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Cablegate: Argentina: High-Profile Governor Aspires to Less

VZCZCXYZ0005
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #1242/01 2491712
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 051712Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1963
INFO RUCNMER/MERCOSUR COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 001242

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL ECON AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINA: HIGH-PROFILE GOVERNOR ASPIRES TO LESS
AUTHORITARIANISM, MORE PARTICIPATION IN PROVINCIAL RULE

1. (SBU) Summary: Ambassador Wayne met with the governor of
Argentina's prosperous and populous Santa Fe province Hermes Binner
August 28 to discuss potential avenues of cooperation which included
tax reform, health, education and commerce. The two hours of
discussion were also an opportunity to hear the perspective of the
only Socialist governor in Argentina's history. Binner, one of the
country's highest-profile governors, indicated that his overall
objective is to promote transparency and solicit active civic
participation throughout Santa Fe province. He expressed concern
over Argentina's growing isolationism and the potential effect the
government's conflict with the farm sector has had on the country's
international image. The Governor also bemoaned the province's
inability to act decisively due to a lack of resources and support
from the central government. The Governor and his aides welcomed
the Embassy's support in cultivating new connections between the
United States and Santa Fe via sister city exchanges. Although
Governor Binner has been touted in the press as a potential
presidential candidate in 2011, he did not indicate such ambitions
during the visit, nor did he exhibit these ambitions in his style.
The low-key Governor seemed resigned to the status quo of a strong
central government and focused on his province's immediate
challenges. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Ambassador Wayne met with Santa Fe Governor Hermes Binner
on August 28 in the Ambassador's first visit to Santa Fe province's
capital city. Binner was accompanied by Minister of Government and
State Reform Antonio Bonfatti and Minister of Finance Angel Jose
Sciara. The two-hour meeting and lunch provided an opportunity to
discuss potential areas of bilateral cooperation and to hear the
perspective of the only Socialist Governor in Argentina's history.
The trip's control officer, Embassy press attache, and poloff
(notetaker) also attended.

-------------------------------------
Relations with the Central Government
-------------------------------------

3. (SBU) In opening the meeting, the Ambassador remarked that he was
interested in hearing Binner's perspective on the challenges he
faced and expectations he had after his first eight months in
office. Binner replied that he is focused on promoting transparent
and socially responsible governance to create a "less authoritarian
and more participatory government." He bemoaned the difficulties of
dealing with a central government that "takes a lot and
redistributes little," referring to the GoA's "co-participation"
system of sharing tax revenues with Argentina's 23 provinces and
federal capital. He stressed that the federal government should
share a larger part of the revenue pie throughout the country,
particularly in the wake of a year-long drought in Santa Fe.

4. (SBU) Binner expressed his apprehension about the current state
of relations between the federal government and the rural sector,
noting that the farm conflict has polarized the country and impeded
the government from resolving other key matters. He relayed his
concern about Argentina's growing isolation and the effect this
dispute has had on the country's international reputation. The
Governor stated that he wanted the Fernandez de Kirchner
administration to succeed, but did not know if it would be possible
when the administration monopolized key decisions and did not
consult outside their immediate circle. Minister of State Reform
Bonfatti added that relations with the federal government were in a
"permanent state of confrontation." In response to PolOff's
question about interaction with other provincial leaders, Binner and
his aides laughed and wryly responded that the Governors were kept
apart by design. He added that if all the Governors gathered, the
Kirchners would worry that they might be conspiring against them.

5. (SBU) In discussing Santa Fe's key priorities, Binner repeatedly
referred to the province's inability to act decisively due to the
lack of resources and support from the central government. He
complained that while provinces are responsible for primary
education, federal law mandated structural changes that created
thousands of new schools without providing resources to adequately
fund them. Binner added that public utilities like electricity were
difficult to regulate because they were centrally controlled and
subsidized. He lamented that Argentina does not have clear or
mutually-beneficial rules to govern provincial and central
government relations.

----------
Tax Reform
----------

6. (SBU) Binner's Finance Minister Sciara noted his strong interest
in improving the provincial tax system. Sciara mentioned that the
province was considering a new project to improve the rail system
between Santa Fe, Buenos Aires, and Rosario that ideally would be
financed by tax revenue. The Ambassador noted the San Francisco
region's positive results from using sales tax as an additional
mechanism to finance regional transportation projects that voters in
the state oppose paying for with property taxes. Sciara

acknowledged the value of this method, but commented that people in
the United States were very used to paying additional taxes. Binner
added that he was especially impressed with the concept of a social
security tax, but noted the challenges in mandating new taxes. The
Ambassador offered Embassy assistance in facilitating exchanges on
best practices at the state level, particularly with California,
which bore several similarities to Santa Fe. The mayor of Rosario,
Santa Fe's largest city, and a fellow Argentine Socialist, has
already begun to establish ties with California. Binner highlighted
the challenges in creating new taxes, and thought that further
industrialization of the Parana River's ports would further attract
investment and revenue from abroad.

-----------------
Government Reform
-----------------

7. (SBU) Turning to a discussion of government reform, the governor
explained that he is working to propose amendments to the province's
Constitution, which he deemed crucial since the national reforms of
1994. He said the provincial Constitution is very outdated. He
prioritized three main areas for progress: environmental issues,
economic production, and social programs. He wants to industrialize
agricultural processes in the province to gain a foothold in the
global market, and noted that he had to lessen disparities in the
province between the humid and dry areas. To date, no single media
outlet broadcasts throughout the province, evidence that the
communications infrastructure has yet to reach capacity to support
an informed electorate. Improving social inclusion and citizen
political participation were also high on the Governor's agenda, not
only soliciting input from various think tanks, universities, and
institutes, but also from "every rung of the social ladder."

