BOLIVIA: REQUEST TO LIFT AUTHORIZED DEPARTURE

Código Fecha Clasificación Origen
08LAPAZ2284 22 October 2008 Confidencial / No para extranjeros Embassy La Paz

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VZCZCXYZ0019
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLP #2284/01 2962046
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 222046Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY LA PAZ
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8918
INFO RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUMIAAA/USCINCSO MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L LA PAZ 002284

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA A/S SHANNON, DAS MCMULLEN, WHA/EX ROBERTSON
STATE ALSO FOR S, D, P, E, T, M, G, R, S/ES, S/ES-O, A, CA,
DS, RM, H, L PA, PM AND USAID-CARDENAS
USCINCSO FOR COMMANDER AND POLAD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/22/2018
TAGS: AMGT, AEMR, CASC, KFLO, AFIN, ASEC, PGOV, BL
SUBJECT: BOLIVIA: REQUEST TO LIFT AUTHORIZED DEPARTURE

REF: A. LA PAZ 1951
B. SECSTATE 98096

Classified By: Charge Kris Urs for reasons 1.4 b,d

1. (C) Summary and action request: The immediate threats that
initially prompted Mission Bolivia’s request for Authorized
Departure status have dissipated, and an agreement between
the national opposition and the government is likely to bring
a period of calm as both sides prepare for a January 25
constitutional referendum and likely national elections in
December 2009. On October 20 as up to 100,000 Movement Toward
Socialism (MAS) supporters descended upon the city of La Paz,
Minister of Government Rada publicly called for calm and said
that the government intended to protect the Embassy. Police
response during September 15-16 protests aimed at the Embassy
was appropriate. The government’s reaction to the earlier
"perfect storm" of potential triggers for violence has been
milder than anticipated. Although regional opposition groups
are announcing their objection to the October 20
congressional agreement between the national opposition and
the government, there are currently no armed-standoffs
between opposition and government supporters in any of the
regions and there are no calls for violence from any major
groups. (Pando, the northern department bordering Peru and
Brazil, is still under military control.) In light of this
improvement in the security situation, Charge endorses the
Emergency Action Committee (EAC) recommendation that
Authorized Departure status be lifted at this time. End
summary and action request.

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Potential Triggers That Didn’t Fire
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2. (C) Leading up to the decision to request Authorized
Departure, a number of conflicts threatened to erupt into
violence. The city of Santa Cruz had been surrounded by
MAS-aligned campesinos, violence had actually broken out in
Pando (where up to 35 were reported dead), major protests
were planned at the Embassy, and announcements on
counter-narcotics decertification and suspension of ATPDEA
benefits were expected. Washington’s decision to delay
announcement of the decertification decision until after the
planned protest at the Embassy probably helped avert a major
demonstration at the building; credit also goes to the
Bolivian National Police for holding firm in the face of the
protesters, and to Foreign Minister Choquehuanca and
Government Minister Rada, for publicly discouraging the
protesters from turning violent. Although the protesters did
attempt to enter the southern residential area (where Embassy
housing is located), the police blocked their advance just
outside the area.

3. (C) Although the government has announced that it is still
"reviewing" relations with the USG and considering the
possible expulsion of USAID and DEA, the government’s
anti-USG actions did not escalate following the expulsion of
Ambassador Goldberg as persona non grata. This unwarranted
action on the part of the Bolivian government may have served
as a pressure-release: the scheduled protest at the Embassy
fizzled as protest leaders pointed out that their objective
(of kicking out the Ambassador) had already been fulfilled.

4. (C) The government’s reaction to upcoming suspension of
ATPDEA benefits has thus far been dismissive: President
Morales claims that the markets lost to (mostly El Alto
textile) workers can be replaced by agreements with Venezuela
and Iran. Although the effects of the suspension are just
beginning to be felt (a company employing 40 women in El Alto
closed October 20th, for example), the government’s
insistence that the U.S. market is not that important may
serve to dampen protests in El Alto as people begin to lose
their jobs. In addition, contacts in El Alto suggest that
newly-unemployed workers may blame the government for its
intransigence rather than the USG for the decision.
Government and business leaders intend to testify at the
October 23 hearing in Washington. That said, we cannot rule
out demonstrations aimed at the USG once President Bush
formally suspends Bolivia from ATPDEA in early November. With
the Bolivian police expected to provide adequate protection
if indeed such a demonstration occurs, it should not pose a
threat to the mission.

5. (C) The October 17 anniversary of the fall of ex-President
Gonzalo "Goni" Sanchez de Lozada’s government did not bring
the usual protest to the Embassy, partially because potential
protesters were instead engaged in pressuring congress to
pass legislation for a constitutional referendum. During the
October 20 demonstrations at the congress a coffin covered in
a U.S. flag was paraded through the main plaza, but no
protesters targeted the Embassy. The Foreign Ministry
delivered paperwork on the Goni extradition case on October
17, and the consular section is working to return these
documents to them once they are notarized. The Goni case will
continue to be a potential spark for protests, but the fact
that the Bolivian government is proceeding along legal lines
may encourage government supporters to stick to non-violent
means of expressing their views.

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Compromise in Congress Improves Overall Stability
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6. (C) Although there is still a large gulf between the
opposition (particularly the regional opposition) and the
government, the October 20/21 compromise in congress in which
changes were made to the MAS draft constitution and Morales
promised to run for only one more term has yielded a
more-stable political situation. The opposition and the
government are now turning to their respective campaigns on
the constitutional referendum. Traditionally in Bolivia,
voting is not accompanied by widespread violence, and the
fact that the referendum comes after the calm Christmas
season will also serve to tone down the ambient level of
confrontation. The start of the rainy season also tends to
inhibit conflict in Bolivia, if only because transportation
becomes difficult to impossible in some areas.

7. (C) The government has moved to arrest some opposition
leaders, but the opposition response has thus far been
restrained. The opposition has become more fractured since
the breakdown of negotiations in Cochabamba, with the
national opposition taking over the negotiations (in
Congress) from the regional opposition. With one regional
prefect (governor) under military arrest, the opposition
seems to be welcoming this period of calm as a chance to
regroup.

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The Importance of International Observers
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8. (C) President Morales has always seemed to value his
international reputation, and the presence of international
observers during the negotiations with regional opposition
leaders in Cochabamba and national opposition leaders in
congress probably encouraged the government to dissuade MAS
protesters from violence. The establishment of the UNASUR
parliament in Cochabamba—and the high-level attention from
international leaders such as Chile’s Bachelet and Brazil’s
Lula—also likely served as a check on MAS instincts toward
violence-infused pressure tactics.

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Action Request
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9. (C) We recognize that Bolivia continues to be volatile and
President Evo Morales remains unpredictable, particularly
regarding USG interests. In light of the up-coming period of
expected calm, however, and the Bolivian government’s recent
actions abiding by their commitment to protect diplomatic
missions, the Charge endorses the EAC’s consensus opinion
that political conditions in Bolivia have improved to the
point that Authorized Departure should be lifted at this
time.
URS