state-owned company Bolipuertos (or, in the case of La Guaira, to state-owned Puertos del Litoral Central (PLC)). The decree states private operations at other ports will be subject to the same measure, pending government review. This decree follows the June 10 announcement by MPWH that it would review all concessions granted to private warehouse operations (ref B). As of August 3, contacts at Puerto Cabello said some operations were disrupted, with some warehouses shut down and others slowly resuming operations under Bolipuertos. Seniat, the GBRV's tax and customs authority, had blocked access to the port's electronic customs clearance system to all operators except Bolipuertos. (Note: A contact at Puerto Cabello, whose company owned a warehouse there, told Econoff no U.S. companies owned warehouses at Puerto Cabello or, to the best of his knowledge, at any of the other three ports, i.e. no U.S. companies had assets nationalized. He said the only foreign company affected at Puerto Cabello was DP World of Dubai. End note.)
¶7. (SBU) Minister of Public Works Diosdado Cabello took a different tack in arguing August 22 from Monagas State that the opposition "would end up embracing and defending" the Education Law. He drew a parallel to public opposition to the 1999 Constitution, which he claims everyone eventually came to accept after its passage. Cabello commented that "it will happen as it has always happened. Within three years those sectors fighting this law are going to embrace it, and they will say that it is the best law of education, just as they did with the constitution."
¶5. (C) Diaz said that the other four Chavista rectors frequently compete for control, reflecting a broader dynamic of power struggles within Chavismo. He noted that he often acts as a mediating "bridge" between them, since he can deliver messages as a non-threatening observer. (Note: Other electoral contacts have told us that there is a divisive power struggle between the rectors and staff who answer to Minister of Public Works Diosdado Cabello, and those who are beholden to Libertador municipality Mayor Jorge Rodriguez; both men are close to Chavez. End Note.) Nevertheless, Diaz said that his Chavista coworkers may be friendly to him privately but will not, for example, go out to lunch with him, lest they be accused as being "infiltrated" by the opposition. When asked if any of the rectors would consider a private meeting with Emboffs, Diaz categorically rejected the idea. He noted that his term of office does not expire until 2013, but two of the other rectors' terms are up at the end of October. They can either be re-elected or replaced, depending on the whims of the executive.
¶1. (SBU) Summary. The Venezuelan government announced on September 7 its intention to close another 29 radio stations for alleged administrative and tax irregularities, bringing to 61 the number of radio stations targeted and/or closed since July 31. The timing of the closures and the names of the stations have not yet been announced. A total of 240 radio stations are under review. Diosdado Cabello, the head of the government's broadcasting regulatory agency, denied that the closures represented an attack on freedom of expression: "Those people can say what they want about Chavez. What we cannot permit is that, in the supposed defense of freedom of expression, they violate the law." The government is already planning to reassign the frequencies, many which will go to "community radio." End Summary.
¶5. (SBU) In a September 8 press conference, Cabello repeatedly denied that the government's actions were intended to suppress freedom of expression, stressing instead that the opening of criminal and administrative investigations represented the government's commitment to applying the law equally to everyone, including the privileged classes that had traditionally been above the law. He asserted that CONATEL would hold the concession holders responsible for the broadcasts calling for the assassination of Chavez and a coup d'etat. According to Cabello, their conduct is, at heart, anti-democratic. "We are going to see who has more cartridges if war is war ... we are going to confront them ... with the law in front ("con la ley por delante"). He argued that none of the concession holders would have a legal basis for claiming that the government was acting arbitrarily. "How it must pain them!" Cabello commented. "They are not untouchable." Speaking more broadly about both the television and radio stations that were being reviewed, Cabello affirmed that the government was committed to "democratizing the airwaves." Cabello made clear CONATEL's role in this process: "CONATEL's importance to the country is not only in regards to telecommunications, but as a promoter of social welfare as well."
