Cablegate: Stained Victory: Lula's Man Wins the Chamber

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




E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/29/2015



1. (C) Summary. In an extremely close race on 28 September,
Aldo Rebelo, a communist party legislator with close ties to
President Lula Inacio da Silva, won the Presidency of the
Chamber of Deputies, the lower house in Brazil's congress.
Lula's government pulled out all the stops to win votes for
Rebelo, including freeing up substantial funds for pork
barrel amendments and reportedly offering other incentives,
especially to the small, mercenary parties that are at the
center of the PT vote-buying scandal, one element in the
five-month political crisis rocking Brazil (ref a). This
overt political action that echoes the PT's earlier covert
bribery has been a prominent and negative aspect of media
reporting, staining the victory for the GOB. It is also
unlikely that Rebelo will be able to help press a substantive
legislative agenda or provide significant help to Lula in
dealing with the continuing political crisis. End summary.


2. (SBU) Aldo Rebelo, a Communist Party legislator from Sao
Paulo closely allied with the Lula government, is the new
President of the Brazilian Congress' Chamber of Deputies
(U.S. Speaker of the House equivalent). Rebelo won out over
opposition PFL deputy Jose Thomaz Nono by just 15 votes after
two close rounds of voting on 28 September, the tightest
Chamber Presidency race in history. Rebelo emerged in recent
days as the Lula administration's man in the race when it
became clear the PT party -- torn internally by the scandals
that have rocked the government and devastated the party's
image and unity -- would not be able to put a viable
candidate forward. The race locked into a two-way contest
early on 28 September when the PMDB's Michel Temer withdrew
his candidacy and offered support for Nono, and the campaign
of the PP party's Ciro Nogueira -- a little-known disciple of
Severino Cavalcanti, the Chamber President who resigned in
disgrace last week amidst bribery allegations -- fizzled.
Temer's withdrawal came accompanied by his bitter charges
that his PMDB colleague and Senate President Renan Calheiros
had "violated congressional decorum" and betrayed Temer and
the party by publicly supporting Aldo Rebelo. The angry
statements point up the rift between the pro- and anti-Lula
wings of the catch-all PMDB, a rift that will likely grow in
size and effect as next year's general election nears.

3. (SBU) Rebelo is well-regarded within the congress, a
gentlemanly and self-effacing pragmatist with good access
across the spectrum of parties. These qualities helped make
him the government's leader in the lower house in 2003-early
2004 and then brought him into Lula' cabinet as minister for
political coordination (a liaison between the GOB and
congress). But his poor performance in that role contributed
to the GOB's inability to move its congressional agenda and
the devastating blow to the GOB and PT seen in the rise of
the obscure Severino Cavalcanti to the Chamber Presidency
last February. Indeed, Rebelo left the cabinet a few months
ago to return to congress amidst criticism from the PT and
other cabinet officials, making his re-emergence now as
Lula's champion in the Chamber ironic.

4. (SBU) Coming from a small leftist party (the PC do B has
only nine seats in the lower house), Rebelo will work to be
both a rallying figure for the pro-government block (at
present a shaky collection of PT members, other leftist
sectors in congress that include those spawned by atomization
of the PT, the pro-Lula PMDB and now infamous collection of
mercenary parties) -- and a bridge to an opposition block
(PSDB, anti-Lula PMDB, PFL, Green Party) that is of roughly
equal strength. Rebelo is a reputable congressional figure
(unlike the ludicrous Cavalcanti) who will try to facilitate
work on key legislation, and he is promising "independence in
relationship to the Government." Nonetheless, the continuing
crisis environment in the GOB and congress, the roughly even
balance of power between pro-government and opposition
blocks, and the proximity of the election season beginning in
mid-2006 do not suggest much potential for progress on
substantive issues in the legislature for the balance of
Lula's term.


5. (C) Despite reports of a late night of partying at
President Lula's residence in celebration of the big win, the
spin on the day after in most major media outlets has been
largely negative and skeptical. Rather than portray Rebelo's
victory as a sign of a resurgence of Lula's political clout,
the focus has been on the GOB's blatant campaign of
deal-making and pork distribution used to win support for
Rebelo from the same small, mercenary parties -- e.g., PTB,
PP and PL -- that are also implicated in the allegations of
vote-buying by the PT, one of the interlocking scandals
roiling Brazil (ref). Most newspapers are using a figure of
reals 1.5 billion (roughly USD 80 million) in reporting on
funds promised in recent days by the GOB for pork barrel
amendments and other budgetary favors distributed lavishly to
garner votes. Leading newspaper "Estado de Sao Paulo" also
reports rumors that the GOB has promised to replace some
small-party officials tossed from their positions because of
scandal fall-out with new faces from the same parties. And
there are inevitably suspicions being raised that the GOB may
have made other backroom promises to ease the pressure on
deputies from the small parties who are under threat of
formal expulsion from congress for their alleged role in the
vote-buying scandal -- promises that may be more plausible
with a government ally in the Chamber President's chair.

