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Cablegate: Argentine Governor of Salta Calls On the Ambassador

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #0311/01 0721052
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 121052Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0432
INFO RUCNMER/MERCOSUR COLLECTIVE
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 000311

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

ECA FOR NINA BISHOP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL ECON PGOV PINR SCUL AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINE GOVERNOR OF SALTA CALLS ON THE AMBASSADOR


1. (SBU) Summary: The Ambassador met with Salta Governor Juan
Manuel Urtubey, Argentina's youngest governor, and discussed areas
for cooperation, including promotion of trade and investment,
cultural exchanges, and his upcoming trip to Miami, Washington, and
New York in April. The Governor described Salta's promising
prospects in various sectors, including energy exploration and
agro-industry. He also laid out his concerns about the situation in
Bolivia, which borders his province. Urtubey was very supportive of
Nestor Kirchner's campaign for leadership of the Peronist Party. He
mentioned he plans to visit Miami in April in connection with the
Annual Meeting of the IDB Board of Governors, and then New York and
Washington. The Ambassador asked about Salta's recovery from recent
floods, and the Governor described the scope of the devastation and
the government's relief efforts. The Ambassador also noted that he
hoped to find ways to support Salta's interest in baseball, given
the thriving league in the province. End summary.

Trade and Investment in Salta
-----------------------------

2. (SBU) Juan Manuel Urtubey, 39, the Kirchner-allied governor of
Argentina's northern province of Salta, called on the Ambassador
March 6. He is an up-and-comer in the Peronist Party (PJ),
supported by Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez and reportedly
favorably viewed by both Kirchners. He acknowledged that Salta had
long been one of Argentina's poorer provinces, with strong social
and historic ties to the Andean cultures of Bolivia and Peru. With
Bolivia, it shared a rich natural gas basin that had not been
developed on the Argentine side for lack of investment. Urtubey
hoped to encourage active exploration in this area.

3. (SBU) The Ambassador congratulated Urtubey on Salta's favorable
investment climate. Urtubey said he hoped to promote Salta's rule
of law ("juridical reliability") and social stability as key factors
for attracting value-added export industries to his province.
Small- and medium-sized business would be key, and agro-industry
(including Salta's well-established vineyards) also had great
potential. Cattle-raising had doubled in the last four years, and
he thought it could quadruple in the next four. Urtubey noted that
real estate development was also taking off. He claimed Salta could
grow even faster, but he was concerned about the social costs of
growth that was too accelerated. He noted, for example, that he had
encountered much criticism for hosting Walmart's roll-out at the
governor's palace and for the tax and other incentives granted to
Walmart. For that reason, he was pleased that Walmart had expressed
support for purchasing local products for distribution in its
stores. The Ambassador offered the Embassy's assistance in
fostering greater trade and investment between Salta and the United
States.

Concerns about Neighboring Bolivia
----------------------------------

4. (SBU) Urtubey noted that Salta's border with Bolivia was the
major crossing point for Bolivians to Argentina, and increasingly
for narco-trafficking and trafficking in persons. Bolivia's
socio-economic indicators had long been cause for concern, and Salta
was bearing some of the burden. For example, up to 50% of medical
patients treated at Salta's state-run medical facilities were
Bolivian nationals. Recent political tensions in Bolivia had been
alarming. Urtubey claimed that business people from Bolivia
(primarily from Tarija and Santa Cruz) were moving their capital and
operations to Salta in case unrest in the country become too
disruptive, but that in the last 30-40 days he had noted a reduction
in tensions and fear on the Bolivian side of the border. He said
Salta's leaders were worried by the prospect of a crisis in Bolivia
that could lead 150,000 to 170,000 refugees to stream across the
border. Salta was not prepared to receive such a large number of
refugees.

Indigenous Devastated by Floods
-------------------------------

5. (SBU) The Ambassador asked about recent highly publicized floods
in Salta. Urtubey said recovery efforts had been slow and
difficult. He noted that residents of the area between the
Pilcomayo and Bermejo rivers were 70% indigenous, and that
communication with those speaking Wichi or Tobar was challenging.
Many of those displaced by the current floods were fishermen who had
been moved away from the river banks but ultimately insisted on
taking up residence again by the rivers where they fished.