-------
Justice
-------

8. (SBU) The Ambassador congratulated the Governor on his province's
decision to establish a special police unit to investigate
trafficking in persons crimes. The Governor acknowledged the
praise, but did not address the issue, referring instead to the need
for a federal witness protection program.

--------------------
Investment Promotion
--------------------

9. (SBU) Binner said investment promotion was important to the
development of Santa Fe, especially as his province not only has
fertile land but is also exceptionally rich in skilled labor. He
cited Santa Fe's dominant agricultural products in dairy and poultry
products, and proudly noted the establishment of dairy cooperative
Sancor and U.S. investor Clorox in the province. He said that they
wanted to be able to further utilize the labor pool by opening more
factories, and he welcomed the recent inauguration of a new
production line at the GM plant in Santa Fe. He said further
industrialization of the Parana River's ports could help attract
investment and revenue from abroad, but admitted that Santa Fe had
few ways to improve its competitiveness relative to other provinces.
He said he would welcome coordination with the Embassy Commercial
section to establish an Office for Trade and Investment. The
Ambassador pointed out that public-private partnerships are an
increasingly popular approach to trade and investment in the United
States.

------------------------------
The Importance of Partnerships
------------------------------

10. (SBU) The Ambassador mentioned the importance of promoting
educational and youth exchanges and of state to province exchanges
and partnerships. Binner and his aides welcomed the Embassy's
support in cultivating new connections between the United States and
Santa Fe. They were enthusiastic about working with California,
noting that San Francisco has the largest population of
Santafesinos. Binner described the city of Rosario's close
relationship with the Boston Port Authority, thanks to Harvard's
Lincoln Institute, which consists of regular contact between customs
officials through courses and internship opportunities in different
harbors in the U.S. This program has been instrumental to
formulating reform proposals in Rosario, and was initiated through
the Director of the Lincoln Institute, who is originally from Santa
Fe as well.

------
Health
------

11. (SBU) Binner, himself a medical doctor, noted that the World
Bank is funding 19 public health projects in Santa Fe. He
passionately spoke about the disparity between public and private

hospitals in the province, observing that most public hospitals were
more than a century old and lacked modern medical equipment. The
Ambassador suggested the benefits in decentralizing the appointments
system through an automated Internet service could help improve
service. Binner explained that the problem was not only scarce
resources, but also increasing corruption in a cumbersome
bureaucracy.

------------
Conservation
------------

11. (SBU) Binner stated that he wishes to promote environmental
conservation in Santa Fe and protect its precious natural resources.
He related the recent discovery of 26 neglected pumas found in a
raid on a farm that exposed a cruel business and abuse of a
vulnerable species. He also spoke of farm conservation, noting that
an increase in French tourists that went bird-hunting was
contaminating the soil and water, which in turn adversely affected
agricultural production. The Ambassador said he would be visiting an
environmental NGO shortly after lunch which is promoting a
sustainable fishing and commercial sales project in Santa Fe.

-----------
Bio Note
-----------

12. (SBU) Binner was elected to his post in September 2007 with
48.6% of the votes. He is not a member of the government coalition
but has enjoyed a respectful relationship with the Kirchners.
Nonetheless, he has been a vocal critic of the government's handling
of the conflict with farm groups over agriculture export taxes,
calling for President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to be less
confrontational and more open to dialogue.

13. (SBU) An active member of the Socialist party since his
university years, Binner, together with his mentor Guillermo Estvez
Boero, co-founded the Socialist Popular Party in 1972. During
Argentina's "Dirty War" (1976 to 1983), Binner supported human
rights initiatives and labor unions in Santa Fe, and became director
of public hospitals when democracy was reestablished in 1983. From
1989 to 1993, Binner served as secretary of public health during
Socialist Hector Cavallero's term as mayor of Rosario and he was a
member of Rosario's City Council from 1993 to 1995. Binner served
for two consecutive periods as mayor of Rosario, Santa Fe's largest
city, from 1995 to 2003. In 2003, he was a candidate for Santa Fe
governor, but lost the election to Peronist Jorge Obeid. Binner
served as a national congressman from 2005 to 2007.

14. (SBU) Binner was born in the city of Rafaela in Santa Fe on
June 5, 1943 to a family of Swiss origin. He received a degree in
medicine in 1970 from the National University of Rosario and later
obtained postgraduate degrees in anesthesiology and labor medicine.
He has four children from his first marriage (two sons, who are both
doctors and two daughters-one a doctor and the other an engineer)
and a nine-year-old son with his current wife. He enjoys classical
music, watching soccer, and eating asado (Argentine barbecue).
Binner's travel to the U.S. includes New York City and Washington
D.C. in 1996 and Chicago in 1999.

-------
Comment
-------

15. (SBU) Binner was a warm and considerate host. Although he has
been touted in the press as a potential presidential candidate in
2011, he did not indicate during the visit that he had such
ambitions. The Governor came across as low-key, reserved, and
reflective. He appeared focused on his province's immediate
challenges, but also resigned to the status quo of a strong central
government. Binner was vague about his Socialist Democrat identity,
allowing his close aides Sciari and Bonfatti to narrate the history
of Socialist thought in Santa Fe. He spoke at the macro level,
failing to provide specifics on a single project, while repeatedly
stating his overall objective to promote transparency and solicit
active civic participation. He did not display the verve or ambition
one would expect from a potential presidential candidate. Rather, he
came across as a concerned, competent provincial leader.

WAYNE

[hng1]for what?

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