6. (C) Hence the "steam roller" approach used in this contest
by the GOB appears to many to be less a sign of Lula getting
back on top of his political game than a shamelessly overt
analogue to the covert "mensalao" vote-buying scheme. As
such, it can appear to be evidence of a philosophy of ends
justifying means that fostered the earlier scandalous conduct
by some PT and GOB officials, with at least a degree of tacit
acceptance by Lula himself. Influential op-ed writer Dora
Kramer in her 29 September column expressed this view
bluntly: " (The Rebelo victory) also shows why, to this day,
President Lula Inacio da Silva has made no self-criticism,
nor presented excuses, nor pointed to those responsible... he
simply did not believe there was anything wrong in the fact
that the PT doled out money to parties in exchange for their
presence in (his) base of support in the parliament. This is
so much the case that it was no big deal (for Lula) to do the
same now: Free up money for congressional amendments to the
budget, promise the return of positions taken from parties
owing to corruption allegations, promise a billion reals ...
and dive into the mud just to win a few moments of relief,
getting his head up out of the swamp (of the continued
scandals).... "


7. (C) The bottom line at this moment is whether Rebelo will
be in a position to assist the government in dealing with the
scandals that have devastated Lula's standing and
administration for nearly five months. Our view is that he
will not be able to influence events profoundly in this
regard. While it is unquestionably better for the GOB to
have its man in the Chamber's leadership at this volatile
time, Rebelo is not a figure with broad political influence
or a pugnacious personality that relishes defying the odds.
He is loyal to Lula, but he is also a political survivor and,
we think, an honest man and true believer in Brazilian
institutions, especially the congress. He seems unlikely to
resist strong currents or passions that could be unleashed in
the lower house should even more explosive revelations
afflict the government in coming months. In the face of a
broad uproar in the congress and public, he may not be able
or even inclined to protect the president in the
still-unlikely event of impeachment proceedings, despite the
crucial institutional role of the Chamber President in such
circumstances. He might slow-role some procedures, but in the
end, we think he would fulfill his responsibilities. In sum,
this week's win by Rebelo is encouraging to some degree for
Lula, but Rebelo is not likely to lead dramatic progress on
key legislation, and there is real revulsion in the media and
public to use of methods in his GOB-backed Chamber campaign
that are redolent of those that brought unprecedented scandal
and disgrace to Brazilian politics. Moreover, Rebelo may be
Lula's man today, but in an extreme future scenario brought
on by a deepening crisis, he could not be counted on to be
his savior.


8. (C) A native of Alagoas state and four-term deputy for Sao
Paulo, Rebelo is a life-long leftist intellectual, affiliated
clandestinely and later openly with the Communist Party of
Brazil (PC do B) since the 1970s. The PC do B today is tiny,
witness its representation in the congress, but remains true
to the cause on a theoretical level (its views have been
influenced over the years by Trotsky and Mao) while
presenting itself in the contemporary scene as a pragmatic
champion of honest and responsive governance, especially on
the municipal level. Rebelo's early writings are critical of
aspects of U.S. and western society, and he has more recently
taken some anti-globalization positions. Yet Rebelo
professes to be an admirer of American democracy, is a
student of U.S. history, and he has consistently pursued
close and friendly relations with the Embassy (though he
speaks no English). Courtly and amiable, he is a regular at
Embassy events, has had periodic contact with POL Counselor
for years, has dined on a number of occasions with Ambassador
and DCM, and while in Lula's cabinet, actively sought to
assist the Mission with bilateral issues, including a thorny
management problem related to sale of excess USG properties
in Brazil. We suspect he may be the first Chamber President
with whom the Mission has had such established ties.
Whatever Rebelo's impact on the congress or Lula's fortunes,
it is interesting that we now should have, at this dynamic
moment, a high degree of access and engagement with the
Chamber's president, the third in line in succession to the
President in Brazil's hierarchy.


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