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Cablegate: Pro-Government Legislators Block Air Traffic

VZCZCXRO2796
RR RUEHRG
DE RUEHBR #0485/01 0811555
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 221555Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY BRASILIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8394
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 5990
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 4640
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 6792
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 6135
RUEHRG/AMCONSUL RECIFE 6368
RUEHRI/AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO 4026
RUEHSO/AMCONSUL SAO PAULO 9427
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RULSDMK/DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEANHA/FAA NATIONAL HQ WASHDC
RUEAYVF/FAA MIAMI ARTCC MIAMI FL
RUEWMFU/TSA HQ WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BRASILIA 000485

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

TSA FOR VICKI REEDER, SUSAN HASMAN

SIPDIS
AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES PASS TSA ATTACHE JOCHOA
FAA FOR C. TERE FRANCESCHI, MAYTE ASHBY
DOD FOR OSD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV EAIR BR
SUBJECT: PRO-GOVERNMENT LEGISLATORS BLOCK AIR TRAFFIC
CRISIS INQUIRY

REF: A. 06 BRASILIA 2315

B. 06 BRASILIA 2521
C. 06 BRASIIA 2680
D. 06 BRASILIA 2578
E. BRASILIA 107
F. BRASILIA 457

1. (SBU) Summary. In a dramatic marathon session of the
Chamber of Deputies' Constitution, Justice, and Citizenship
Committee (CCJ), pro-government legislators on March 20 broke
the backbone of a minority attempt to establish a
Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPI) into the Air Traffic
Crisis. The government is firmly opposed to a CPI, fearing
it will be a witch hunt for incompetence that will be used
for political purposes. More significantly, prior to
defeating the opposition's attempt to establish the CPI, for
the last ten days opposition legislators were able to cause
gridlock in the Chamber of Deputies, in what could be the
first of many hardball episodes to challenge the government's
overwhelming strength in the lower house. Legislators from
the Liberal Front Party (PFL), the Brazilian Social Democracy
Movement (PSDB), and the Socialist People's Party (PPS) tried
to delay a pro-government vote to reject the CPI, but were
outfoxed in a parliamentary maneuver, resulting in a day of
verbal warfare, rising tempers, insults and, at one point, a
narrowly avoided physical confrontation between the committee
chairman and the minority leader. At the end of a session
lasting over seven hours, the government won in a 39 to 21
vote, made possible only with 12 votes from the Brazilian
Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), apparently putting an end
to the possibility of an inquiry into the air traffic crisis
that has sporadically crippled civil aviation in Brazil for
months. The next day the government won again in the Chamber
plenary with a 308-141 victory. The Supreme Court could still
rule in favor of establishing the CPI. End summary.

Background

2. (SBU) The Brazilian air traffic system has experienced
serious problems since the September 29, 2006, crash of Gol
flight 1907 after colliding in mid-air with a private jet,
resulting in Brazil's worst air disaster, with the loss of
154 lives. It set off a chain reaction of events that
continue to plague Brazilian commercial aviation. (Reftels
A, B and C) Waldir Pires, the Minister of Defense, who
indirectly oversees the air traffic control system, came
under severe attack, and is expected to be replaced
imminently.

Work Slowdown by Air Traffic Controllers

3. (SBU) After the Gol accident, air traffic controllers,
who are uniformed Air Force personnel, began a work-to-rule
labor action under which they worked the hours stipulated in
their regulations, which was in effect a work slowdown. It
resulted in massive air traffic delays at critical times such
as Christmas and Carnival. Occasional equipment failures
further aggravated the crisis. Federal Deputy Jos Carlos
Aleluia (PFL, Bahia) (protect), who was the minority leader
until last month, expressed a widely held view when he told
Poloff on March 20 that the air traffic crisis is mainly the
result of sabotage by air traffic controllers. The problem
has been persistent, and reappeared in full strength over the
weekend of March 17-18, resulting in massive delays
nationwide and widespread passenger ire.

