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Cablegate: Argentina: Former President Nestor Kirchner Criticizes a Cast of Thousands

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081201 social outreach cable draft ",183633,12/18/2008 9:43,08BUENOSAIRES1706,"Embassy BuenosAires ",UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY,,"VZCZCXYZ0001
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SUBJECT: Argentina: Former President Nestor Kirchner Criticizes a Cast of Thousands

1. (SBU) Summary. Former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner attacked Vice President Julio Cobos, the opposition, the United States, and the press in remarks to party faithful December 16. Kirchner accused Cobos of intentionally trying to hinder Cristina
Fernandez de Kirchner's administration and claimed that opposition
leader Elisa Carrio has been co-opted by business elites and the
rural oligarchy. He lashed out against the United States, claiming
that it has ""many more problems"" with narcotrafficking and money
laundering than Argentina and accusing the U.S. of having built
""entire cities with laundered money."" Kirchner also criticized a
recent update of the State Department's Background Notes on
Argentina, which the country's largest circulation daily Clarin had
mischaracterized on December 16 as evidence of latent tensions in
the bilateral relationship. However, Kirchner applauded the
Ambassador's efforts to set the record straight, indicating that his
attack on the United States would have been worse otherwise. He
used this, however, to pivot into criticism of the press. End
Summary. --------------------------------- Kirchner takes aim at VP Cobos...
--------------------------------- 2. (SBU) At a December 16 political event aimed at relaunching the Kirchners' ""transversal alliance"" which has suffered divisions in the aftermath of the GOA's protracted conflict with the rural sector, former president and current head of the Peronist party Nestor Kirchner used a speech to party faithful to attack Vice
President Julio Cobos, the opposition, the press, and the United
States. Kirchner began by slamming Vice President Julio Cobos and
accusing Cobos of intentionally trying to destabilize Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's (CFK's) administration. After naming a
number of former vice-presidents who had been fully supportive of
their Presidents, and noting those who chose to resign over
political differences, Kirchner stressed that he was not asking
Cobos to resign, but to ""reconsider"" his attitude and ""help the
President rebuild"" Argentina. (Note: The day before, Kirchner had
publicly accused Cobos of continuing to hinder CFK's agenda after
Cobos tie-breaking vote against the administration's efforts to push
a controversial agriculture export taxes bill through the Congress
in July. In response, Cobos maintained that his vote had prevented
a social crisis and saved CFK from an early exit.) --------------------
...the Opposition... -------------------- 3. (SBU) Next under fire was Elisa Carrio, opposition leader of the center-left Civic Coalition and the runner-up in the 2007 presidential elections. Kirchner mocked Carrio for talking about morality when she cannot justify how she makes a living. He joked that he had instructed current Labor Minister Carlos Tomada ""to intensify his efforts to eliminate informal labor."" Kirchner
described Carrio as a political leader who flirted with many
factions and is now leaning to the right. Alluding to the rural and business sectors, he asserted that ""some people protect her since
they don't dare compete in elections, and they need employees like
her to advance their interests.""-------------------the United States... 4. (SBU) Kirchner also lashed out against the United States, claiming that it has ""many more problems"" with narcotrafficking and money laundering than Argentina and accusing it of having built ""entire cities with laundered money."" He even offered technical assistance to Washington, saying ""we are available to help [the United States] to eliminate this scourge whenever they want."" [Note: The Ambassador had previously praised Argentine cooperation in the area of money laundering to date. He had stressed that the USG hoped that Argentina would continue to be a strong partner in this area as the Congress debates a new tax moratorium and capital repatriation bill (""ley de blanqueo"") proposed by the executive that promised only limited oversight/investigation of the sources of returned flight capital.]
5. (SBU) Center-right daily La Nacion interpreted Kirchner's remarks
as official dissatisfaction with a recent letter from the 34-nation
member Financial Action Task Force to Minister of Economy Carlos
Fernandez. The letter, which had been leaked to the press,
expressed concern that the draft bill, which is designed to attract
Argentine flight capital back to Argentina, had the ""potential risk""
of laundering money made through narcotrafficking, terrorism, or
