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Cablegate: Former President Duhalde On Kirchner, Ftaa And

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

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUENOS AIRES 002291

SIPDIS

FOR U/S LARSON, WHA FOR A/S NORIEGA, WHA FOR PDAS DERHAM,
WHA/BSC, WHA/EPSC, AND EB FOR A/S WAYNE, EB/IFD/OMA
PASS NSC FOR TOM SHANNON, MIKE DEMPSEY, NILMINI GUNARATNE,
AND DEL RENIGAR
PASS USTR FOR PETER ALLGEIER, SUE CRONIN
USCINCSO FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/10/2014
TAGS: ETRD PGOV PREL AR MERCOSUR FTAA
SUBJECT: FORMER PRESIDENT DUHALDE ON KIRCHNER, FTAA AND
VENEZUELA

Classified By: Ambassador Lino Gutierrez for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: Former President Eduardo Duhalde claims that a MERCOSUR-led "South American Union" will be announced before year's end. He claimed to support free trade and FTAA, especially after the recent compromise reached at the WTO meeting in Geneva. Duhalde said President Kirchner is more pragmatic than ideological, and said that he wanted to help him. Duhalde discounted any challenge by President Kirchner or First Lady Cristina Kirchner to his control of Buenos Aires Province. On Venezuela, he said that a
democratic solution was the only way out of the current conflict, though he expressed the opinion that a Chavez victory would be better on the whole for Argentina. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Former President of Argentina and President of the MERCOSUR Commission Eduardo Duhalde (protect) came over for
coffee at the Residence August 9. Duhalde arrived ten minutes early, and said, "Unlike others (read President Kirchner) I am always punctual."

Still Bitter
------------

3. (C) It was clear that Duhalde still feels he was slighted by the USG during his term as president. He said the United States "disrespected us" and that President Bush would not even call him on the phone. When President Bush finally called Duhalde in Davos, by then Duhalde said he recommended that the President get in touch with his successor. Duhalde claimed that the U.S. had not paid attention to Latin America under the Bush Administration. I disagreed with Duhalde's assessment, reminding him of the situation the U.S. faced
after September 11. Despite Duhalde's hurt feelings, he opined that President Bush's reelection would be "better for Argentina," since he has concluded that prospects for FTAA and free trade would be better under a Bush Administration.

Toward a South American Union
-----------------------------

4. (SBU) Duhalde said South America is moving inexorably toward a "South American Union" which will be announced by the end of the year. The goal will be to create a bloc like the European Union in South America, though Duhalde acknowledged that an EU-like entity is still "decades away." MERCOSUR will take the lead in forming this alliance. Duhalde sees no contradiction between a South American Union and FTAA. Duhalde is also working with Argentina, Brazil and
Paraguay to create a special fund to help Paraguay and Bolivia.

FTAA
----

5. (SBU) "We want free trade, but on fair terms," Duhalde proclaimed. The WTO agreement in Geneva provides an opportunity for the elimination of subsidies, though Duhalde does not believe it will be easy. But in Duhalde's view, FTAA is a must if Latin America is ever going to sustain economic growth and no longer be the region with the most inequality on the planet.

Relationship with Kirchner
--------------------------

6. (C) Regarding his reportedly rocky relationship with President Kirchner, "I want to help him," Duhalde assured. I repeated President Bush's statement that the United States wanted Argentina and President Kirchner to succeed. Duhalde agreed that Kirchner had to finish his term for the good of Argentina and its democracy. As to Kirchner's supposed leftist ideology, do not be fooled by Kirchner's rhetoric, cautioned Duhalde. He is essentially a pragmatist. "Look at
his cabinet," he said. "They are all centrist or center-right," and he specifically mentioned Minister of Defense Jose Pampuro, Minister of the Presidency Alberto Fernandez, Minister of the Interior Anibal Fernandez, Minister of Health Gines Garcia and Minister of the Economy Roberto Lavagna. What about Minister of Planning Julio De
Vido? "I don't know him well, but he's a classic Peronist."

7. (C) In Duhalde's view, Kirchner has made a tactical mistake by placing himself on the center-left side of the political spectrum. "He's not going to get many more votes on the Left," while he could lose considerably on the Right. Duhalde criticized Kirchner's disorganization and lack of punctuality. He hopes Kirchner will learn the longer he is
in office. Until then, Duhalde sees no other choice but to help Kirchner. Will Kirchner challenge Duhalde's control of BA province by running First Lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (who runs well in the polls) for a Senate seat, as the press has speculated? Not in your life, according to Duhalde. Kirchner simply cannot afford the embarrassment of his wife losing a provincial election, so this will not
happen. Duhalde expects an agreement with Kirchner on the selection of provincial candidates for next year's election.

Venezuela
---------

8. (C) Duhalde confirmed he will leave on Thursday for Venezuela, where he will be an electoral observer at the August 15 referendum. He is convinced that "the only solution in Venezuela is a democratic one." I agreed, and said that it was important that the referendum process be democratic and transparent. Duhalde agreed. That said, he believes from Argentina's perspective it would be better if Chavez won the referendum. "Otherwise, there will be anarchy." "Better to have stability in Venezuela than to have both Colombia and Venezuela in turmoil," he claimed.

Other Countries
---------------

9. (C) President Alvaro Uribe in Colombia is Duhalde's favorite president. "Colombia's problem is our problem. When I was Menem's vice-president, I visited then-President Barco and delivered two (anti-guerrilla) aircraft to him," he recounted. Elsewhere the region is in turmoil, including Peru and Bolivia. Duhalde is impressed by Bolivian President Mesa but not by President Toledo of Peru.

Comment
-------

10. (C) Duhalde was tanned (unusual in the Southern Hemisphere winter) and in good spirits. He still feels Argentina and the Hemisphere owe him for keeping Argentina stable after the 2001-2 crisis. Although he has said publicly he wants to retire from politics, it is clear he remains heavily engaged in day-to-day political events here. Despite his bitterness about perceived slights and his occasional anti-FTAA public pronouncements, I found him eager to maintain contact to compare notes on occasion.

11. (C) As the strong man of Buenos Aires province, which contains one third of the Argentine population, Duhalde remains thesecond- most powerful political figure here after the President. His public standing in the polls is still highly negative, as he is blamed by many for causing President De la Rua's downfall (something he vehemently
denies), for the corruption of the Buenos Aires Province government and police, and by some in the Left for the death of two piqueteros during a demonstration while he was president. Yet President Kirchner may have concluded that it is easier to govern by striking a deal with Duhalde. There have been indications of late that Duhalde and Kirchner may agree on a common list of candidates for the important 2005 national and local elections. Under any scenario, Eduardo
Duhalde will remain a force to be reckoned with in Argentina for some time to come. GUTIERREZ

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