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Cablegate: Codel Meeks: Praise for "Chilean Way;" Excellent

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSG #1117/01 3531946
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 181946Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4155
INFO RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 2216
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0588
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 1194
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ DEC LIMA 5862

UNCLAS SANTIAGO 001117

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OVIP PGOV PREF CI
SUBJECT: CODEL MEEKS: PRAISE FOR "CHILEAN WAY;" EXCELLENT
BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP WILL CARRYOVER TO NEW U.S.
ADMINISTRATION

REF: SANTIAGO 1105

------
Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Visiting CODEL Meeks emphasized to Acting President
Perez Yoma that Chile's success in reducing poverty,
establishing democratic institutions, and committing to open
trade policies was much appreciated in the U.S., and that its
policy choices are worthy of emulation. Chairman Meeks was
confident the "excellent" U.S.- Chile relationship would be
continued by the incoming U.S. adminstration. Perez Yoma
noted Chilean satisfaction with the state of relations -
"normal and low-profile" - with occasional disputes (such as
on trade) resolved amicably. Perez Yoma worried about the
global financial crisis which, he said, would hit Chile
"hard" early in 2009. Perez Yoma also informally agreed to a
request to station some DEA personnel expelled from Bolivia
in Chile. End summary.

2. (U) Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY) led a CODEL to
Chile December 15-17, joined by Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) and
Paul Ryan (R-WI). The three met December 16 with Interior
Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma (acting also as President during
the absence of Michelle Bachelet, who was in Brazil) to
discuss the overall state of U.S.- Chile relations. Also at
the meeting were Ambassador Simons, E/Pol Counselor, several
CODEL staffers, and a GOC notetaker.

--------------------
Spread the Good News
--------------------

3. (SBU) Chairman Meeks told Perez Yoma he wanted "to thank
Chile and President Bachelet" for being such a good friend to
the U.S. The U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement (FTA) had laid
the foundation for enhanced cooperation and had also
benefited both sides economically. This was a message that
had to be broadcast widely. Moreover, Chile's ability to
reduce poverty drastically, establish firm democractic
institutions, and establish open trade ties globally was
"nothing short of miraculous." Meeks stressed his view that
others should "get the hint" and follow the model. Meeks
offered that the U.S.-Chile relationship is great and that
the incoming U.S. administration would want to build on the
strong foundation. Meeks said that President-elect Obama
understands the regional approach necessary to resolve issues
in Latin America and noted, also, that the President-elect
had voted for the U.S.-Peru FTA. His CODEL reflected, too, a
bipartisan approach to maintaining good relations with Chile.

4. (SBU) Perez Yoma replied that President-elect Obama's
election had been viewed "very favorably" in Chile,
especially by its youth, who all wanted to be the "Chilean
Obama." Perez Yoma described relations as "very good,"
thanks in part to a stream of U.S. ambassadors who had worked
to maintain "low-profile, normal" relations. Trade issues,
including agricultural disputes, had been resolved
expeditiously; both sides work well together. Perez Yoma
expected relations to remain on a positive, even-keel with
the new U.S. administration.

---------------------------
Chile Awaits the Other Shoe
---------------------------

5. (SBU) Rep. Ryan noted he was impressed with the Chilean
pension system. Perez Yoma replied that the system was still
functioning well, despite the global financial breakdown,
although pension holdings had dropped dramatically. He had
been surprised by the relatively low level of "political
criticism" the losses had generated. Perhaps there is "faith
in the system; if it can survive this, it can survive
anything." Perez Yoma continued that Chile had yet to see
the worst of the financial crisis. While the overall
national unemployment rate was still only at 8.2 percent, he
expected that to rise to 10.5 percent by March/April 2009,
when seasonal agricultural and service industry jobs petered
out. And in some regions dependent on exports - such as the
BioBio region - where the forest industry was already
suffering, unemployment could reach 15 percent.

---------
OK to DEA
---------

6. (SBU) Both Chairman Meeks and Rep. Hinojosa strongly
seconded the Ambassador's request to Perez Yoma that Chile
accept the stationing in Chile of some DEA personnel expelled
from Bolivia; the Ambassador noted the expulsions could have
destabilizing effects in the region. Perez Yoma agreed to
the request (reftel).

---------------------
Other Regional Topics
---------------------

7. (SBU) Noting that the CODEL was moving on next to Buenos
Aires, Rep. Ryan asked for any counsel Perez Yoma might offer
on what to watch out for when meeting with Argentine
interlocutors. Perez Yoma, who had served as Chilean
ambassador to Argentina, bemusedly observed that Argentina is
the "most disconcerting country you'll ever see." While on
the surface much seems to function well - "absolutely first
world" - the political decision-making process is
"unfathomable and the most disorganized ever." Perez Yoma
also said Chile continued to view developments in Bolivia,
where the situation remains "fluid and difficult," with
serious concern. Venezuelan influence is problematic,
although thanks to the diminishing price of oil, Chavez will
have less money with which to influence.

8. (U) The meeting closed with Chairman Meeks suggesting
that, in its contacts with the Obama transition team, the GOC
urge passage of the U.S.-Colombia FTA, stressing its
importance to regional integration and economic growth.

9. (U) CODEL Meeks did not clear this message.
SIMONS

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