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Cablegate: Brazil Vice President Jose Alencar's Problematic

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BRASILIA 003236

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR BR
SUBJECT: BRAZIL VICE PRESIDENT JOSE ALENCAR'S PROBLEMATIC
PERFORMANCE

REF: A. A. BRASILIA 3125
B. B. BRASILIA 02473

1. (SBU) Summary. Unlike in the U.S., Brazil's Vice
President assumes control when the chief executive travels
abroad. Current VP Jose Alencar usually keeps a low profile
in that capacity, but his underwhelming performance during
President Lula da Silva's recent trip to New York to open the
UNGA has raised questions about Alencar's suitability for the
number two executive branch job. End Summary.

Alencar's Signature Moment
--------------------------

2. (SBU) During Brazilian President Lula's recent
international travel, Vice President Jose Alencar's
procrastination in signing a controversial decree legalizing
the planting and sales of genetically-modified soybeans
generated considerable media attention (ref A). A few
commentators allowed that the President should not have left
Alencar holding the bag on such a contentious issue, but the
incident nonetheless raised doubts about Alencar's
capabilities. Alencar had been relatively quiet over the
last few months after he stirred debate in June by
criticizing publicly the Central Bank's interest rate
policies. Unlike the interest rate flap, however, few
believe that Alencar's recent wobbling on biotech soybeans
was a gambit to allow the GoB to air opposing views (as a
business contact asserted to Sao Paulo ConGen recently) or
legitimate commentary within Alencar's area of expertise.
Indeed, during a meeting on GMOs with a U.S. Codel, Alencar
appeared uninformed about the issue (ref B).

3. (SBU) The opposition is also making some political hay out
of Alencar's performance. The 1988 Brazilian Constitution
directs the Vice President to assume the duties of chief
executive when the President travels abroad. According to
press reports, PDT Senator Jefferson Peres has used Alencar's
GMO stutter-step to reinvigorate a push for an amendment that
would modify the VP's powers. (Note. It is unlikely that
Peres can muster the 3/5 majority needed to pass an amendment
as the administration is opposed to the proposal. End note.)

Views of a Predecessor
----------------------

4. (SBU) In the wake of the June interest rate flap,
President Cardoso's (1994-2002) Vice President Marco Marciel,
a Senator from Pernambuco, told Poloff that occasional
contretemps between the VP and the President are predictable
but manageable. Maciel, who served 339 days as Acting
President, noted that the running mate is often selected to
provide geographic or ideological (i.e. party) balance, which
can lead to policy disconnects. The discreet Maciel got
along well with President Cardoso, but the VP-President
relationship has often been rocky in Brazilian history. In
the case of Alencar, Maciel asserted that a relative lack of
political experience undermines his performance. After a
very successful career as a clothing exporter, Alencar
entered politics with an unsuccessful 1994 gubernatorial bid
in Minas Gerais before serving one senate term. Maciel said
Alencar's inexperience also makes it harder to craft a
suitable "special mission" for him as provided by the
Constitution.

5. (SBU) Maciel does not believe that efforts to reform the
vice presidency would make much progress unless tied to a
much larger political reform package. He noted that most
Brazilian politicians believe that the inordinate number of
times a Vice President has come to power in Brazil in the
last 50 years (four, not counting the several temporary
assumptions of the Presidency due to health reasons during
the 21-year military regime) necessitates having an elected
Vice President who is given some opportunity to serve as the
number one.

Comment
-------

6. (SBU) Alencar will have ample opportunity to improve his
performance as Acting President. If Lula maintains his
current pace of foreign travel, the 72 year-old Alencar could
wear the presidential sash for over 200 days this term.
While Alencar has managed to become part of the story in two
controversial domestic issues, he has not abused his
authority. At the end of the day, he signed the soybean
decree as the President instructed. Moreover, the Vice
President has not been a factor in other hot button issues,
such as tax and pension reforms, suggesting any future
intrusions onto center-stage will be accidental. Alencar's
most important contribution continues to be as an
intermediary between the business community and the Workers'
Party-dominated administration.

HRINAK

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