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Cablegate: Chile's Spokesman Prefers Uribe to Chavez

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSG #0221/01 0672006
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 072006Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2880
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION PRIORITY 3366
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 1979
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 0222
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES PRIORITY 0843
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 1686
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ MAR 5726
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 5491
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO PRIORITY 3953
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 1824
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY

id: 144905
date: 3/7/2008 20:06
refid: 08SANTIAGO221
origin: Embassy Santiago
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 07SANTIAGO1983|07SANTIAGO417|07SANTIAGO458|08SANTIAGO194|08SANTIAGO207|08SANTIAGO70
header:
VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSG #0221/01 0672006
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 072006Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2880
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION PRIORITY 3366
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 1979
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 0222
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES PRIORITY 0843
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 1686
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ MAR 5726
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 5491
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO PRIORITY 3953
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 1824
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY


----------------- header ends ----------------

C O N F I D E N T I A L SANTIAGO 000221

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/07/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR ECON ECPS CO VE EC CI
SUBJECT: CHILE'S SPOKESMAN PREFERS URIBE TO CHAVEZ

REF: A. SANTIAGO 194
B. SANTIAGO 207
C. 07 SANTIAGO 1983
D. SANTIAGO 70
E. 07 SANTIAGO 417
F. 07 SANTIAGO 458

Classified By: Paul Simons for reasons 1.4 (B&D)

1. (C) Summary. Government spokesman Vidal told the
Ambassador the GOC considered Uribe an ally, and an
alternative to Chavez in South America. This friendship made
the current Colombia/Ecuador conflict "complicated" for the
GOC given Chile's historical respect for the inviolability of
settled borders. He also commented on Chilean internal
politics, expressing confidence in the ruling coalition
Concertacion's chances of winning 2008 municipal elections.
Vidal was critical of Chile's "right-wing" press as unfair to
the GOC. The Ambassador advocated for the U.S. ATSC digital
television standard. End summary.

2. (U) The Ambassador met with Secretary General of the
Government Francisco Vidal on March 6. Vidal, who is a
Minister and the Administration's spokesperson, was appointed
in December after the previous Secretary General, Ricardo
Lagos Weber, stepped down to run for the Senate. Vidal held
the same position under former President Ricardo Lagos. The
Ambassador was accompanied by E/POL Counselor and E/POLoff.

GOC Perspective on Colombia and Ecuador
---------------------------------------

3. (C) Vidal described the tension between Colombia and
Ecuador over Colombia's incursion into Ecuadorian territory
(refs A & B) as "complicated for the Chilean government."
Chile, he said, in a clear allusion to its ongoing dispute
with Peru, obviously considers borders and sovereignty issues
sacrosanct. However, the GOC's friendship with Uribe is also
important. Uribe, he said, is an ally in providing a
non-"Chavista" model for South America. As spokesman, Vidal
had been asked the GOC's opinion on Chavez's role in this
conflict, but explained he refused to answer to avoid
escalating the tension. The GOC might, however, speak out
more on Chavez's "interference" in the months ahead when the
situation is more calm. (Note: Foreign Minister Foxley
already issued a veiled criticism of Chavez's interference in
a statement earlier this week - ref B. End note). The
Ambassador acknowledged Chile's helpful role in working with
Brazil and others to de-escalate tensions. He and Vidal
agreed that the Organization of American States had been
helpful in defusing the crisis.

ATSC Digital Television (DTV) Standard
--------------------------------------

4. (SBU) As part of the Embassy's full-court press to all
relevant decision-makers (ref C & D), the Ambassador
advocated on behalf of the ATSC standard for DTV, and gave
Vidal a one-page fact sheet on the advantages of ATSC. The
Ambassador noted the principal ATSC advantages of low cost
and reliability, and its rigorous field-testing in the
demanding U.S. market. He encouraged the GOC to select a
standard carefully so as to avoid another public relations
crisis like Transantiago (Santiago's mass-transit system; ref
E & F), eliciting a laugh from Vidal. Vidal offered no
substantive response on the merits of the ATSC system.

