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Cablegate: Argentina's President-Elect Gives Revealing Interview

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RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
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RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
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UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 002263

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON KPAO AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINA'S PRESIDENT-ELECT GIVES REVEALING INTERVIEW


1. (SBU) Summary and introduction: Notoriously inaccessible to the
media, Argentina's president-elect Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
(CFK) gave a lengthy interview to left-of-center, pro-government and
often anti-U.S. daily "Pagina 12." The broad range of topics
included her political attitudes; domestic and economic policy
views; and foreign policy priorities. Frequently feisty, CFK
questioned the relevance of some questions and the underlying
premises of others. Defending her husband's administration, she
indicated there will be more continuity than change once she takes
office. She termed U.S.-Argentine relations "mature" in response to
repeated probing as to whether she seeks to change the relationship.
She said she was optimistic about reaching a settlement with the
Paris Club. Describing herself and her husband as "neo-Keynesians,"
she repeatedly stated her commitment to making income distribution
more progressive. She shed no light on her plans for bringing
together business and labor leaders to negotiate a "social pact."
End Summary.

Personal Traits
---------------

2. (SBU) During her tightly controlled campaign for the October 28
presidential election, CFK rarely granted any formal interviews to
the Argentine press, presumably to limit any potential erosion of
her frontrunner status. The "Pagina 12" interview, published 15
days before her inauguration, reveals a politician who is quick on
her feet, handling a lot of tough questions well. She challenged
the premise of a poorly-worded question about the lack of change in
her Cabinet (which is roughly two-thirds the same as her husband's)
by saying, "Pardon me, but do you think that the people voted for a
change of government?"

3. (SBU) CFK showed she knows her talking points and even
acknowledged that she repeats them a lot, saying "sometimes it's
necessary to repeat the obvious, even when it's basic." The
interview features many lines we've heard before, including her line
about past methodologies to measure inflation not being the "Koran,
Talmud, or Bible," and her husband Nestor's line about "the dead
don't pay their debts." She also appeared comfortable with numbers,
tossing them around with great confidence.

4. (SBU) Although the authors of the interview praised CFK for her
openness and generosity, they also noted that she was a "difficult"
interlocutor. When asked about one controversial GOA official, she
asked rhetorically, "You always need villains, don't you?"
Defending her husband's economic record, she concluded that she was
at a loss as to "what has to be done to get the media to recognize
our accomplishments, because society already has." There's
anti-press vituperation throughout the interview. She blamed press
sensationalism for growing fears about violent crime, for example,
implying that the fears are manufactured. She deflected another
question saying, "Why do I need to deny something that others have
invented? That does not strike me as a good methodology."

Political Attitudes
-------------------

5. (SBU) Emphasizing the primacy of the presidency, she expressed
her belief in "work with a team and in a team. If there was
something positive in Kirchner's administration, it was building a
government without celebrities and self-promoters." She downplayed
the "vision thing," saying that governing is a "day-to-day" job
where adaptability is more important than vision. "Today you
announce a policy, tomorrow the circumstances change and you have to
meet again to set new goals and targets." CFK argued for the
institutional strength of Argentina's democracy by pointing to the
vitality of the Senate and the independence of the judiciary. She
noted that the Senate, despite its poor reputation, produced several
winners in this year's executive races, including herself and
several governors.

6. (SBU) The interview did not shed much light on how CFK will carry
out her much-touted promise to bring together the private sector,
labor and government to negotiate a "social pact" or what the pact
would entail. She said it would be "structural" and "define goals
and quantifiable, verifiable targets." She said her social pact
would not repeat the error of the 1973 Gelbard Pact by limiting
itself to wage and price controls but presumably include investment
plans and productivity targets as well as infrastructure
commitments. Pressed to describe the process for negotiating the
pact, CFK begged "a little patience" and said she would soon
"articulate the roadmap."