Opposition Calls for Investigation, Then Imposes Gridlock

4. (SBU) In that context, opposition parties in the Chamber
of Deputies called for an official investigation, which would

BRASILIA 00000485 002 OF 003


almost certainly prove embarrassing to the administration of
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. When government forces
put up strong resistance, the PFL, PSDB and PPS decided to
cause gridlock throughout the lower house. They were able to
halt voting in the plenary and in the CCJ from March 13 until
yesterday. At the same time they asked the Supreme Court for
a ruling to force the Congress to establish the "CPI on the
Air Traffic Crisis." Legislators from President Lula's
Workers Party (PT) then introduced a measure to the effect
that the Congress would not establish the CPI. This set off
a race against the clock by the opposition to stall the vote
on the PT measure so the Supreme Court would settle the
matter once and for all. The government tried to rush its
measure to a vote because once Congress had voted in the
plenary -- where the government was assured of victory by
dint of its overwhelming numbers -- the Supreme Court could
be less likely to rule against the government, or rule at all
on this issue.

Showdown and Government Victory

5. (SBU) Opposition legislators were prepared to induce
another day of legislative paralysis on March 20, and
dispatched staffers at seven a.m. to introduce a number of
delaying items on the CCJ agenda, according to press reports.
They were outfoxed when a federal deputy from the PMDB
placed the PT measure on the agenda for a vote. The
committee chairman, 27 year old Leonardo Picciani (PMDB, Rio
de Janeiro) then put the PT measure at the top of the agenda
for a vote, determining under the rules that a deputy's
agenda items take precedence over those submitted by
staffers. The CCJ meeting opened at 9:30 a.m. By late
afternoon it had turned into a raucus and unruly affair.
Picciani struggled to maintain order. Opposition deputies
unrelentingly interrupted pro-government speakers and the
chairman, asking them to yield a moment to make a point, or
calling for a point of order. All the while Picciani pushed
the session toward a vote. The highest drama came when
Picciani replied to Julio Redecker (PSDB, Rio Grande do Sul),
the minority leader in the Chamber of Deputies, that he
should be careful not to venture into "frivolousness,"
(leviandade). Redecker stood up and began to make his way
toward the Chairman's table, shouting "Frivolous? You
respect me!...I'll show you frivolous!" but was restrained by
colleagues. After a break, tempers cooled, the chairman
retracted his words, forced a vote, and the government side
won 39 to 21. All twelve PMDB deputies present voted with
the government.

Government Wins Handily in Plenary

6. (SBU) On March 21 the PT's measure to bury the CPI was
approved in a 308-141 open ballot vote in the Chamber's
plenary, where the result was never in doubt because of the
government's strength in numbers. Voting was along the
government-opposition divide. Unaligned parties mostly voted
with the opposition. The CPI question not yet completely
dead; the Supreme Court could still order the Chamber to
establish it. A decision is not expected before April.

7. (SBU) Comment. This was the first major test of
coalition strength after last week's cabinet shuffle, in
which the PMDB increased its seats at the table from two to
five. The PMDB repaid the favor. The coalition appears more
solid now than it did a few months ago, when the PMDB
probably helped defeat the government's candidate to the
National Accounting Court (Ref D). But that was before the
Chamber presidency contest (Ref E) in which the PMDB played a
key role in electing the PT candidate, and before it had been
rewarded in the cabinet shuffle for that support and

BRASILIA 00000485 003 OF 003


recognized for its sheer size (Ref F). The Congressional
gridlock, the raucus CCJ meeting, and then the crushing
opposition defeats there and in the plenary do not augur well
for the government's willingness to maintain a good working
relationship with opposition parties. Similarly, the
opposition's hardball tactic could come back to haunt them,
since they are vastly outnumbered in the lower house. If
this is a taste of things to come in the 53rd Congress,
little could be accomplished and partisanship could remain at
a fever pitch.

Sobel

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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