The days pass, the Wikileaks leak, and little by little we hear interesting tidbits that for whatever reason the nice U.S. embassy people had never seen fit to leak earlier. I’m impressed with their discretion — there are a lot of reports that make people look like fools, and many of those apparent fools are not best friends with the USA.
With summer upon us here in the Southern Hemisphere, and paid work and delightful family outings thankfully occupying much of my time, I haven’t been as diligent as I’d like to be with these leaks. As far as South American oil affairs, the best stuff so far was detailed by El Pais, one of the newspapers lucky enough to get early access to the whole Manning file. Caracas Chronicles’ Francisco Toro, locked away in his frigid Arctic bunker, wrote up a nice summary of what they said.
This time, the U.S. embassy in Caracas supposedly found one of the ways in which PDVSA overstates its production figures — export to offshore storage, reimport, and export again. I had guessed years ago that this would be the easiest way to pump up the figures, which is exactly why I always refer to net exports (subtracting out imports), rather than total exports. However, the PDVSA annual reports don’t use export numbers at all; they claim to be reporting figures directly from the field. What I want to know is, if the numbers are being inflated, at what stage does it happen? My current theory is that it’s similar to the USSR’s grain statistics. Low-level people are scared of reprimands if they say they missed quotas, so they do whatever is necessary to avoid that, from faking paperwork to physically moving products to be double-counted. But who knows.
The embassy’s intel-gathering method mentioned by El Pais is amusing. Because the lines are so long for anyone (from Maria Lopez visiting her nephew to the oil minister) who needs a U.S. visa, the embassy had lookouts keep an eye on the line so they could help high-level people jump the queue, and then hit them up for info. However, El Pais doesn’t link to any documents describing this method. That may have just been an oversight; it will be interesting to see what other methods come out.
In response to Marcus Anonymous’s comment this morning asking whether I see any scandals in these memos — not really. The Wikileaks-produced article titled “U.S. secret blueprint to undermine Chavez” is hilariously mistitled. It’s actually a secret blueprint to recover U.S.-oriented trade and debt policies in the Southern Cone, an area where Chavez’s influence has never been particularly strong. (If anything, the influence flows the other way, with Salvador Allende and Juan Peron influencing Chavez.) The memo discussed is scandalous only in being hilariously misinformed. While most of the embassy memos show an informed, smart, even witty foreign service struggling to teach Washington about the world, this memo includes the following line:
We must challenge the mistaken notion that the U.S. is absent and aloof from the region. President Bush’s visit to five countries in the region in March, and his follow-on meeting with President Lula at Camp David, made a hugely positive impression
The embassy’s take on President Bush’s visit to five countries in the region in March 2007 was rather different from that of The Google. Like me, the Google remembers the visit as an utter fracas, with Bush being hounded by riots, while Chavez made a well attended speech nearby. In fact, Google image searches turn up more pictures of Chavez than of Bush, even on a search for “Bush visit Argentina 2007.” I was in Buenos Aires a few months ago, where I saw anti-Bush grafitti that remains from three years ago.
UPDATE: This one is really something else — Colombian ex-President Alvaro Uribe was even more aggressive in private than in public. He told the U.S. military high command: “Chavez has a five to seven year plan to advance his Bolivarian agenda in Colombia…Chavez remains committed to bring down both Uribe and his government, as the primary obstacles to his Bolivarian expansionist dreams…The best counter to Chavez, in Uribe’s view, remains action — including use of the military… He was prepared to authorizevColombian forces to cross into Venezuela, arrest FARC leaders, and bring them to justice in Colombia.” I hear that he concluded his speech by saying, “The whole world is a nail.”