Cablegate: Argentina's Former President Kirchner Looks To


DE RUEHBU #0196/01 0501815
O 191815Z FEB 08




E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/19/2028


Classified By: Ambassador Wayne for reasons 1.4 (b) & (d).

1. (C) Summary and introduction: Just two months out of
office, Argentina's ex-president Nestor Kirchner is still
very much in the limelight. Kirchner is moving to revive and
take control of the Justicialist Party (PJ), commonly
referred to as the Peronist Party in honor of its founder,
Juan Domingo Peron. For most of the last 60 years, the
Peronists have been the most powerful political movement in
Argentina. The PJ retains the nation's strongest political
structure, even though severe internal squabbling led a
federal court in 2005 to put the party into a trusteeship.
The court intervention essentially took the party off the
market, even for the 2007 elections, but the PJ remains a
potent brand name. Kirchner appears poised to take control
of the party, providing him a powerful patronage vehicle.
End summary.

Life After the Presidency

2. (SBU) Before turning over the presidential sash to his
wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK), on December 10,
Nestor Kirchner (NK) had been quoted saying facetiously that
he planned to retire to a ""literary cafe."" No one, however,
expected NK to spend his days sipping coffee, poring over
newspapers and magazines, and NK has not. Shortly after his
wife's inauguration, after a U.S. attorney quoted an
allegation made by a defendant that CFK's presidential
campaign had been the intended beneficiary of some
intercepted cash from Venezuela, he used public appearances
to lambaste the USG ""conspiracy"" against her and to demand
the U.S. ""return the fugitive"" Antonini-Wilson (ref A).
Weeks later, NK signed up for Hugo Chavez's ""bungle in the
jungle"" (ref B). NK has also appeared at some organized
labor events in an apparent attempt to sustain lines of
communication with the labor camp headed by CGT leader Hugo
Moyano in anticipation of wage negotiations involving labor,
business, and the GOA.

3. (SBU) Having leased expensive office space in tony Puerto
Madero, a short distance from the Casa Rosada presidential
palace, NK has publicly turned his attention to a bid for
winning the presidency of the PJ. Commonly referred to as
the Peronist Party in honor of the PJ's founder, Juan Domingo
Peron, the PJ was the most powerful political movement in
Argentina for most of the last 60 years, alternating in power
with the Radical Party (UCR) that earlier in the 20th century
had begun the process of expanding suffrage and opening up
the political process. Like its founder, the PJ has been
tough to pin down ideologically, veering from left to right
and back again, often with populist overtones and a
pronounced authoritarian streak.

Peronist Party Still a Stronghold

4. (SBU) The PJ remains the country's strongest political
structure, although the party's presidency has been vacant
since 2003. The last PJ convention in 2004 ended in a
stalemate between two main factions: the Kirchneristas
(supporting Kirchner) and the Duhaldistas (supporting former
president and estranged Kirchner mentor Eduardo Duhalde). In
September 2005, a federal judge appointed a trustee to take
temporary control of the party and straighten out its
internal procedures in order to resolve the conflict. The
delay in the party's reorganization forced various Peronist
presidential aspirants in 2007 to run under different
banners. CFK, for example, ran as the candidate of the
Victory Front (FpV), the coalition first cobbled together in
2003 to elect NK. Roberto Lavagna, who was once Kirchner's
Minister of Economy, ran as presidential candidate under
another banner while continuing to proclaim himself a
Peronist, as did the governor of San Luis, Alberto Rodriguez
Saa, another ""Peronist.""

5. (U) The National PJ Assembly is expected to meet on March
7 and call for internal elections on May 17. The PJ Assembly
gathers about 900 delegates and can take decisions with a
quorum of 33%. The province of Buenos Aires accounts for
over 250 delegates, and therefore the negotiations among
leaders of the Buenos Aires Provincial PJ Assembly are
particularly tense in advance of their February 22 caucus.

Kirchner's Prospects Look Good

6. (SBU) The only declared candidate challenging NK for the
PJ presidency is Francisco de Narvaez, the wealthy
businessman who lost his 2007 bid for the governorship of

Buenos Aires province to NK's vice president, Daniel Scioli.
It is also expected that a small faction led by San Luis
Governor Alberto Rodriguez Saa and former president Carlos
Menem will also seek to block Kirchner. The conventional
wisdom is that Kirchner will win by acclamation. Indeed, he
has mounted ""Operation Clamor"" to do just that, rounding up
the endorsements of governors, mayors, legislators, labor
leaders, and others.

7. (SBU) Kirchner's prospects were advanced recently by his
re-enlistment of Roberto Lavagna, who had served as Minister
of Economy for the first half of Kirchner's term in office
but had harshly criticized the Kirchners during his 2007 bid
for the presidency. Lavagna came in third place with almost
17% of the vote. His electoral vehicle was the Coalition for
an Advanced Nation (UNA), a new political groupin that was
largely a refuge for Radicals whose own party (UCR) was in
disarray similar to the PJ's.

8. (SBU) The February 3 announcement that Kirchner had
negotiated Lavagna's return to the PJ, presumably in exchange
for a PJ vice-presidency, prompted cries of foul play from
other opposition leaders, including Lavagna's erstwhile
running mate, Gerardo Morales of the UCR. Elisa Carrio, who
had come in second place behind CFK in the October election
with 23% of the vote, accused Lavagna of having campaigned as
an ""opposition"" candidate at the direction of Kirchner in an
effort to divide the opposition vote. According to Carrio,
Lavagna's ""return"" to the PJ proved he had actually never
left the Kirchner camp.

9. (C) Most analysts, however, considered Kirchner's
recruitment of Lavagna to be a master stroke, since it
rendered the Radicals, the Civic Coalition, and other
opposition figures flailing ineffectually, and, subsequent
press stories suggest, it also may have won the acquiescence
of Eduardo Duhalde to Kirchner's bid for the PJ presidency.
Lavagna reportedly retains strong ties to former president
Duhalde, widely considered to be the man who maneuvered to
get Kirchner the presidency in 2003, only to be forced off
the political stage by his mentee. Duhalde's praise for the
Kirchner-Lavagna pact suggested he would not back challenges
to Kirchner's expected coronation as head of the PJ. Other
commentators have noted Kirchner's mastery at checking the
power grabs of potential rivals. They claimed that
Kirchner's agreement with Lavagna had contained the presumed
ambitions of Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli for the PJ
vice-presidency, for example.


10. (C) Although Peronism as an ideology is malleable and
amorphous, there has been some speculation that Kirchner's
real agenda is to displace Peron in the affections and
allegiances of Argentina's working class. Kirchner does not
have Peron's transcendent charisma, he evinces many of the
same masterful political instincts. Kirchner's expected
election by acclamation to the presidency of the Justicialist
Party will provide him a powerful vehicle for keeping his
wife's critics and rivals at bay, and for shaping the
Argentine political landscape for years to come.


© Scoop Media

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