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Cablegate: Argentina: Ambassador's November 23-24 Trip to Rodriguez

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #1642/01 3371948
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 021948Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 2601

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 001642

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINA: AMBASSADOR'S NOVEMBER 23-24 TRIP TO RODRIGUEZ
SAA'S REDOUBT

Ref: Buenos Aires 01618

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Summary
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1. (SBU) Ambassador Wayne, visiting the central Argentine province
of San Luis for the first time November 23-24, saw evidence of a
provincial government that prides itself on its investment in
infrastructure, technology, education, and good governance.
Governor Rodriguez Saa, a flamboyant Peronist dissident who took
fourth place in the 2007 presidential election, demonstrated his
popularity at a sports-car race and offered his hospitality at his
private home, which he designed and built from recycled materials.
We heard that the Governor's "free Wi-Fi" program for all
municipalities was having a positive impact. The visit attracted
several consecutive days of strong press coverage. The Ambassador's
meeting with local teenagers who will travel to NASA installations
emphasized the importance of people-to-people relations, especially
among youth, for strong bilateral relations, a message the
Ambassador also underscored during a press conference. Rodriguez
Saa (reftel) plans to travel to Nashville, Tennessee the week of
December 1 to meet with former Vice President Gore to seek the Gore
Foundation's assistance on some of the province's environmental
programs. End Summary.


----------------------------
Getting to know the Governor
----------------------------

2. (SBU) Governor Alberto Rodriguez Saa put out the welcome mat for
the Ambassador, inviting him to dinner at his private home on
November 23. The Rodriguez Saa family has governed the province
since the return of democracy in 1983. (Note: The Governor's
brother, Adolfo, served five consecutive terms as Governor from 1983
to 2001, was Argentina's interim president for one week in 2001, and
is now a national senator.) The governor finished fourth of about a
dozen candidates in the 2007 presidential elections, even though his
was a late entry in that race. In a July 2008 poll published in the
financial daily El Cronista, he ranked number five out of 23
provincial governors in terms of popularity among his constituents,
receiving a 69 percent approval rating.

3. (SBU) The Governor and provincial officials expressed pride in
their government's accomplishments in building roads (the province
is said to have 34 percent of the paved highways in Argentina),
providing jobs rather than handouts, and extending free Wi-Fi to all
cities, towns, and villages (the words "free Wi-Fi" were painted in
bold letters across the car race perimeter wall and on signs in
every small municipality we passed through) and over 3,000 laptops
for school children -- accomplishments all achieved without accruing
significant debt, they emphasized. Minister of Tourism, Culture,
and Sports Jose Maria Emer explained the province has achieved these
accomplishments without debt in part by maintaining a tight budget
and eliminating state expenditures such as government vehicles and
cell phones. Separately, Ingrid Blum, the mayor of La Carolina,
which is best known for its 200-year-old gold mine, underscored how
free Wi-Fi has changed the lives of her small town's citizens.
Traditionally, the whole community had been very isolated from even
provincial cities -- now local kids connect with this globe via the
internet and thus connect their parents with the rest of the world.
San Luis Mayor Alicia Lemme explained that they installed Wi-Fi
first in the poorest areas of the provinces. The province also
places a heavy emphasis on social programs and investment in youth.
Vice-Governor Jorge Pellegrini, a psychologist by training,
explained that they are working on a program to enable individuals
with psychological problems to live in the community rather than
remain isolated in medical establishments. The Governor talked about
hs efforts to organize youth chess contests across the province and
to plant trees bordering all highways (14,000 in the next two
months). One tourism ministry employee remarked, "it is a province
that always has a new project in the works."

4. (SBU) During dinner with the Governor and provincial officials at
the Governor's fabled house that he designed, built, and decorated
using recycled materials, the Governor touted the importance of
using technology to protect the environment and improve lives. He
said the new provincial University of La Punta has a computer
program underway that will demonstrate to children how many trees
they should plant to offset their energy use at home. The program
is intended to complement the government's efforts to plant trees
throughout the province.

5. (SBU) The Governor described President Elect Barack Obama's
victory as "inspiring," noting it had completed part of Martin
Luther King's dream. He stressed the importance of freedom in a
democracy, referring to the Mayflower's journey in 1620 to establish
freedom of religion and expression and opined that San Luis only
just established a freedom of religion and expression law in 2002
(Freedom of religion and expression is guaranteed in article 14 of
the national Constitution). He also bemoaned that no foreign

businesses participated in a recent bid for petroleum exploitation
in San Luis in part because of the negative investment climate
created by Kirchner policies. The Governor said that Argentina's
anti-Americanism can be explained in part because the United States
assumed superpower status in the 1930s, whereas Argentina's
trajectory was the inverse.

--------------------------------------------- -------
The Governor's Dream Child: University of La Punta
--------------------------------------------- -------

6. (SBU) The Ambassador on November 24 visited the public University
of La Punta, the pride and joy of its founder, the Governor. The
previous day, San Luis Mayor Alicia Lemme, who was briefly San Luis
Governor in 2001, had relayed to the Ambassador that the province
established the city of La Punta, home to the university and "the
first 21st century city," in the middle of Argentina's 2001 economic
crisis. With a modern architectural style, the four-year old
university reflects the Governor's key interests, boasting a space
observatory and offering its 1,000 member-student body a two-year
program to prepare for careers in software development, cinema,
tourism, and as park rangers.