¶9. (C) Of all the charges, those against Perez Vivas appear to be the most threatening, given the increased tensions with Colombia and Chavez's pledge that the Governor could be forced into exile. The charges against Capriles, one of the opposition's most popular figures, smack of political revenge due to Capriles' long-running rivalry with his predecessor and Chavez ally Diosdado Cabello and his repeated calls for a corruption investigation into Cabello's gubernatorial administration. Disqualifying Capriles from running for public office in the foreseeable future could both derail his political career and intimidate other opposition officials.
¶1. (C) Summary: The sole non-Chavista rector of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Vicente Diaz, told Poloffs on October 22 that the CNE would announce the election timetables, implementing electoral regulations, and any changes to the voting districts by December. Diaz dismissed opposition allegations about inaccuracies within the electoral registry (REP) and resulting electoral fraud. He said while elections might be "transparent," however, they were not "fair" because of the media advantage enjoyed by Chavista candidates. Diaz also predicted that the two CNE rectors whose terms expired at the end of October would be replaced, in part due to Chavez ally Diosdado Cabello's efforts to assert his influence within the CNE. End Summary.
¶4. (C) Ochoa also offered what he understood to be the answer to the question of why the GBRV chose to act when it did against Ricardo Fernandez, a businessman with close ties to the GBRV who had recently purchased (or was in the process of purchasing) the four banks. According to Ochoa, mounting evidence and public discussion of problems at these banks, including allegations that Fernandez had used deposits in the banks themselves to pay for the purchases, was pushing Rodriguez and SUDEBAN Superintendent Edgar Hernandez to act. Ochoa claimed Fernandez used his ties with the opportunistic military clique within the GBRV, which includes Minister of Public Works and Housing Diosdado Cabello and National Treasury Director Alejandro Andrade, to try to push Hernandez out and name a more pliable Superintendent in his place. (Note: See ref B for a description of this opportunistic military clique and its tensions with Chavismo's more ideological left, including Rodriguez. End note.) Ochoa attributed reports in the Venezuelan press prior to November 20 that Hernandez was going to be replaced (which has not happened to date) to Fernandez's efforts.
¶10. (C) Chavez distanced himself from Arne Chacon, whom he said he had never met ("I think he was in the Navy") and with whom he said he had had only one conversation, during which Arne expressed some "strange ideas" ("ideas raras"). By detaining Arne and having Jesse Chacon resign, Chavez is bolstering his image and sending a message to others in his inner circle that there are limits to what he will tolerate. Press articles have indeed suggested that other confidantes may be implicated, including former Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, Minister of Public Works Diosdado Cabello, Director of Military Intelligence Hugo Carvajal, and his own brother Adan Chavez, to whom Chavez also issued a public warning. Chavez may wait a decent interval and then rehabilitate Jesse after the banking scandal has passed.
¶5. (SBU) D'Amelio has served as a PSUV AN Deputy representing Vargas State since 2005, and as a member of the Permanent Committee on Interior Politics, Justice, Human Rights, and Constitutional Guarantees. She has also been a member of the Sub-Committee for Citizen Security and the Inter-Parliamentary Venezuela-Italy Friendship Group. Local press report that D'Amelio has been involved previously in PSUV get-out-the-vote electoral patrols ("patrullas"). (Comment: While the Carter Center's representative in Caracas also told Polcouns that Hernandez was a "moderate," he characterized D'Amelio as a radical Chavista. End Comment.) Of the four new CNE substitutes, Zerpa and Guevara are rumored to be close to both AN President Cilia Flores and Minister of Public Works Diosdado Cabello. Abdon Hernandez and Brito, in turn, allegedly are closely aligned with the PSUV's electoral coordinator, AN Deputy Francisco Ameliach. Sumate's statement alleged that Guevara and Abdon Hernandez appeared in the list of PSUV members for the party's primary elections in June 2008.
