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Cablegate: Argentine Senators See Opportunity and Risks in New Political Landscape

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #1215/01 2421630
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 291630Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1910
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 6992
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSYBRASILIA 6887
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1862
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 7201
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 1112
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 1230
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL

C O N F I D E N T I A L BUENOS AIRES 001215 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/29/2018 TAGS: PREL PGOV ECON EFIN EINV PINR AR


SUBJECT: ARGENTINE SENATORS SEE OPPORTUNITY AND RISKS IN NEW POLITICAL LANDSCAPE REF:

(A) BUENOS AIRES 1115 (B) BUENOS AIRES 1038 (C) BUENOS AIRES 0800 Classified By: Ambassador E. Anthony Wayne for reason 1.4 (b) & (d).

1. (U) Summary: Argentine Senate president Pampuro again privately criticized the government's handling of the agricultural sector crisis, while government and opposition senators in three separate meetings described a changed political landscape in Argentina to visiting SFRC Professional Staff Member Meacham August 5-7. Senators from both camps anticipated new opportunities for a more assertive legislative role following President Kirchner's defeat on
agricultural export taxes. The first couple's declining poll numbers and rising public concerns over issues like inflation had changed the dynamic for the opposition, creating also rifts within Peronism and emboldening moderate Peronists concerned about the assertion of excessive presidential power to speak up. The opposition Senators expressed concern, however, that President Kirchner and her hard-line advisors could resort to more radical and polarizing policies in an
attempt to recover power, with dangerous consequences for
Argentine democracy. End Summary. 2. (U) Visiting Senate Foreign Relations Committee Professional Staff Member Carl Meacham and State WHA/BSC Deputy Director Bruce Friedman participated in three separate meetings August 5-7 with Senate President Pro Tempore Jose Pampuro of the governing Peronist-led Victory Front coalition
(FPV), with FPV Senators Miguel Pichetto and Guillermo Jenefes, and with two opposition members of the Senate Friendship Committee, Maria Eugenia Estenssoro of the Civil Coalition (CC) and Ernesto Sanz of the Radical Civic Union (UCR). The Ambassador participated in the meeting with Senate President Pampuro. A Ruling Coalition Critique --------------------------- 3. (C) Senator Pampuro, the Senate's President Pro Tempore and former Defense Minister under President Nestor Kirchner, was again critical of the GoA's mismanagement of the agricultural export tax crisis (as he was in his discussion with Ambassador reported reftel B). Pampuro criticized President Cristina Kirchner's (CFK) administration for its inability to foresee the agricultural sector's common interests against the export taxes. Furthermore, he said, the administration did not account for many senators' need to respond favorably to predominantly agricultural provinces. Pampuro said that the most telling thing about the Senate
vote was that all former governors in the Senate (i.e. those with executive experience) voted against the government bill, including Vice President Cobos. He also stressed the need for the Kirchner administration to develop an economic team capable of handling public spending, inflation, subsidies, and debt obligations. 4. (C) In response to questions from Meacham regarding the strength of former President Eduardo Duhalde in Argentine politics, Pampuro brushed aside the notion of Duhalde reemerging as a leading political figure. However, he did concede that Duhalde retained the ability to build a national political force and cultivate prominent politicians for the presidency. 5. (C) In a separate meeting with StaffDel Meacham, Senators Pichetto and Jenefes voiced support for CFK, noting that despite the ag crisis she is still firmly in control of the
government. They both criticized Cobos, asserting that no U.S. president would have tolerated a dissenting vote from his vice president. Nevertheless, Pichetto added, many in Argentina supported the agricultural sector and broader participation in government. The time for concentrated executive power, though necessary under Nestor Kirchner's tenure, had passed. Jenefes echoed these views and voiced his expectation that CFK will open up the consultative process with Congress. 6. (C) Pichetto spoke pointedly about the weakness of Congress. One of Argentina's principal obstacles to balanced government, he said, is the lack of a "congressional culture." Argentina had experienced too many dissolutions of congress, which was still developing as an institution. Nor did it enjoy broad respect and support in society.
7. (C) Jenefes expressed support for stronger ties between the U.S. and Argentina, saying that he was not in favor of a "Venezuelan-Argentine axis." In his view, Brazil was Argentina's most important partner; Pichetto added that Argentina needed to work with Brazil toward greater integration into the world economy. Pichetto also argued that the U.S. advocated but did not always practice free
trade. The Senate Opposition: Cautiously Optimistic but Concerned
--------------------------------------------- ------------- 8. (C) Senators Estenssoro and Sanz were in agreement that the prolonged GoA conflict with the agricultural sector and Vice President Cobo's tie-breaking vote against the government agricultural export tax had broken what Estenssoro termed the Kirchners' "hegemony." Opposition legislators had more standing, and dissenters within the Peronist Party (PJ) were speaking up. Asked by Meacham about Cobos' future role, both Senators voiced uncertainty. Sanz noted that Cobos was showing additional small signs of independence, perhaps the beginning of a prolonged effort to separate himself from the Kirchner line. Sanz called Cobos' vote a "rational act from within an irrational government." Sanz contended that the Kirchner government was headed toward "Chavization" until derailed by the crisis with agriculture. 9. (C) Estenssoro believed that the agricultural crisis had brought to the surface other popular concerns about the
Kirchners' ruling style, in particular its nascent authoritarian impulses and the GoA's apparent lack of will or ability to address both growing inflation and its lack of credibility in reporting low-ball "official" inflation
statistics. 10. (SBU) Pressed by Meacham as to why the Argentine Congress or judicial system did not demand greater accountability of
INDEC (the national statistics agency reporting on inflation) or other executive agencies violating the law, Estenssoro and Sanz described a tradition of legislative passivity and politicized justice. With the decline of the President's popularity, Sanz opined, judges might begin to be more aggressive about executive branch malfeasance. On Congress's role, Estenssoro worried that, with Argentina's fragile
governance history, forceful questioning of the executive had often meant the collapse of a government, something that most opposition members did not want to see at the present time. Estenssoro, with Sanz appearing to agree, said that they wanted CFK to fulfill her full term in office. Still, despite the risks, both Senators appeared to believe that the crisis and its aftermath could herald a new chapter of more effective and assertive legislative initiative. 11. (SBU) Sanz pressed for a more assertive role both by the Embassy and by influential U.S. investors, asking that we deliver tougher messages to the Kirchner government. Opposition critics, he said, felt isolated in criticizing irrational or dangerous government policies when key foreign players were silent. WHA/BSC Deputy Friedman emphasized that the USG sought to sustain and build on positive aspects of
the U.S.-Argentina relationship and that all sides served to benefit from more positive USG ties with the Government. Meacham also cautioned Sanz that too strong a U.S. role could easily provoke a reaction and undermine those positions we pushed. 12. (SBU) Sanz and particularly Estenssoro expressed a strong interest in the current situation in the United States, both economic and political. Staff Member Meacham offered an overview of the U.S. electoral process, something the Senators clearly valued. Both expressed an interest in
seeing an aspect of the upcoming electoral cycle, even the party conventions (which they acknowledged might be coming up too quickly for their own participation). Estenssoro, who graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts and Columbia University's graduate school, plans to be in the United States later in the year. 13. (SBU) Comment: Once again, Pampuro was surprisingly frank with us in his private assessment of the Kirchners' performance, indicating the extent of misgivings among traditional Peronist party leaders about steps taken by the Kirchners. End Comment. 14. (SBU) Staffdel Meacham and WHA/BSC Deputy Director Bruce Friedman were unable to clear this cable before departure. WAYNE

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