Overthrowing the regimes in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela is on Washington's list of strategic objectives. Separatist leanings spread and radical groups proliferate in the countries with a clear backing from the outside world. No means of undermining the regimes remain unused, separatism – a traditional and proven instrument from the US intelligence community's arsenal being one of them.
An International Confederation for Regional Freedom and Autonomy (CONFILAR) was created on September 16, 2006 in Guayaquil, Ecuador by the pro-autonomy groups from Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Peru. The blueprint for the conference which established the confederation is attributed to Alberto Mansueti, vice president of the Rumbo Propio (Our Own Destiny) group based in Maracaibo, the capital of Zulia state. Mansueti is known to have authored CONFILAR'sunderlying philosophy, a brand of radical separatism disguised as the demand for civilized autonomy. The extent of autonomy as requested by Mansueti and his brethren is practically tantamount to the abolition of centralized control over the corresponding territories. The radical position largely stems from its proponents' aversion to the socialist policies pursued by the populist leaders such as H. Chavez, R. Correa, and E. Morales. Mansueti's version of the autonomy envisages complete absence of economic or political regulation to be exercised by the central authority. The promised benefits of the arrangement are considerably better life quality, exceptional education and health care standards, jobs, higher pensions, and hefty social aid packages for the poor including food stamps, free tuition and medical care, while corruption, for example, is supposed to evaporate. In the past, similar pledges were generously dispensed by Correa's ferocious critic Jaime Nebot and other leaders from the affluent Manabi province sited on the Pacific shore, which for a decade hosted a US military base. Created with the stated goal of fighting drug trafficking, the base actually gave the US control over the region's countries. Correa pledged not to renew the base lease as he ran for president – and immediately faced a separatist surge in response upon coming to office. The CIA instigated separatism in Manabi in the hope that reaching an agreement on the base with the separatists should not be a problem, but Washington's plans for the province failed to materialize. President Correa's views on the US military presence in Ecuador remain unchanged. In September, 2008 some 70% of the country's population expressed at a national referendum support for a new constitution upholding the principles of solidarity, justice, and wealth for all. Ecuador acts independently in international politic, opposes the US imperialist aspirations, and backs Latin American integration. In Guayaquil, however, the referendum was won by a relatively narrow margin.
CIA-coordinated separatist movements also rose in Bolivia and Venezuela. A May, 2007 referendum in Bolivia's Santa Cruz province was won by deep autonomy enthusiasts who promised the population a greater share of the oil and gas revenues. Similar referendums were held in the Beni and Pando provinces in June the same year. Morales did not recognize the outcome citing low turnouts and likely rigging, and his supporters described them as a liberals' mutiny, an offensive against the country's new constitution launched by the opponents of socialism, and a step towards the Balkanization of Latin America.
The second CONFILAR forum convened in Santa Cruz in September, 2007 to broadcast solidarity with the Bolivian pro-autonomy groups. Separatist tendencies dominated Bolivia's political agenda in 2008 and the early 2009, but the elimination by the Bolivian special forces of a group of terrorists sent to the country by the CIA from Croatia, Hungary, Romania, and Ireland had a sobering effect on the populations of the defiant Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando provinces. It became widely known that the Santa Cruz leadership maintained close ties with the US embassy and that weapons were secretly supplied to separatists from abroad. The computers seized by the Bolivian authorities contained files with a detailed plan of destabilization in Bolivia and the assassination of president Morales. A number of terrorists were arrested and others fled to the US.
In Bolivia, as in Ecuador, the constitution serves as the main barrier in the way of separatism. Bolivia's constitution which entered into force in February, 2009 was the country's first one to be propped up by a popular vote and to grant the native population a special status. The constitution handed to the state extensive powers in the sphere of economic regulation, and established the autonomy of provinces, municipalities, and Indian communities. It also shuts foreign military bases out of the country and bans the privatization of its energy resources. The opposition predictably reacted to the constitution with a grudge, and recurrences of confrontation with the rightists in Bolivia's eastern part remain likely.
The CIA, the US Defense Intelligence Agency, and DEA managed to build a separatist stronghold in Venezuela's Zulia state. For a long time, Zulia used to be run by Chavez's staunch opponent Manuel Rosales who routinely discussed with US ambassadors Brownfield and Shapiro bilateral deals between Zulia and the US, the theme to which Caracas explainably has a thin skin. Normally, the state is not entitled to independent foreign policies, though Brownfield admitted publicly that for him Zulia was “an independent republic” and openly urged the local elites to wrestle with Caracas over unrestricted autonomy.
Rosales's Un Nuevo Tiempo party refrains from statements that might be regarded as downright calls for divorce with Venezuela, but its separatist agenda is not deeply hidden. As for Rosales, he used to combine separatism as a creed with corruption as a hobby, and eventually had to flee amidst the official probe into his machinations. He took shelter in Peru as a result, but the separatist forces in Zulia are still at work. Currently the Rumbo Propio, a party blessed by Rosales and maintaining divisions in several Venezuelan border states spearheads the activity. One of its leaders Nestor Suares calls the party's supporters to push for Zulia's full autonomy and to defy Chavez's socialist legislation. Another Rumbo Propio key figure - former Venezuelan ambassador to the Dominican Republic Julio Portillo - declared severing all ties with “Chavez's dictatorship” during the 2002 coup but his reckoning proved wrong as Chavez regained his presidency and Portillo had to turn to “regional patriotism” as a legitimizing concept. This must be the explanation behind his radical separatism and calls for an independence referendum in Zulia. Portillo was among the founders of the Zulia's People for Constitution Democratic Front which sprang up when vacant lands south of the Maracaibo Lake were allocated to rural cooperatives. Money is poured into Zulia's separatist groups both by the CIA and the local banks like Banco Occidental de Descuento.
The presence of a Columbian population numbering hundreds of thousands factors into the state's turbulent situation. Many people sought refuge in Venezuela from Columbia's internal conflict but are members of rightists paramilitary groups. They tend to be hostile to Chavez, meaning that the CIA and the separatists can count on them as a potential strike force which can help bring about Zulia's sovereignty.
The Guayaquil - Santa Cruz - Zulia separatist axis will continue to be used to undermine the populist regimes and the regional integration initiatives in Lain America. Separatist groups will be given the key role if Washington opts for the Balkanization of Latin America, as the onset of chaos would make it easier to justify the US intervention in the region. Any moment the US Southern Command is ready to implement Plan Balboa which was put together five years ago.