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Cablegate: President Gutierrez' Latest Political Blunder

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

081318Z Sep 04

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 QUITO 002446

SIPDIS

SECSTATE FOR USTR

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/07/2014
TAGS: PREL PGOV ELAB EC
SUBJECT: PRESIDENT GUTIERREZ' LATEST POLITICAL BLUNDER
REF: QUITO 2251

Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney for reasons 1.4 (b&d).

1. (C) Summary: President Gutierrez urgently invited the Ambassador to a private breakfast on September 7 to discuss fallout from his recent visit to Panama. There, he had met with disgraced former president Abdala Bucaram, setting off a political firestorm at home. After hearing the President's explanation of events, the Ambassador took the opportunity to stress key USG priorities on TIP, labor rights, the promotion of an environment conducive to trade, and Galapagos national park stability. SepTels will report on points related to Galapagos park management and ongoing Occidental commercial disputes. End Summary.

Background
----------

2. (SBU) Press interest in a possible meeting was provoked by ongoing speculation that Gutierrez has agreed to help Bucaram return from exile in Panama, where he has resided since he was declared mentally incompetent to rule by Congress in 1997 (see RefTel). In this context, the trip to Panama to attend the inauguration of Panamanian President Torrijos caused speculation about whether Gutierrez and Bucaram would meet, which FM Zuquilanda publicly denied.

Panama: Comedy of Errors
-------------------------

3. (C) Nevertheless, the meeting with Bucaram did in fact take place and became public. The President explained his political blunder by telling the Ambassador simply that "these things just happen." Gutierrez said that upon returning after midnight to his hotel room after an eventful inauguration schedule, (during which he met, productively, with President Lagos; with the President of Taiwan, prompting inquires from the PRC; and (inexplicably) with a representative of the Polisario), he found Bucaram waiting from him in the hallway outside his room, and felt obliged out of common courtesy to agree to a brief meeting.

4. (C) According to Gutierrez, Bucaram proceeded to plea his case to return to Ecuador on "humanitarian" grounds, alleging a political conspiracy to keep him from returning to Ecuador after eight years of separation from family, friends and even Ecuadorian cuisine. Despite the notorious corruption of his government, Bucaram also pleaded financial difficulty maintaining his lifestyle in exile. He accused the opposition Social Christian Party of Leon Febres Cordero and others of trying to entice him to return to overthrow
Gutierrez. Comment: this is farfetched, since Bucaram is
probably the only Ecuadorian politician with lower popularity than Gutierrez himself. End Comment.

5. (C) Ultimately, according to Gutierrez, Bucaram asked him to form a governmental commission to review the charges against him (a sort of "truth commission," as he put it) with a view to clearing the legal obstacles preventing his return (i.e. several warrants for his arrest on corruption charges).
Gutierrez said he responded to Bucaram's request with a promise only to ask his government's legal experts to consider the request. Gutierrez said his legal experts have advised against any such effort, and he now has no plans to create such a commission. He believes the political reaction to his meeting with Bucaram is a symptom of election politics in which the opposition (especially the PSC) seeks to gain advantage, especially in the Sierra region where his party, the PSP, hopes to gain ground.

Other Issues: TIP and Labor
----------------------------

6. (C) Gutierrez brightened when the Ambassador raised other areas of USG interest. He cited the submission to Congress of new anti-TIP legislation on September 9, noting the positive press and public reaction to government efforts in this area. "Even Congressional Deputy Bohorquez," he said, "has supported Government efforts in this area, for a change," alluding to his sometimes politically strained relationship with his wife. The Ambassador responded that there are several women Congressional deputies who have shown great interest and deserve credit for efforts to address deficiencies in the laws against TIP, from various political parties.

7. (SBU) The Ambassador also raised the draft Presidential decree on subcontracting, which we understood would be issued shortly and would clarify the labor code and prevent abuse of subcontracting to inhibit workers' freedom of association.
Gutierrez indicated he was aware of the issue and would check with Labor Minister Izurieta on its status. The Ambassador told the President we would do the same.

Comment
-------

9. (C) Gutierrez' clumsy handling of his visit to Panama reflects either poor political judgment or naivete. We tend to agree with the President that the opposition, led by PSC leader Febres Cordero, is milking the Bucaram issue primarily for electoral purposes in the run-up to October 17 municipal elections. Unfortunately, this blunder is only the latest in a series of events which have cost this government its credibility and threatens to undermine public faith in
democracy. -
KENNEY

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