¶3. (C) Podemos AN Deputy Juan Jose Molina confirmed to Poloffs December 10 that Martinez was in hiding after a raid on his house by the National Guard and representatives from the State Attorney General's Office. Molina did not show much visible concern that the president of his party was being sought by the police. He speculated that the charges might be an effort to intimidate AN Deputy and party spokesman Ismael Garcia, who along with "Accion Democratica" leader Henry Ramos Allup, have publicly denounced key figures in Chavez's inner circle, including Diosdado Cabello, Jose Vicente Rangel, Hugo Carvajal, and Chavez's brother, Adan. Molina agreed that the tactic was similar to the August 2009 arrest of Richard Blanco, the head of Mayor of Greater Caracas Antonio Ledezma's Brave People's Alliance (ABP) party, which occurred following Ledezma's internationally publicized criticisms of Chavez. (Comment: Both Blanco and Martinez are nominally the presidents of their parties, but Ledezma and Garcia are widely perceived as the true "leaders" of ABP and Podemos, respectively. End Comment.) Molina said that despite these apparent intimidation tactics, Garcia "would not shut up" and would continue in his criticisms of Chavez. He dismissed the charges as purely political, commenting that "nobody in Podemos is corrupt."
¶7. (C) Some observers believe the GBRV has ulterior motives for its decision to transfer land from the dairy farmers in Machiques to the Yukpa. They point to the high level of interest from senior GBRV officials, such as Minister of Interior Tariq El Aissami and Minister for Public Works and Housing Diosdado Cabello, who have made frequent visits to the area. El Aissami has asserted that "this government is always on the side of the indigenous peoples, " and has used the conflict surrounding the Yukpa deaths as justification for sending more National Guard troops to the area. Fedenaga leaders told Emboffs that the FARC is present on the Venezuelan side of the border, and the Director of the NGO "Citizen Control," Rocio San Miguel (protect), told Poloff October 22 that the GBRV has a long-standing agreement not to disturb FARC guerrilla activity in the area.
¶6. (C) With over a month having passed since the initial interventions, a number of theories have sprung up to explain why the GBRV chose to act in the way it did and at the time it did. Many observers believe President Chavez ordered the initial interventions as the culmination of a power struggle taking place among GBRV officials and presumed insiders. Theories on the protagonists in this presumed power struggle abound, however. We have heard variations such as Diosdado Cabello vs. Ricardo Fernandez and Jesse Chacon; Ali Rodriguez and representatives of the traditional left vs. Ricardo Fernandez and members of the military clique; and President Chavez vs. selected inner circle members and insiders with their own political projects. An intriguing tangent is that an alleged report by Cuba's intelligence service plays a role in several of these explanations. Other observers believe the GBRV's hand was forced by the terrible financial situation at the intervened banks, with President Chavez preferring to take action before the problems worsened and well before parliamentary elections scheduled for September 2010. Whatever the origins of the episode, our contacts credit President Chavez with seeing the interventions as an opportunity to trumpet anti-corruption credentials by sending the message, as one of our contacts put it, of "I put bankers in jail."
¶3. (SBU) At midnight on January 23, six cable channels were taken off the air (Ritmo Son, Momentum, America TV, American Network, TV Chile, and RCTV) after Housing and Public Works Minister Diosdado Cabello warned all cable providers carrying these networks to immediately remove them from their schedules or face government sanctions. Cabello insisted that "we aren't closing anybody... cable providers should not carry a station that violates the law. As of this moment, (cable) operators should make a decision." Cabello warned that if the cable operators did not cease broadcasting the illegal channels, "it will be they and not the channels who will be subject to an administrative procedures." (Note: Under Article 29 of the Radio and Television Law on Social Responsibility (Resorte), stations that carry unlicensed programming could be subject to penalties of 72 hours' suspension from the airwaves, a five-year revocation of their authorization to broadcast, or a complete cancellation of their licenses. End Note.)
¶4. (C) Other pundits claimed that Carrizalez and Diosdado Cabello, Minister of Public Works and Housing, clashed over control of the military promotion lists. Cabello, a former military officer and co-conspirator in Chavez's 1992 coup attempt, reportedly used to review promotion and assignment lists of senior officers during the tenure of the previous defense minister. However, when Carrizalez assumed the position, he began placing his own candidates in key positions. The blogosphere carried another version of the Carrizalez-Cabello conflict: that Carrizalez resigned over Cabello's crackdown on RCTV, concerned that a heavy-handed approach would galvanize the student movement and bring unneeded international opprobrium on Venezuela.
