Cablegate: Pmdb Party Again Threatens to Leave Brazil's

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

121227Z Nov 04




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Brazil's PMDB party, a large but unreliable
member of President Lula's ruling coalition, is going through
another bout of angst about whether to leave the coalition.
A November 10 meeting of the party's leadership left such a
threat --made by the party's "oppositionist wing"-- hanging
in the air. Meanwhile, the party's "governist wing" would
rather remain in Lula's administration and enjoy the fruits
of collaboration, which include government appointments and
pork spending. The PMDB has teetered between government and
opposition for the two years of Lula's term, and threats by
party leaders to pull out are widely seen as an attempt to
extort more perks. The PMDB's unreliability is a running
headache for the administration, whose leaders never know how
the party's 78 Deputies and 23 Senators will vote. On
December 12, the PMDB will hold a national convention to
decide its future. In the meantime, administration leaders
will look for ways to appease the dipterous party. In the
past, decision-points such as this have always resulted in
the PMDB's remaining in the coalition but making more demands
for perks. If the party pulls out of the coalition, it would
be a significant blow to Lula's legislative agenda. But with
its fractiousness, the PMDB weakens the coalition nearly as
much from the inside as it would from outside. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) The Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement
(PMDB) defines the Brazilian term "physiologist", a
pejorative denoting a person or party for sale, always
seeking personal advantage. The party survives on a vast
grass-roots apparatus built around regional chiefs and
patronage networks, which it nurtures by joining the
governing coalition at the state or federal level whenever
possible. This pattern results in some incongruous
alignments. For example, the party struggles bitterly
against President Lula's Workers' Party (PT) in some states
while working in coalition with it in others. The PMDB was a
member of former-President Cardoso's administration, but
within months after Lula took office in 2003, the PMDB had
worked its way into his administration. The party's status
as a full coalition member was cemented in January 2004 when
Lula shuffled his cabinet to create two vacancies
(Communications and Social Security) for PMDB ministers.

3. (SBU) It has been a rocky two years. Lula needs the PMDB
because of its size (78 Deputies and 23 Senators). But the
party is guided by a large "oppositionist wing" that votes
against the administration in Congress, criticizes it in
public, and incessantly begs for more perks. Lula typically
gets only 50-70% of the PMDB's floor votes. The
oppositionists are not guided by principle, but by fluid
assessments of their own interests, which range from the
parochial in local party struggles to decisions about the
2006 presidential race: whether the PMDB will support Lula,
or will support the PSDB challenger, or will run its own
candidate. Each option carries risk. The PMDB will never be
more than an unrespected junior partner in Lula's coalition,
and while staying with Lula brings certain benefits and may
even yield the vice-presidential slot on Lula's 2006 slate,
it would also doom many PMDB candidates in state and
congressional races who will be facing PT opponents. By the
same token, leaving the coalition now would mean giving up
the cherished cabinet slots and hundreds of mid-level
government appointments. As for the third option, despite
Anthony Garotinho's self-promotion, the party has no national
stars capable of making a credible challenge to Lula in the
2006 presidential race.

4. (SBU) Among the "oppositionists", none clamors louder than
Garotinho, who runs the party's Rio branch and needs to open
some daylight between himself and Lula if he is to launch
another run at the presidency. Similarly, some PMDB
governors (e.g., in Rio Grande do Sul, Pernambuco, and Rio de
Janeiro) face tough struggles with their local PT opponents
and need to clarify the battle lines before 2006. Party
president and Federal Deputy Michel Temer of Sao Paulo, has
suggested looking for a third way, whereby the party becomes
"independent" rather than joining either the government or
opposition. This approach is ridiculed by Senate President
Jose Sarney, who comments, "A position of 'independence'
means to sit on the fence, and in politics there are no

5. (SBU) The party's "governists" include Senate President
Jose Sarney, leading Senator Renan Calheiros, and
Communications Minister Eunicio Oliveira. All are
northeasterners, and all have benefited from a close
relationship with the administration. Sarney's machinations
in the Senate have helped the administration out of more than
one jam in the past two years. But his desire to remain as
Senate President, and Calheiros' desire to replace him in
February 2005, have left both in an unseemly scramble for
administration support. The "governists" command only a
minority in the PMDB leadership, and Sarney's
pro-administration speech at the November 10 party leadership
meeting was met with a thunderous silence. Oliveira,
however, notes that October's municipal elections raised the
adrenaline all around, and once tempers have cooled, the PMDB
should remain in the governing coalition.

6. (SBU) The "oppositionist" and "governist" wings are
sometimes referred to as "(former-President) Cardoso's
widows" and "Lula's courtesans". The real outcome of the
November 10 meeting was to call a national convention for
December 12. In the past two years, decision points such as
this have always had one result: the PMDB remains awkwardly
in Lula's coalition but insists on getting more perks in
order to solidify its wavering loyalties. It is possible
that this time will be different. October's municipal
elections reanimated many of the local PT-PMDB party
struggles that had lain dormant earlier in Lula's term. And
the elections also marked Lula's halfway point, meaning the
parties must begin in earnest their jockeying for the 2006
national elections.

7. (SBU) In advance of the December 12 PMDB convention, look
for the administration to throw some bones to the party,
ranging from pork spending (Lula has queued up some USD$200
million in funding for "congressional amendments" to be
disbursed by year's end), to a promise of more policy
influence within the administration, to an offer of the
vice-presidential slot on Lula's 2006 campaign slate. If, on
December 12, the PMDB chooses to remain in the coalition,
look for this same crisis to erupt again in 2005.

8. (SBU) It would be a blow to Lula if the PMDB were to pull
out of the coalition and leave his legislative agenda in
limbo. But the PMDB has never pretended to be more than a
high-maintenance ally-of-convenience whose constant sniping
often exposes coalition fissures. If the party were to bolt,
it would leave a power vacuum and empty cabinet seats that
could be filled by other parties, while Lula could win over
many PMDB votes in Congress with special favors. At this
moment we do not judge that the PMDB is any more likely to
leave the coalition than it was in the past. But if the
balance of power should turn by the December 12 party
convention, the coalition would be damaged but not crippled
by the party's departure.

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