Everyone these days, it seems, has their own favorite US diplomatic cable — or will soon — given that the 250,000 documents obtained by WikiLeaks include references to almost every country in the world. For Latin America, WikiLeaks has so far provided enticing tidbits of both gossip and substance about Brazil and Argentina; interesting, first-rate analysis regarding Honduras, Bolivia and Mexico; and a few intriguing notes about regional politics and international relations.
Nothing extraordinary has been revealed, but the cables now available allow readers and analysts to draw some preliminary conclusions about US President Barack Obama and his administration’s views of the region, about Latin American leaders’ attitudes toward the US and about the quality of US diplomatic and intelligence-gathering activities in the hemisphere. Nothing to write home about, but a lot to write about.
There have been some notable documents, though not many. One is clearly the note written by Hugo Llorens, US Ambassador to Honduras, on July 24 last year, immediately after the coup d’etat that exiled former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. The US envoy got right what happened, its implications and how to enable Obama’s incoming administration to deal intelligently — and differently from the past — with one of its first crises in Latin America. A coup was a coup, could not be accepted and, however provocative Zelaya had been, the only possible US position was his unconditional return to power.
Another impressive cable was sent on Nov. 17 last year by Charles Rivkin, US Ambassador to France, regarding the competition between French companies and Boeing for a contract worth tens of billions of dollars to provide advanced fighter planes to Brazil. The authors got it right: French President Nicolas Sarkozy was pulling out all the stops to close the deal, including support for Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on issues of interest to him and acceptance of technological, legal and military conditions imposed by Brazil on French firms, mainly the armaments manufacturer Dassault.
Perhaps the reports were somewhat naive in omitting any reference to the many rumors in Brazil regarding widespread corruption in relation to the contract (of course, US diplomats may have mentioned these issues elsewhere). Nevertheless, it seems safe to say that Dassault and France will probably win the contract and that this will be seen as a milestone on the road to US irrelevance in South America.
Another good example of interesting and competent reporting lies in the cable sent from La Paz, Bolivia, on March 30, 2006, by US Ambassador David Greenlee, highlighting the tensions between the Cuban and Venezuelan advisers and security personnel surrounding Bolivian President Evo Morales, as well as the circles of elites around him. While not terribly new, Greenlee put his finger on one of the ongoing challenges facing Morales — ensuring the loyalty of the Bolivian Armed Forces to his “revolution” — and his main tool for addressing it: Cuban and Venezuelan security backing to deter a military coup.
Then there are cases of stridency or severe irritation. Cables from Managua between 2006 and last year rehash old stories about Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s ties to drug traffickers like Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, including mention of a video purportedly showing Sandinistas off-loading cocaine from planes in 1984, and dwell on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s off-the-books financial backing for Ortega. There is also a quaint anecdote regarding Nicaraguan prizefighter Ricardo Mayorga, who was caught by Sandinista security while raping or harassing a young woman in his hotel; according to the cables, Ortega blackmailed Mayorga into sharing his boxing proceeds with him and supporting him in the elections that year. None of this is especially earth-shattering or original, except insofar as it seems to suggest the persistence of a Cold War mentality in US foreign-policy thinking about Latin America.