¶10. TVN said yesterday that Venezuela's National Telecommunications Committee (Conatel) had accepted the documents submitted by the station to register as an international producer. TVN said the Venezuelan cable operators that carry its international signal have all been informed of the committee's decision and therefore expected Caracas to lift the suspension of its signal soon. However, Conatel Director Diosdado Cabello said that Venezuela should demand "reciprocity" with regard to these signals. "Why doesn't the United States allow Telesur to air in its country? Who censors who? . . . Why is it that Telesur can only be seen on Direct TV in Chile and not in other cable operators? . . . We should ask for reciprocity. You want to be seen here? Then let us air where you are," said Cabello (El Mercuric, 1/27).
¶3. (SBU) In January 26 remarks to the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, Minister of Housing and Public Works and head of Conatel, again insisted that the state had not closed any media networks, but had simply required all broadcasters to comply with the law. Cabello alleged that "they are trying to manipulate" the facts and claimed that RCTV "has 94% national production, 100 % of the advertisements are national so that they can hardly be called international. In Peru and the United States they have to comply with laws, but in Venezuela they want to ignore the laws, like on April 11, 2002, and some allow themselves to be confused. The law must be strictly followed. If they don't like Venezuela, they can go someplace else." Referring to U.S. statements of concern about the closure of RCTV, Cabello commented, "The gringos are always worried, but why don't the gringos let Telesur broadcast in the USA? Who is censoring whom?" (Note: Telesur is the GBRV-funded television network that broadcasts to ALBA countries. End Note.)
¶1. (C) Summary. In a meeting with the Charge on January 26, RCTV President Marcel Granier asked the U.S. government to press DirectTV, Net Uno, and Inter to restore RCTV programming in Venezuela. Granier charged that these were "U.S. companies" and that they had illegally bowed to Venezuelan government (GBRV) pressure in dropping RCTV from their schedules on January 24 (ref a). Granier said RCTV could not survive financially if it had to abide by the regulations governing "national" audiovisual producers. Since he saw the regulation as specifically targeted at RCTV, he expressed doubt that any dialogue with Cabello would change the GBRV's decision. Moreover, he "would cease being me" if he sought a dialogue and compromise with the GBRV. According to Granier, RCTV reaches 67 percent of the Venezuelan market, including 40 percent of the poorest class. Three of the smaller cable channels affected by the January 21 decision were reclassified as "international" producers on January 26 and returned to the air (ref b). Action request contained in para 10. End Summary.
¶4. (C) Silva said that Falcon was "keeping his options open" in terms of his political affiliation, but noted that criticism from Chavez could affect Falcon's popularity in other parts of the country (see septel for report that Falcon is in talks with the "Patria para Todos" party). Silva noted that Falcon's 90 percent approval rating, which has surpassed Chavez' in Lara, represents support from both sides of the political spectrum and reflects his reputation for being "open." However, this popularity has created enemies within Chavismo, including Minister of Public Works Diosdado Cabello and Luis Reyes Reyes, the newly appointed Minister of Health, who served as governor in Lara while Falcon was mayor. While Falcon has the support of the state's Chavistas, Silva noted that they were still Chavistas whose principal loyalty was toward Chavez. Silva repeatedly asserted that he was a "Chavista of the heart," but cautiously criticized some of Chavez' actions as misguided, ill-advised, or poorly executed, particularly his attacks against the United States and his close ties to Cuba. Silva viewed Chavez' attacks on the U.S. "empire" as part of a strategy to create an external enemy to shore up his domestic support. Both Silva and Arevalo characterized the PSUV Mayor of Barquisimeto Amalia Saez as a "radical" at odds with Falcon, although they said that she was virtually a political unknown and owed her November 2008 election to Falcon's personal endorsement.