Peronist Party Politics
-----------------------

6. (SBU) Urtubey was full of praise for former president Nestor
Kirchner and his ongoing campaign to lead and reorganize the
Peronist Party (PJ). Urtubey said the Peronists would give Kirchner
the PJ presidency by acclamation in recognition of how he had
revived the PJ's prospects by rescuing Argentina from the depths of
its 2001-02 crisis and setting it on an "irreversible" path of
growth and recovery. Kirchner was "indispensable" for the party's
future, and Urtubey would be pleased to accept (as rumored) a spot
on Kirchner's slate as one of several PJ vice-presidents. Urtubey
noted that he had worked closely with President Cristina Fernandez
de Kirchner (CFK) and with leading opposition figure Elisa Carrio
when all three of them were on the Constitutional Affairs Committee
in the Chamber of Deputies and knew them well. He claimed that
there was a generational change underfoot, and predicted greater
tolerance of diversity in the Argentine polity. On March 8 in
Mendoza, Urtubey told the Ambassador that the PJ's March 7
organizational meeting had proceeded without a hitch, and Kirchner
was headed to election as the PJ's new leader.

Travel to the U.S. and Interest in Business Development
--------------------------------------------- ----------

7. (SBU) Urtubey said he planned to visit Miami April 4-8 in
connection with the annual IDB Board of Governors meetings, April
8-10 to New York, and April 10-11 in Washington. The Ambassador
offered to work to assist the Governor with any appointments he
might want and the Commercial Counselor offered to set up a meeting
for the Governor with the DAS/WH at USDOC. The Governor expressed
his appreciation for the offer and said he would follow-up if
necessary. He also said that the Argentine Embassy in Washington
was in the process of arranging some meetings for him, and he
mentioned that his wife's family had ties to the U.S. Chamber. The
Governor will be accompanied by, Marcelo Elizondo, the head of the
Argentine Export Promotion Agency (Fundacion Exportar) on his visit
to Miami. Elizondo was recently reconfirmed as head of Exportar and
told the Embassy Commercial Counselor that he was assisting the
Governor with some appointments. The Governor told the Ambassador
that one of his main business interests would be to speak with
potential investors for the development of natural gas assets in the
province.

Baseball
--------

8. (SBU) The Ambassador recalled that Salta had an unusually active
interest in baseball, with a league that had its roots in the
enthusiasm of a few young boys in Salta 60 years ago who undertook
to learn and spread the sport after seeing a popular movie about
Babe Ruth. The Ambassador said he hoped to find ways to support
Salta's interest in baseball, given the thriving league in the
province.

Biographic Info
---------------

9. (SBU) Urtubey was regarded as a protege of provincial Peronist
stalwart Juan Carlos Romero in Salta, yet he also cultivated an
excellent relationship with Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner during
his years in Congress. This fact led him to distance himself from
the Peronist party in the province, and, after 12 years under
Romero's government, Salta witnessed a highly competitive election
in October 2007. Urtubey broke from the governing party and
presented himself as a candidate of the Kirchners' Victory Front
(FPV). He defeated Romero's vice-Governor Walter Wayar, a
traditional provincial politician, by only 5000 votes.

10. (SBU) Prior to becoming governor, Urtubey served in the Congress
as a National deputy from 1999 through 2007. Young, articulate and
charismatic, Urtubey takes advantage of mass-media to reach out to
voters. In his campaign, he focused on modern leadership and
eliminating the corruption of the Romero government. He comes from
a political family. His father, Rodolfo Urtubey, is a prominent
jurist known for his conservative ideas, and worked for former
Governor Romero. His uncle, Julio Mera Figueroa, served in the
cabinet of Carlos Menem and as an advisor to Governor Saadi in
Catamarca.

Comment
-------

11. (SBU) Governor Urtubey conveyed a genuine interest in developing
a stronger relationship with the U.S. Embassy and developing a broad
range of contacts in the United States. He requested this meeting
so that he could take advantage of his trip to Buenos Aires for the
Peronist Party's reorganization meetings and came to the Embassy
immediately before going to the start of those meetings. His wife
has relatives in the United States and he recognizes the potential
benefits of increased trade and investment with the United States.
FMC has a lithium mine in Salta and Wal-Mart is working with the
Salta business community to locate provincial products that can be
sold in its growing number of stores throughout Argentina, which
would be an economic benefit to this beautiful, though distant,
province in Argentina's arid northwest. He is reported to have good
contacts with the Kirchners and could eventually be a good
interlocutor for the USG with a bright future in national politics.
Urtubey invited the Ambassador to visit Salta. The Ambassador said
he had already done so but would love to do so again.

12. (SBU) Another interesting aspect of this conversation: When
referring to the prior governor, a former strong ally and now more
distant colleague since he joined the Kirchners' Victory Front (FPV)
movement, Urtubey was careful to say that the province and his
administration were benefiting from the high-quality leadership and
management of his predecessor. That is not a common comment in
Argentine politics.

WAYNE

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