WikiLeaks Not Expected to Back Claims of U.S. Plots in Latin America

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Bolivian President Evo Morales (left), with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Juan Barreto / AFP-Getty Images

The latest WikiLeaks document dump hasn’t offered much about Latin America so far, and Hugo Chávez seems to be champing at the bit for more—he responded to early reports of the leaks by calling for Hillary Clinton to resign. The dispatches are bound to raise tensions in a region already angst-ridden over American influence, on top of ruffling plenty of feathers (Clinton asks about Argentine President Cristina Kirchner’s mental health in one cable; Chávez is called “crazy” in another).

But if the content is similar to what’s been leaked from other regions, the cables might actually weaken some of the wilder conspiracy theories that have become prime political currency for Chávez and allies such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correra. “I don’t think we’ve seen anything that suggests that there is a hidden agenda in U.S. policy that we didn’t know about already,” says Andrew Selee, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Adds Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America: “The U.S. is always being attacked for sponsoring coups or plotting to destabilize countries, and you’re not seeing any evidence of that. You’re not fulfilling the conspiracy theories that folks like Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales are pushing.”

wikileaks-five-questions-tease LIST: Five Questions Sparked by the WikiLeaks Documents John Cumming / Getty Images

Chávez and his allies have repeatedly raised suspicions over things like October’s attempted coup in Ecuador, the use of U.S. military bases in Colombia, and alleged American meddling in Bolivia following Morales’s 2005 election. Just last week, at a conference attended by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Morales alleged there was U.S. involvement in last summer’s Honduras coup. But a cable released earlier this week, which was sent from the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa a month after the coup, clearly suggests otherwise: a wary ambassador finds “no doubt” that the coup was “illegal and unconstitutional” and declares the newly installed president “totally illegitimate.”

The cables should continue to support the official U.S. line, a senior State Department official told NEWSWEEK. “You know, if [the cables] come out in close proximity to those kinds of comments, we’ll let people draw their own conclusions,” the official said. “If you take a sampling of U.S. cables at any particular time, in any particular embassy, I think what you’re going to find is—lo and behold—U.S. foreign policy as stated is very similar to U.S. reporting from the people on the ground.”

But the official also acknowledged that the cables could still cause plenty of trouble, especially given the region’s special sensitivity to U.S. influence. The most worrying case might be Mexico, about which WikiLeaks has released just a handful of the nearly 3,000 cables it claims to be hoarding. The Mexican population and military have long been resistant to what they consider U.S. overreach, and America has been toeing a delicate line in offering financial and military assistance for Mexico’s bitter fight against narcotrafficking. “We have a lot of history and a 2,000-mile border, and there are things that don’t roil the waters elsewhere that do in Mexico,” the official said.

A cable sent in January and labeled “secret” hammers home the point. It offers a comprehensive dressing-down of Mexico’s security institutions, calling them “parochial,” “risk-averse,” and even corrupt. “Official corruption is widespread,” reads one of the memo’s more damning assessments, although the cable does end on an optimistic note: “Our ties with the military have never been closer … We need to capitalize on these cracks in the door.” It remains to be seen whether revelations about “widespread” corruption allegations will damage those close ties.

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