Foreign Policy: U.S. Relations and Other
-----------------------------------------

7. (SBU) CFK confirmed her strong interest in foreign policy, saying
that she "likes international relations a lot." In response to
several questions asking whether there will be any change in
relations with the U.S., she showed some exasperation but finally
said, "We have a mature relationship with the U.S." Asked whether
she would visit President Bush, she said, "When he called to
congratulate me, he told me that possibly we'd be seeing each other
after I took office. We'll see." She also said that "we have
criticized the Republicans for neglecting Latin America. That was
questioned by us and by all the region. The Democrats also did so,
which leads us to hope that, if they win, they will have a
substantially different policy." But she then specifically added
that she did not want to be drawn into U.S. internal politics. (One
note of interest: At a high-tech awards dinner November 27, CFK
left and then re-entered the room and walked directly to the
Ambassador's table with photographers in train to talk to him before
leaving again.)

8. (SBU) She stressed a pan-Latin American message and went to great
lengths to avoid having to choose between rival camps headed by Lula
and Chavez. Referring to press speculation that her November 19
visit to Brazil presaged a tilt toward Lula and away from Chavez,
CFK asked, "Why should closer relations with Brazil imply a
distancing from Chavez or vice versa?" She dodged a question about
King Juan Carlos shutting up Chavez by saying she wished the whole
exchange had not taken place, and she argued that economic interests
will ultimately prevail over political posturing to ensure the
continuation of relations between Spain and Venezuela. (She has
since announced that she will visit Spain in January.)

9. (SBU) As she has done before, CFK contended that Chavez was the
victim of a supposed double standard applied to Latins and
Europeans. She claimed that Putin is "getting away" with no
international observers in the Russian election on December 2 while
the Venezuelan referendum on the same day will be well covered by
international observers. She also claimed that if twin brothers had
come to power in Latin America (as the Kaczynskis did in Poland),
international criticism of the arrangement would have been intense.
(Comment: In addition to showing her reflexive Latin American
nationalist colors, CFK also revealed with this remark that she is
not aware of the hammering that both Putin and the Kaczynskis have
taken in the Western press in the past few years. End comment.)

Economic
--------

10. (SBU) CFK indicated that her husband had at the outset of his
administration a "neo-Keynesian" plan to reactivate the economy with
heavy investments in infrastructure, and she proposed to follow that
direction but with her focus, after the emphasis on the
reestablishment of macroeconomic stability of her husband's term, on
micro adjustments. This, she said, would manifest itself in more
state planning, with region- and industry-specific plans that might
be rolled out in January or February.

11. (SBU) CFK ridiculed the debate over whether to combat inflation
by decelerating economic growth, arguing that growth rates or
unemployment rates could not be adjusted at whim like the thermostat
on an air conditioner. Claiming that her husband's administration
was the first in Argentina to govern without a deficit, she asserted
that their critics "are the ones who racked up Argentina's debt,
driving the country to record unemployment rates and the tragedy of
2001."

12. (SBU) On the controversy over the manipulation by INDEC of
inflation rates and other economic data, CFK did not give much
ground. Citing the flaws of previous methodologies for measuring
prices, she argued that "economic interests" have manipulated these
indices in the past. She repeated that the GOA is adopting an
"American" model for measuring inflation.

13. (SBU) Income distribution is something of a mantra for CFK, who
repeated throughout the interview her commitment to a more even
distribution of income. In listing the major issues a political
party should address, the first she named was income distribution.
Elsewhere, she repeatedly paired income distribution with human
rights as her top priorities. She claimed that Kirchner was the
first to make a dent in the Gini coefficient (making national income
more progressive) and that salaried workers in 2007 had 41% of the
GDP as opposed to 34% in 2003.

14. (SBU) On reaching a settlement with the Paris Club, CFK said she
was "moderately optimistic" although repeating her standard line
that European companies will bring their governments around because
there is so much money to be made in Argentina.

The First Gentleman
-------------------

15. (SBU) CFK noted that her husband is a "political animal," who
has spent all his life in politics and would continue to do so upon
leaving office December 10. Saying she believes in strong political
parties, CFK said Kirchner will focus on building a lasting
political structure. Their joint goal is to institutionalize a
force that represents the largest sectors of Argentine society.
After dividing Argentina's twentieth century history into three
phases -- Radical, Peronist, and military -- she said that the
country's dominant force in this century is still up for grabs. Her
husband, she said, will use his free time to seek to develop a new
political grouping that can fill this vacuum.

WAYNE

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