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Cablegate: Argentina: Legislators Support Closer

VZCZCXYZ0006
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #1465/01 2982050
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (540)
P 242050Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2318
INFO RUCNMER/MERCOSUR COLLECTIVE
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 001465

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV ECON AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINA: LEGISLATORS SUPPORT CLOSER
CONGRESSIONAL TIES

REF: AMBASSADOR E. ANTHONY WAYNE FOR REASONS 1.4 (B)
AND (D)

1. (SBU) Summary: Five members of the Argentine Lower House
in three meetings with the Ambassador shared their
impressions of recent political developments in Argentina and
expressed support for greater collaboration with the U.S.
Congress. Opposition members of the Argentine Lower House
"U.S. Friendship" Caucus described Cabinet Chief Massa's
tightly scripted first address to Congress on October 1 as a
missed opportunity to promote a more substantive dialogue and
so improve the government's image. They also expressed
disappointment over the October 16 Chamber of Deputies' vote
on the national budget, noting that the Cristina Fernandez de
Kirchner (CFK) administration gave the opposition little
opportunity to modify objectionable provisions. Caucus
chairman and FpV ruling party member Baladron, in contrast,
was pleased with the high turnout of deputies for the vote
which easily passed the CFK administration's budget. He said
greater economic anxiety among the Argentine public was
eroding popular support for farmers. He acknowledged that
the government needs the farmers' support, but described the
sector as closed to dialogue. The Ambassador also met
September 10 with national deputy Paula Bertol (PRO), who
outlined her priorities as chairwoman of the Special
committee on Parliamentary Modernization, stressing her
commitment to transparency and incorporating the best
practices of other parliaments. The "U.S. Friendship" Caucus
members expressed interest in enhancing the bilateral
dialogue on renewable energy, democratic governance issues,
and national budget development and implementation provide a
useful agenda for our continued outreach to this
under-performing Argentine branch. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Ambassador Wayne met with members of the Lower House
Caucus for Friendship with the United States, including
national deputies Federico Pinedo (PRO), Patricia Bullrich
(Civic Coalition), and Luis Alberto Galvalisi (PRO) on
October 15 and committee president Manuel Baladron (FpV) on
October 16. The Ambassador met with national deputy Paula
Bertol (PRO) on September 10. Polcouns and poloff
(notetaker) attended as well.

------------------------
The 2009 National Budget
------------------------

3. (SBU) Deputies Federico Pinedo, Patricia Bullrich and Luis
Alberto Galvalisi shared their impressions of the October 16
vote on the national budget. Deputy Pinedo described the
vote as "superfluous" because the executive branch determines
its budget and the legislature has limited authority to
modify it or oversee spending. He claimed that in the
previous year, the presidency had issued 80 executive orders
to transfer between accounts over 30% of the budget. The
Kirchners, he said, had also routinely sent forth budgets
that intentionally under-estimated revenues, since actual
revenues in excess of budget estimates could be spent at the
discretion of the executive without minimal Congress
oversight. (Note: After more than 12 hours of debate, the
budget was approved 149 in favor to 87 against. 236 out of
256 deputies cast their vote following a ten-hour general
debate. The budget went to the Senate for debate on October
21 and the full Senate is expected to vote on the bill
on/about November 12.)

------------------------------------------
Cabinet Chief's First Congressional Report
------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Regarding Cabinet Chief Sergio Massa's first tightly
scripted report before Congress on October 1, Deputy Pinedo
said his address "did not change anything" and "was not
useful." According to Deputy Galvalisi, Massa missed an
opportunity to improve the administration's image by being
forthcoming with congress and appears to have lost sight of
his cabinet chief coordination responsibilities. He noted
that although Massa discussed narcotrafficking and inflation,
he did not address other central issues, such as the
country's growing debt and its financing needs. Bullrich
added that, because deputies were allowed only three minutes
per question, they had to prepare concise questions and were
hoping for concrete responses from Massa. The Ambassador
remarked that in the U.S. system, officials prepare
extensively prior to testifying before congress yet in
Argentina only the cabinet chief is summoned. Bullrich
relayed that in the past, ministers appeared more regularly
before congress, recalling her specific experience as a
minister testifying on an Aerolineas Argentina issue.


Bullrich noted that she had had ten advisers to assist her in
providing detailed responses.

------------------------------
Working with the U.S. Congress
------------------------------

5. (SBU) The Ambassador said he hoped to work with the
Committee to identify potential areas for collaboration with
the new U.S. administration, underscoring that U.S.
Congressional interest in Latin America would continue. As
examples of bipartisan issues that would remain of interest,
Polcouns cited the agreements on energy, nanotechnology,
educational exchanges, and the MOU on national parks signed
during A/S Shannon's bilateral consultation visit to
Argentina in July. Polcouns relayed that a new round of
consultations is scheduled for November 12 in Washington and
noted interest in an agreement on cancer research. The
Ambassador said dialogue on agricultural issues is another
possibility and that the Department welcomes their ideas.
Deputy Pinedo suggested cooperation on renewable energy,
pointing out the ongoing close U.S. cooperation with Brazil
in this area. The Ambassador relayed that the Embassy has
worked to raise U.S. and Argentine interest in collaborating
in this key area and convened a bilateral USG/GOA alternative
energy working group in September. Deputy Patricia Bullrich
raised the possibility of a seminar on democratic governance,
which would compare and contrast the experiences and
institutions of Argentina and the United States. Pinedo
added that learning more about the role of the Congressional
Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget in
analyzing the national budget and other legislative
initiatives with budgetary implications would be very useful.