Internal Chilean Politics
--------------------------

5. (SBU) Joking with the Ambassador about the fact that the
Ambassador had already met two Ministers of Interior during
his three months in Chile, Vidal predicted Bachelet's third
cabinet would stay through Bachelet's term. He expressed
confidence that the ruling center-left Concertacion coalition
would win the municipal elections in October 2008, in part
due to support from the Communist Party, but was less
confident about the December 2009 presidential election.
Vidal noted that the center-right Alianza coalition's only
hope of Presidential victory was in the first round -- if no
candidate gained a first round victory, the expected shift of
Communist party votes to the Concertacion candidate in the
second round would probably ensure a Concertacion victory.

6. (C) Vidal lamented the bitterness of the current political
debate in Chile and the lack of any concrete policy proposals
from the opposition. Alianza was "exaggerating" problems of
corruption and Transantiago, and that the press, "owned by
the right," would never print a pro-government story. He
pointed out that state-owned newspaper La Nacion has a Sunday
readership of around 35,000 compared to El Mercurio's almost
350,000 and La Tercera's 300,000. (Note: Actual figures are
La Nacion: 17,000; El Mercurio: 263,000; and La Tercera:
222,000. End note). Despite Chile being ranked equal to the
U.S. in corruption levels by Transparency International, and
Transantiago is improving, Concertacion is portrayed by the
press as ineffective and corrupt.

7. (SBU) Vidal expressed some concern about the world
economy, but said Chile's reserves (thanks to GOC saving and
high copper prices) would protect it from a crisis.

Comment
-------

8. (C) Vidal, who is close to both Bachelet and former
President Lagos, was brought in to help increase order within
the GOC and improve coordination with the Concertacion
political parties. He is a lightning rod for the opposition,
who believe he epitomizes the arrogance and "corruption" bred
under 18 years of Concertacion governments. A master
politician who is smooth as silk, Vidal was very positive
about the GOC's relationship with the USG and expressed views
very similar to our own on the conflict between Ecuador and
Colombian and his concern over Chavez's interference. His
views reflect a growing consensus within the GOC in support
of free trade and increasing concern about Chavez's influence
in the region.

Biography of Vidal
-------------------

9. (U) Vidal (54) replaced Ricardo Lagos Weber as Secretary
General of Government on December 6, 2007. He is a
third-time minister, previously serving under former
President Lagos as Minister of Interior (succeeding Insulza
when the latter resigned to run for OAS SecGen) and Secretary
General of Government (2001-2005). As Minister of Interior,
he oversaw security and intelligence services. More
importantly, he directed President Lagos, three-minister
"political committee" (Interior, Secretary General of the
Presidency, and Minister/Spokesman) to shepherd Lagos,
legislative agenda. President Bachelet,s ability to restore
order to La Moneda will depend in part on Vidal,s
willingness to defer to current Interior Minister Perez Yoma,
as well as his ability to cooperate with Perez Yoma and
Minister Viera-Gallo -- a political heavyweight in his own
right and no shrinking violet.

10. (C) He is a long-time political associate of former
President Lagos and the two remain very close. He is also
close to President Bachelet, who appointed him as director of
TVN (National Television) shortly after she assumed the
presidency. Vidal is respected within the Concertacion
coalition and is described by Concertacion contacts as
ambitious, politically shrewd and loyal. He was accessible
to the Embassy and generally supportive of bilateral security
and intelligence cooperation during his brief stint as
Interior Minister at the end of the Lagos presidency.

11. (U) His academic and NGO positions include Dean of the
Economic Science and Administrative faculty of Universidad
Central (1998-1999) and Executive Director of Chile 21
Foundation (1994-2000), a center-left think tank that advises
Socialist Party and Party for the Democracy government
officials, political figures and members of Congress.

12. (U) A member of the PPD, Vidal served as the party's
vice-president from 1996 to 2000. Vidal is a professor of
history and geography with a master's degree in history from
the University of Chile. Vidal does not speak English.
SIMONS

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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