C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 STATE 154674
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/01/2017
TAGS: PGOV VE PHUM WHA EU
SUBJECT: DEMARCHE ON DEMOCRACY IN VENEZUELA
REF: A. STATE 133106
Â¶B. CARACAS 00002124 001.2 OF 002
Â¶C. CARACAS 01483
Classified By: WHA A/S Thomas A Shannon for Reason 1.4(d)
Â¶1. (C) Summary. Department requests action addressees
demarche host governments, at the highest appropriate level,
to: 1) share our concerns about the anti-democratic changes
in the proposed constitutional reform package; 2) highlight
growing dissension within Venezuela and the increasingly
repressive methods employed by the GoV; and 3) request that
host governments join the voices of international concern
regarding GoV lack of adherence to its commitments under the
Inter-American Democratic Charter. Department also requests
updates on any discussions on the constitutional reform issue
as requested in reftel (State 133106). End summary.
Â¶2. (C) Amidst growing calls within and outside the government
to modify or postpone the vote on the massive constitutional
changes proposed by President Chavez, the Venezuelan National
Assembly, comprised entirely of Chavez supporters, on
November 2 approved the package. The first group of changes
would give the executive unprecedented powers (see reftel),
including the ability for the president to run indefinitely.
A second set of changes includes proposals to eliminate
certain due process rights and freedom of information and
expression during vaguely defined states of emergency or
"special circumstances." Within Venezuela, there is growing
dissent, even among Chavez supporters, notably the small
chavista party "Podemos" (We Can), whose National Assembly
deputies chose to abstain rather than vote for the reforms.
A large and energized student movement, launched during the
government's crackdown on media freedom earlier this year,
has mobilized protests across the country. The Venezuelan
Episcopal Conference has come out against the changes, and,
together with the opposition and civil society, is appealing
to Venezuelans to oppose this effort to restrict their
freedoms. Outside Venezuela, Human Rights Watch, Reporters
without Borders, and the Inter-American Press Association all
have expressed concern about the latest changes. Barring
unforeseen events, the package will be put to a vote in a
referendum planned for December 2.
Â¶3. (C) Action Request. Department requests that posts
approach our hemispheric and European partners, at the
highest appropriate, level to: 1) share our concerns about
the anti-democratic changes in the proposed constitutional
reform package; 2) highlight growing dissension within
Venezuela and the increasingly repressive methods employed by
the GoV; and 3) request that host governments join the voices
of international concern regarding GoV efforts to undermine
democracy -- in disregard of its commitments under the
Inter-American Democratic Charter.
BACKGROUND AND TALKING POINTS
Â¶4. (SBU) The following information is provided to action
officers as background; while action officers may draw on it
as necessary, they should NOT leave the points behind.
-- As evidenced by the adoption of the Inter-American
Democratic Charter on September 11, 2001, the Western
Hemisphere has made tremendous progress in the areas of
democracy and human rights.
-- The constitutional changes proposed by the Chavez
government constitute a huge step back for Venezuelan
democracy and run counter to positive trends in the
-- Key elements of the reforms undermine fundamental rights.
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They would give the executive unchecked emergency powers;
expand the state's ability to seize private property; mandate
that workers receive ideological instruction in their free
limit if not eliminate foreign donor funding of NGOs and
civil society; enhance control of the media; and make it the
military's mission to fight the "empire."
-- One of the most worrisome changes would eliminate certain
due process rights and freedom of expression and information
during vaguely defined states of emergency or "special
circumstances." The government would be able to detain and
hold citizens without charging them and shutdown independent
TV and radio broadcasts. Human Rights Watch, Reporters
without Borders, and the Inter-American
Press Association all have condemned these proposed measures.
-- Other proposed reforms would further undermine the
separations of powers; abolish presidential
term limits; eliminate the autonomy of the central bank and
allow the executive to manage state finances;
allow the executive to create regional vice-presidents and
"community councils," whose authority will supersede that of
elected governors and mayors; and transfer sovereignty from
the electorate to hand-picked community councils consolidated
within a new branch of government under executive control.
-- Within Venezuela, there is growing dissent, even among
Chavez supporters, notably the small chavista party "Podemos"
(We Can), whose National Assembly deputies abstained rather
than vote for the reforms. The student movement is
re-energized and mobilizing protests across the country. The
opposition, civil society, and the Venezuelan Episcopal
Conference are appealing to Venezuelans to oppose this effort
to restrict their freedoms.
-- The GoV response, aimed at silencing critical voices, is
increasingly harsh. GoV supporters have disrupted student
marches to provoke confrontations and violence. Two students
were killed in the Western state of Zulia in a drive-by
shooting perpetrated by Chavez supporters. The electoral
authority has barred certain informational and
anti-constitutional reform spots from airing on TV. In late
October, security forces raided a printing press, which was
developing informational materials for opposition parties.
On November 4, President Chavez publicly instructed security
forces, cabinet ministers, and local mayors to thwart the
student protests. President Chavez has repeatedly lashed out
against Catholic Church leaders.
-- Article 3 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter sets
forth the "essential elements of representative democracy":
"respect for human rights and
fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in
accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic free
and fair elections... the pluralistic system of political
parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and
independence of the branches of government."
-- Venezuela must be reminded of its commitments under the
Democratic Charter and other international instruments.
Secretary Rice has noted repeatedly that democracy is not
just about free and fair elections, though that is a
necessary condition. Democratically elected governments must
-- Recently, Canada and El Salvador joined the United States
in expressing concern and underlining the importance of these
commitments at a September 6 OAS Permanent Council meeting.
-- Due to concerns about the steady deterioration of
democracy, threats to civil liberties, and the proposed
changes to the
constitution, Venezuela has been excluded from the Community
of Democracies Ministerial, which will be
held in Mali later this month. The only other country in the
hemisphere left out was Cuba.
-- Amending a nation's constitution is a solemn exercise. GoV
control of the electoral authority, vast resources, and
intimidation tactics raise serious concerns about the
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fairness of any future referendum on the reforms. Venezuelan
citizens should be able to participate in a free and
transparent process and to express their views on the merits
of the proposal without fear of retribution.
Of note to posts on NGO funding and media freedom:
-- One of the less known amendments would prohibit certain
NGOs and civil society groups from receiving foreign donor
support. This amendment to Article 67 would "prohibit
financing for associations with political purposes or which
participate in electoral processes." The language, clearly
aimed at groups such as the electoral and civic watch-dog NGO
Sumate, is ambiguous enough to allow for a broader
-- Another change to that same article would limit the "use
of public spaces and access to media in electoral campaigns."
Â¶5. (SBU) The following points are for Embassy Madrid, Paris,
and Vatican respectively.
-- For Madrid: Secretary Jimenez's meetings with opposition
leaders, civil society, and members of the dissident Podemos
party during her October 31 visit sent an important signal.
We encourage Spain to express concern about the rapid
deterioration of democracy and to continue to support civil
-- For Paris: We encourage President Sarkozy to take
advantage of Chavez's upcoming visit to impress upon him
Venezuela's democratic obligations and to voice concern about
the substance of the reforms.
-- For Vatican: On October 17, the Venezuelan Episcopal
Conference (CEV) issued a strongly worded statement raising
its concerns about the threat to fundamental freedoms. We
understand members of the CEV will travel to Rome to meet
with the Pope the week
of November 5. We encourage the Vatican to urge other
Episcopal conferences to speak out in support of the CEV.
Â¶6. (U) Department appreciates prompt delivery and reporting
of demarche response. Department requests that all posts use
the SIPDIS caption in their response. Please direct any
questions to Lourdes Cue at 202-647-4984 or via email at