U.S. Feels Threatened by MERCOSUR Consolidation and Venezuela’s “Generosity” in the Region

A U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks and published yesterday reveals the U.S.’s fear over the consolidation of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) and Venezuela’s entry to the organisation. The cable also argues that the U.S. needs more resources to counter what it sees as Chavez’s efforts to assume greater “dominion” over Latin America at the expense of U.S. leadership and interests.

The cable, written by a member of the U.S. embassy in Paraguay, Michael J Fitzpatrick, titled “Conference: A Southern Cone Perspective on Chavez’s Influence” and published by Argentine daily Pagina/12, characterised Mercosur as “anti-American” [sic-meaning anti-U.S.] and revealed that in a meeting of U.S. ambassadors in Rio de Janeiro in May 2007, the U.S. felt that the incorporation of Venezuela was key to the changing nature of Mercosur.

Mercosur is a regional trade organisation that was founded in 1991 and promotes South American integration, free trade and movement of goods, people, and currency. As such, it is seen as a counterweight to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Venezuela has been seeking entry into the organisation since 2006, and while member countries Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay have approved its full membership, right-wing parliamentarians of the other member organisation, Paraguay, have refused to ratify Venezuela’s entry.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has pushed the formation of a Mercosur Bank as an alternative to the U.S dominated World Bank and for Mercosur to change into an organization which “truly develops the region and its people”. He has advocated the “decontamination of neo-liberalism from Mercosur”.

Also, in 2009 Mercosur condemned the coup d’état in Honduras and refused to recognise the elections that followed the coup. The U.S. however, did recognise those elections.

“The entry of Venezuela into Mercosur clearly altered the power balance and dynamics of the organisation. Mercosur has increasingly devolved from an imperfect customs union into a more restrictive and anti-American [sic] political organization,” the cable said.

An example the cable cited was Mercosur members’ support for Venezuela’s candidacy to the United Nations Security Council. It also mentioned an “opportunity” regarding “friction” from Chavez supposedly “stealing the stage” from Brazil’s President at the time, Luiz Ignacio ‘Lula’ da Silva.

“In the Southern Cone Chavez is working to win adherents to his camp through what appears to be a multi-faceted plan that relies heavily on his ability to offer energy and grandiose (and graft-inspiring) petrodollar-based projects,” the cable said.

“Chavez shouldn’t be underestimated. Money talks, democratic institutions in the region are still weak and free market economics have yet to provide consistent solutions to the Southern Cone’s social and political ills,” the cable’s summary continued.

“Septel will offer our posts collective views about how to best address the threat this campaign represents to U.S. interests but it is clear we need more (and more flexible) resources and tools to counter Chavez’s efforts to assume greater dominion over Latin America at the expense of U.S. leadership and interests,” concluded the summary. Septel means separate telegram.

In a section of the cable titled “Political Efforts to Disrupt Democracy” the U.S. embassy expresses its concern over the Venezuelan government’s “campaign to expand [its] influence” through “generous aid for social projects” and Argentine president (at the time) Nestor Kirchner’s close relationship with Chavez. The cable argues Kirchner had this relationship due to Chavez’s popularity in Argentina.

It also details what it perceives as the attitude by other presidents of the region towards Chavez, and Venezuela’s general popularity, which the cable argues is due to efforts such as Venezuelan funded flights “for hundreds of poor Paraguayans to fly to Cuba for eye surgery and Venezuela appears to be winning converts at the mass levels while the elites are increasingly nervous.”

Another section, “Economic Strategies to Strangle Free Trade” asserts that Chavez, “has aggressively pursued energy agreements in exchange for support of political objectives including Venezuela[‘s] admission into Mercosur and the creation of Bancosur. In the process he has contributed to an increased politicization of Mercosur and shored up resistance to ALCA.” ALCA is the Spanish acronym for the FTAA.

Ironically, the cable refers to what it perceives as “aggressive media indoctrination campaigns prompt[ing] support for Chavez primarily and his plan for a united Bolivarian South American bloc to challenge the U.S.”

It argues that the Venezuelan government initiated news channel, Telesur, is the main “mass media” to broadcast “anti-U.S propaganda” and is suspicious that Venezuela is “influencing Argentine press by feeding media outlets anti-American rhetoric.” It specifically cites the newspaper Pagina/12, which, coincidently, released the cable yesterday.

The U.S. embassy cable goes on to list newspapers which are ‘neutral’ or anti-Chavez in Argentina and Uruguay as well as the level of outreach of Telesur in those countries and in Bolivia. It describes Telesur as running “high quality anti-U.S propaganda pieces”, and describes a Telesur series about the CIA meddling in Latin America as a “particularly slick product”.

The cable concludes that Chavez’s “influence within the region has expanded significantly” and the “U.S. cannot expect the regions leaders to rally to our defence; rather we need to more proactively make the case for and implement our transparent strategy for the region”.

Meanwhile, another U.S. diplomatic cable posted by Wikileaks from the same year revealed discussions of a U.S. plan to use diplomatic, military, and economic power to counter Chavez’s influence in Latin America. The 2007 cable titled, “A Southern Cone perspective on countering Chavez and reasserting US leadership” is possibly the sequel “septel” the first cable refers to.

In this one, U.S. Ambassador to Chile, Craig Kelly, advocates increased U.S intelligence activity, funding to civil society groups, high-level diplomatic visits, and expanded military aid to countries in the region.

Other U.S. cables published by Wikileaks and written about by journalist Eva Golinger also refer to the ongoing efforts of U.S. diplomacy to isolate and counter the Venezuelan government.