organized crime. According to the press, the FATF letter stated that, ""the draft bill is problematic if it does not include a provision to verify the origin of money and other assets that would be injected into the financial system."" CFK's reaction to the letter has been silence, but la Nacion reports from her traveling party that she was very upset by it, with an official close to CFK reportedly telling La Nacion that the GOA continues to push the bill through the congress offering no further comment. ---------------- and the Press ---------------- 6. (SBU) Kirchner also made reference to a recent update of the State Department's Background Notes on Argentina. Although the report underscored the positive nature of the U.S.-Argentine relationship and noted Argentina's continued economic growth, largest circulation daily, Clarin, characterized the report as a ""hard warning"" to the GOA and added an editorial column asserting that the Background Notes exposed latent tensions in the relationship. Kirchner acknowledged that he had intended to slam the report, but said that ""I was very angry with the State Department. I was going to dedicate an entire paragraph [of my speech to this issue]. But Ambassador, I wanted to be loyal. You have rapid reflexes, you beat me to the punch, and as you said, this was all a press fabrication."" According to center-left daily Critica, Kirchner used the report as another example of media bias against the government, laughing while saying, ""even the U.S.
Ambassador says the press invents [news]."" Kirchner then called on
journalists to ""stop looking at things the way they want them to be""
and indicating that the press itself can protect press freedom by
demonstrating its independence from the interests of media owners.
He then reiterated the government's intentions to push a new
Broadcasting Law. --------------------------------------------- ----------
Clarin Story Sets up Embassy for Conflict with Government
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 7. (SBU) The Argentine press has had a tendency to interpret the Ambassador's public statements to highlight its own concerns with Argentina's social, economic, and political challenges, sometimes creating bilateral tension in the process. Kirchner's speech was a clear reaction to Clarin's December 16 morning edition, for example, which carried a bold red headline below the major story: ""Strong U.S. Demands on Prices, Bondholders, and Businesses."" Such Clarin headlines, often unjustified, as in this case, elicit from the Kirchners a public, angry response that slams the United States. 8. (SBU) To avoid this, the Embassy moved quickly to issue a denial of the Clarin story. The DCM worked the phones, contacting senior Casa Rosada and MFA officials and urging them to give the Mission time to react to the story. He also got copies of the anodyne report to them so that they could see for themselves that Clarin had misreported the story. The Ambassador revised his prepared speech for the annual journalists' holiday reception (which, conveniently, happened to be scheduled on the same day the Clarin story ran) to include language that asserted that ""certain media"" had ""invented tensions"" out of the Background Notes, and presented examples of how this was a positive report on the Argentine economy. Ambassador Wayne underlined that the bilateral relationship is stable and balanced, in spite of disagreements over specific issues that can arise from time to time. He also delivered a very strong message on the importance of press freedom in a democracy. The Embassy's Public Affairs Section distributed copies of the Background Notes to the press attending the Ambassador's reception, as well as fact sheets describing the report's positive elements and neutral nature. 9. (SBU) The reception offered an ideal venue for a concerted counter-attack on the story, with all media and over 100 journalists present at midday, including Clarin. The GOA-connected director of Telam, the state-owned national wire service, who was in attendance, immediately ordered via cell phone to send a dispatch for the wires, with the Ambassador's main message accurately depicted in its headline: ""Ambassador Wayne says they're inventing tensions."" Allpress followed suit throughout the afternoon. 10. (SBU) PAS also phoned and hand-delivered the speech, fact sheet and Background Notes, to press officers of the Casa Rosada and MFA, many of whom were accompanying CFK in Brazil. PAS sent the same package to the chief editor of Clarin, who in a follow-up phone call }asked sheepishly if the paper's relationship with the Embassy was still intact. The paper covered the Ambassador's statement with afull page the morning of December 17, but the chief editor issued an editorial defending the previous day's article, suggesting that the difference was largely semantic: what the Embassy calls ""challenges,"" the paper calls ""tensions."" --------------------------------------------- ---------- Comment: Taking the High Road to Protect Long-Term Interests --------------------------------------------- ----------11. (SBU) There was no shortage of political enemies, real or imagined, in Nestor Kirchner's remarks. Throughout his tenure as president and into his wife's administration, he has criticized the media for derailing the Kirchner agenda, and has now added Vice President Cobos, Elisa Carrio, and the opposition to his black list. In the past, Kirchner's criticism of the United States has been more indirect, but in recent months both he and CFK have been more pointed in their criticism. The Argentine press has also been more creative in its use of the Ambassador's statements to depict more conflict than actually exists, for example on the issue of money laundering and this week's handling of the Background Notes. Mindful of preserving long-term U.S. interests in this large country, we have sought to rise above their provocations,
emphasizing the positive aspects of the bilateral relationship.
The good news is that, according to many well-informed observers, it
will be difficult for the Kirchners to continue to use the United
States as its punching bag once President-elect Obama takes office.
In the meantime, post will work hard to maintain a policy of
advancing press freedom along with journalistic integrity, while
maintaining a good working relationship with the GOA. WAYNE

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