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Cablegate: Video Scandal Expands

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FM AMEMBASSY QUITO
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INFO RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 6712
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C O N F I D E N T I A L QUITO 001350

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: TEN YEARS
TAGS: PGOV PREL EC
SUBJECT: VIDEO SCANDAL EXPANDS

REF: QUITO 1182

Classified By: PolChief Erik Hall for reasons 1.4 (b&d).

1. (C) Summary: Another secretly-taped video involving
Economy Minister Ricardo Patino has become public, extending
the controversy over an earlier video (reftel). The new
video dates to February, and shows President of Congress
Jorge Cevallos discussing his efforts toward congressional
approval of the referendum over the national constituent
assembly. Media and opposition assert the video reveals
Correa government manipulation of other branches of
government, and claim more damaging videos will follow.
While far short of a "smoking gun," the videos convey
unseemly back-room dealings that have put the Correa
government on the defensive and begun to erode public
support. More damaging revelations are promised in coming
weeks. End Summary.

Video Content

2. (U) The video tape contains footage of a meeting between
Patino and Cevallos in Patino's hotel room, on the evening of
February 12, shortly before Congress approved the
government's controversial assembly referendum proposal.
(Note: the referendum, strenuously opposed by the opposition,
was approved by voters on April 15 by more than 81%.)
Christian Democratic Union (UDC) congressman Jaime Estrada
(like Cevallos a native of Manabi province) also appears in
the meeting, as does Patino's political advisor Quinto
Pazmino.

3. (U) Most of the conversation consists of Cevallos (a
founding member of Noboa's PRIAN) describing that day's
session of Congress and how he planned to overcome procedural
restrictions (and his own "problems with my own party") to
permit a vote once passage of Correa's referendum statute was
assured. (Note: Cevallos followed through and the measure
was passed in the subsequent session). Cevallos also
expressed his concerns about whether Lucio Gutierrez's PSP
party could be trusted to hold to its pledge to support the
assembly proposal. Patino's participation in the
conversation is limited to asking a few questions. At one
point Estrada changed topics and lobbied for Patino's support
for a $100m infrastructure project in Manabi province. Once
the video became public, the PRIAN formally expelled Cevallos
and the Democratic Left (ID) has joined the PSC and PRIAN in
calling for his resignation. The UDC is reportedly planning
to oust Estrada as well.

Patino's Defense Lame

4. (U) In response to blanket press interest, minister
Patino has counter-attacked the press, claiming it is "no
coincidence" that the video emerged on TeleAmazonas, the
media outlet owned by Bank of Pichincha president Fidel Egas.
Egas' decision to broadcast the video is clearly an attempt
to thwart the government's proposed banking reform, which he
and other banking interests vehemently oppose, according to
Patino. President Correa's public support for Patino,
meanwhile, remains solid. Correa's sister Pierina, however,
has said publicly that Patino has become a distraction to the
government's agenda and should step down.

Opposition Seeking "Smoking Gun"

5. (C) PSC national president Pascual del Cioppo and PSC
ex-congressman Luis Fernando Torres told the DCM on June 8
that the second video would soon be released, and that others
would follow. The videos would demonstrate damaging
collusion between the Correa government and other nominally
independent branches (judiciary, embodied by Supreme
Electoral Tribunal president Jorge Acosta; and legislative,
represented by Cevallos) to clear the path to approving the
April 15 referendum over a national constituent assembly.
While this particular video falls short of offering any
"smoking gun," these opposition members assert that it will
compound and extend the controversy over clandestine taping
of sensitive meetings, and could further degrade presidential
popularity which has dipped recently.

6. (C) Another ex-congressman from the PSC, Alfredo Serrano,
shed some light on the provenance of the tapes. In a meeting
on June 12 Serrano claimed that ex-Patino aide Pazmino
possessed multiple tapes from sensitive sessions, and had
flogged them with opposition-supporting members of the
economic elite. According to Serrano, PRIAN leader Alvaro
Noboa paid $200K for a copy of the video (originating with
Pazmino), only to be scooped by the release of a different
copy by media outlet TeleAmazonas days later. Serrano
claimed PSC credit for acquiring and releasing the first
video. He said other damaging videos exist and will be
released in turn, in the hope of damaging government
credibility in the run-up to the assembly election in
September. The PSC has urged other opposition leaders to let
the press, rather than opposition politicians, lead this
attack.
Comment

7. (C) Opposition members ousted from Congress are reeling
from what they perceive to be the Correa government's
political persecution (although they continue to garner
little sympathy from the public). They see Patino as an
increasingly vulnerable surrogate for Correa. Impeachment
proceedings against Patino could gather steam from this, the
second secret video featuring Patino. But even if
successful, impeachment does not automatically remove a
minister, and thus far Correa has shown no inclination to
jettison one of his most trusted confidants.

8. (C) The ousted opposition deputies have little hope that
the newly re-constituted Constitutional Court will rule in
their favor, and instead plan to appeal to the IACHR (Noboa
is reportedly funding the legal bills for that effort).
Judging from recent conversations, they are also willing to
contemplate any and all means to terminate his government
prematurely. They justify undemocratic means with the charge
that Correa's game plan for the upcoming constituent assembly
is "pre-cooked" and itself undemocratic. These opposition
members believe Correa will use his majority to advance the
timetable for elections in early 2008, and to purge the
constitution of "neo-liberal bias" and consolidate his
personal power by extending the presidential period to six
years, with re-election permitted. While this video is not
particularly damaging in itself, it is certainly the case
that were a "smoking gun" video to emerge, popular support
for the government's reform agenda could erode.
JEWELL

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