--------------------------------------------- ----
Caucus Chairman on the Budget and Revenue-Sharing
--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (SBU) In a separate meeting, caucus chairman and FpV
ruling party member Baladron, who met with the Ambassador
following the Chamber of Deputies' approval of the budget,
said he was pleased with the high turnout of deputies for the
vote. He thought congressional extension of "superpowers"
delegating to the executive branch greater discretionary
authority on the budget was even more justifiable this year
than in previous years due to rapidly deteriorating external
factors. He claimed the budget was truly "federal," and it
took into account the needs of smaller provinces.

7. (SBU) The Ambassador noted the widely-reported complaints
of some provincial governments about their share of federal
revenues or delays in collecting from the GOA the funds due
to their provinces. Baladron said that Nestor Kirchner and
Carlos Menem, as former governors of lesser provinces, well
understood the plight of small provinces and had undertaken
during their administrations to meet their needs. Baladron
recalled his own experience as vice- governor of sparsely
populated La Pampa and mayor of Santa Rosa. He was
unstinting in his praise of the Rodriguez-Saa brothers as
governors of neighboring San Luis province, crediting their
hands-on management for the remarkable progress made over the
last 25 years in what had previously been a backward
province. Baladron noted that the quality of provincial
government made a substantial difference in the execution of
federal programs. He claimed that housing built under the
National Housing Fund (FONAVI) in then-Governor Kirchner's
Santa Cruz, Governor Rodriguez-Saa's San Luis, or Governor
Marin's La Pampa was far superior to shoddy FONAVI-funded
housing built elsewhere.

--------------------
On the Farm Conflict
--------------------

8. (SBU) Baladron said he perceives greater uncertainty and
tension among the Argentine public due to worries about
global economic conditions, and he thought this was why the
public had not rallied behind farmers when they attempted
October 3-8 to resume their strike actions, and the protest
failed. He relayed that he told one of his farm sector
friends from La Pampa province that it was not the right
moment for a strike and that the government needed the
farmers' support. Baladron explained that being from La
Pampa, he understands the farm sector, which he describes as
"individualistic" and therefore disinclined to organize or
negotiate. The Ambassador said he was struck by polls
indicating the agricultural sector was the most popular and
respected in Argentina. He observed that there is an
impression that the GOA unilaterally increased the

agricultural export taxes without seeking any consultations
beforehand. Baladron remarked that although he thinks the
GOA has handled the farm conflict well, it has learned some
lessons in the process, such as the need to adopt a less
confrontational approach. "All governments have their ups
and downs, but you can't pick a fight with everyone at once
and expect to win," he said. He called the Argentine public
"demanding" and requiring the State's constant attention, and
added that the government cannot be "everything for
everyone." He observed that the federal government needed to
delegate greater authority and responsibility to the
provinces and cities.

------------------------------
Identifying a Bilateral Agenda
------------------------------

9. (SBU) Deputy Baladron said he planned to convene a caucus
meeting in the near future to identify such an agenda. He
opined that "friendship caucuses" have gained a reputation
for tourism rather than work purposes. Polcouns noted our
strong support for congressional visits as an opportunity to
deepen officials' understanding of Argentina. The Ambassador
noted that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Peterson is
highly interested in Argentina and has visited twice during
the Ambassador's tenure. The Ambassador recalled that during
Peterson's recent trip in September, his delegation visited
Rosario in Santa Fe province and Rio Cuarto in Cordoba
province.

--------------------
Modernizing Congress
--------------------

10. (SBU) The Ambassador met September 10 with national
deputy Paula Bertol (PRO) and her advisor Alejandra Svetaz.
She outlined her priorities as chairwoman of the Special
committee on Parliamentary Modernization, stressing her
commitment to transparency and incorporating the best
practices of other parliaments. The Ambassador noted Embassy
financial support for an award by the Legislative Directory
Foundation to recognize the best proposal submitted by a
senator or deputy to improve the functioning of the national
congress. The prize was to include a one-week trip to
Washington to visit public institutions, particularly the
U.S. Congress. Bertol expressed great interest and
appreciation for the award's potential in advancing the cause
of modernizing the congress, and in a subsequent meeting she
told polcouns she had submitted a proposal to the foundation.


11. (SBU) Bertol asked the Ambassador about the implications
for U.S.-Argentine relations of the Miami trial of Venezuelan
citizen Franklin Duran on charges of acting in the U.S. as an
unregistered agent of the BRV. (A central figure in the case
was Alejandro Antonini-Wilson, whose extradition the GOA had
requested in connection with the attempted smuggling into
Argentina in August 2007 of $800,000 from Venezuela.) The
Ambassador noted the independence of U.S. prosecutors and the
judicial system, that the case concerned the alleged
violation of U.S. law by Duran and others, that GOA officials
were not a target of the investigation, and that the case
should not be allowed to harm bilateral relations, which were
positive.

12. (SBU) Bertol said she hoped to visit the U.S. to observe
the November elections. She said she had received an
invitation from the Center for Strategic International
Studies (CSIS) and the University Foundation of the River
Plate (FURP) to join a study group visiting Washington
November 3-6. She asked if the Embassy could convey to the
congressional leadership its support for the CSIS-FURP
program, and the Ambassador undertook to write the president
of each chamber.

13. (SBU) Comment: As noted in these meetings with various
members of the "U.S. Friendship Caucus" in the Chamber, the
caucus is a potential ally for strengthening bilateral
relations. We will seek to follow up on their interest in
renewable energy, democratic governance, and budget processes.

WAYNE

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