7. (SBU) The Ambassador met with the University's Dean, Alicia
Banuelos, who has a PhD in physics from the University of Buenos
Aires and also serves as the province's Minister of Progress.
Banuelos updated the Ambassador on the university's close
collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) and with NASA. Banuelos relayed that in July
2007 the University signed an agreement with NOAA to collect rain
data, which NOAA then incorporates in its global rain map. The map
contrasts the data collected on the ground around the world with the
information provided by satellites. She also noted that the
University has a telescope and an observatory in cooperation with
NASA and the European Space Agency. The Dean said the University is
also working on the possibility of reaching an agreement with
community colleges in the U.S. that focus on techniques devoted to
the teaching of math and science at the primary and high-school
levels. She said that she attended a meeting with a delegation of
Community Colleges for International Cooperation, which visited
Buenos Aires in October 2008, to explore the possibility of a
cooperation agreement, and will travel to Florida for a meeting of
this group with the goal of signing exchange agreements with several
U.S. junior colleges.

8. (SBU) The Ambassador and the Dean also met with eleven high
school students, this year's winners of a trip to NASA in a contest
organized by the University and sponsored by the San Luis government
and private businesses, which is designed to spark students'
interest in science and math. During a joint press conference with
the Dean, the Ambassador praised the province's focus on investing
in youth, highlighted the positive cooperation between NASA, NOAA
and the University, and advocated creating more connections between
Argentine and U.S institutions.

-------------------------------------
Engaging with the Argentine Air Force
-------------------------------------

9. (SBU) The Ambassador visited the 5th Brigade Air Base in Villa
Reynolds in the afternoon where he was warmly received by Base Wing
Commander Mario Fernando Roca. Roca briefed the Ambassador on the
capabilities of his flight wing and gave him a tour of the base
which included observing flight planning, simulator training,
classroom training, as well as actual sorties (flights). During
lunch, the Ambassador and Roca discussed the excellent state of
U.S.-Argentine military relations and the Ambassador noted the
importance of the ongoing military training and education between
the U.S. and Argentina. Roca commended the assistance of Navy
Jackonsville in overhauling four A-4 engines and said the Argentine
Air Force will be sending additional engines for repair in 2009.
The Ambassador also participated in a ceremony to commemorate the
unit's heavy loss of life during Argentina's 1982 war with the
United Kingdom over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands.

-------------------------------------
A Visit to a Procter and Gamble Plant
-------------------------------------

10. (SBU) Later the same day, the Ambassador toured Procter and
Gamble's (P & G) diaper manufacturing plant in Villa Mercedes. P &
G executives including Director of Public & Legal Affairs Alejandro
Lorusso, Government Relations manager Adrian Massaro, and Operations
Manager Sabetay Almazlinos briefed the Ambassador on the company's
operations and its current challenges. They said the company, which
opened its first plant in Argentina in 1991 and today has three
plants and one distribution center, is working to expand further.
The executives noted, however, that the Kirchner administration's

efforts to control prices and the resulting market distortions,
compounded by the global economic crisis, have made growth a
challenge. They emphasized that they respect laws and regulations,
but suffer from a lack of transparency and communication from the
national government.

11. (SBU) The executives also updated the Ambassador on their
Corporate Social Responsibility efforts, which include providing
support to local schools, hospitals, voluntary fire brigades, and
police units. They said that provincial government officials had
not supported the company's CSR efforts, responding to invitations
by asserting that government was responsible for assisting
communities rather than foreign businesses. P & G executives' hope
is that next year's launch of a "United Way" project, a joint CSR
effort with several U.S.-based companies to include Walmart,
Pepsico, Price Water House, Dupont, Dow, and Romer House, will
lessen local officials' discomfort with CSR efforts by making the
activities more open and less centered on one company, enabling them
to work more closely with the local government and NGOs. Operations
Manager Almazlinos gave the Ambassador a tour of the plant, which
concluded with a briefing by a P & G employee on his participation
in the voluntary fire brigade "El Fortin," an association founded in
1961 which P & G assists through funding and emergency training. The
plant also has incorporated a very innovative team approach to
running the complicated manufacturing line, which has workers
fulfilling multiple functions and making maintenance decisions
without consulting supervisors.

----------------------------
Public Diplomacy in San Luis
----------------------------

12. (SBU) The car race, a first ever international GT race on a
brand new San Luis course, proved an excellent photo opportunity for
the Ambassador as he kicked off his visit to the province. Governor
Rodriguez Saa, Ambassador Wayne, and the race organizer Stephane
Ratel were photographed as they walked through the car pits (local
citizens called out greetings to the Governor including "Alberto for
President.") The Ambassador issued two press releases during the
trip, detailing his activities and impressions.

13. (SBU) The visit was covered comprehensively in the provincial
press. The main local newspaper, El Diario de la Republica, carried
stories on three consecutive days on the Ambassador's visit,
focusing on the Ambassador's interest in getting to know the
province and expanding cooperation in the areas of science and
technology. One of the stories featured on the newspaper's front
page highlighted the Ambassador's visit to the University of La
Punta and his message of cooperation between Argentine and U.S.
educational and research institutions. At the University, the
Ambassador held a joint press conference with University Director
Banuelos, which was covered by ten journalists representing local
radio and TV stations. The Ambassador was also interviewed by the
University's TV station for a special on the high-school students
traveling to NASA. The Ambassador's meeting with the teenagers
served as the ideal forum to stress the importance of
people-to-people relations, especially among youth, for strong
bilateral relations, a message the Ambassador also underscored
during the press conference.

14. (SBU) Comment: The Governor, provincial officials, military
leaders, and local residents warmly welcomed the Ambassador and his
delegation. The Governor and his staff praised their province's
accomplishments, underscoring the Governor's oft-repeated slogan
that San Luis demonstrates that "another country is possible."
While clearly dominating local politics, the Governor appeared
genuine in his desire to improve the daily lives of San Luis
citizens, and the province reflects his artistic bent and innovative
approach to politics.

WAYNE

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