Cablegate: Ambassador Wayne Meets Cristina's Running Mate, Witnesses the Boom in Mendoza, Argentina


DE RUEHBU #1673/01 2361854
R 241854Z AUG 07



1. (U) In a well-publicized August 16-17 visit to the central-western province of Mendoza, the Ambassador met with Mendoza Governor and Cristina Kirchner's running mate Julio Cobos, who told the Ambassador he expected better U.S.-Argentine relations after the next elections -- in which he expects his ticket to prevail. However, a Kirchnerista who is running to replace Cobos as governor gave a pretty negative view of Cobos's record as Mendoza's chief executive. The Ambassador also held a successful social outreach event at a school for the underprivileged, and attended a donation ceremony at another local school and participated in a roundtable at the Mendoza Binational Center with visiting U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. The visit received positive coverage in the local media. END

SUMMARY.Meeting with Governor and VP candidate Cobos 2. (U) On August 16, Ambassador Wayne met with Mendoza Governor and National Vice Presidential candidate Julio
Cobos, Cristina Kirchner's running mate. They agreed on the
importance of relations between Argentina and the United
States and on expanding those relations to include science,
technology, culture, education, and commerce. Cobos shared
his view on the importance of education and its connection to
public security. Cobos added that Argentina needs to
implement a strong campaign to educate people on the rule of
law. He said that they need to "break the chain" of
tolerating crimes, which will require a cultural change.
Cobos explained that Mendoza has made several progressive
changes in its education system, which is regarded as perhaps
the best in Argentina, including giving indigent children
free room and board at special schools housed in refitted
military buildings. Cobos said he believes that by making
sure these children are given an education, housing, and
food, they are reducing the chances the children will become
involved in drugs, alcohol, and crime. Ambassador Wayne
noted Argentina's educational system strengths and stressed
the need to continue investing in the youth of Argentina.
3. (C) Cobos was vague when describing campaign plans for
his and Senator and First Lady Cristina Fernandez de
Kirchner's vice presidential and presidential (respectively)
candidacies. Cobos said he thought that their campaign
platform would have three or four key points, probably
including improving Argentina's foreign relations, education,
and strengthening Argentina's infrastructure. He said that
the Fernandez de Kirchner-Cobos administration will be unique
in its inclusion of political figures from various backgrounds. He said that he believes the "concertacion" (as it is called locally) will open more positions than just the }vice president slot to "Radicals K" -- Radical party members who support President Nestor Kirchner. Cobos cautioned that the Fernandez de Kirchner - Cobos ticket first had to win in October, and then they could try to make sure the
administration included a good mix of Radicals, Peronists,
and Victory Front members. Cobos mentioned that he has had a
lot of experience working with a mix of political groups in
Mendoza. He said he thought relations between Argentina and
the U.S. would improve under a Fernandez de Kirchneradministration.
4th Air Force Brigade 4. (U) Ambassador Wayne visited the Air Force 4th Brigade where pilots train on the domestically-produced Pampas jet. Brigade Commander Sergio Mayor told Ambassador that the brigade trains pilots for all jets in Argentina using the Pampas aircraft that is manufactured by Lockheed-Martin Argentina S.A. in Cordoba province. U.S. exchange officer Major Douglas Sirk gave a presentation on the activity of the brigade, which includes training, control of air traffic along the northern and western borders, and search and rescuemi-------- University of the River Plate Foundation
5. (U) Ambassador Wayne addressed a group of political and
business leaders organized by the local University of the
River Plate Foundation (FURP) members at the Park Hyatt
Mendoza. Ambassador stressed the importance of relations
between Argentina and the U.S. Questions from the FURP
members mainly focused on Ambassador Wayne's impressions of
Argentina and the USG's agenda for Latin America as a whole
and Argentina specifically. Mendoza's Vice Governor Juan
Carlos Jaliff and two candidates for governor of Mendoza,
Cesar Biffi (Radical K) and Omar Demarche (Mendoza Democrat
party), attended the meeting arranged by FURP president and
political commentator Luis Rosales. Rosales also arranged
for a private dinner at a local vineyard for the Ambassador
and many of the Mendoza FURP members. ----------------
Meeting with Directors of the Mendoza Food Bank 6. (U) On August 17, Ambassador Wayne met with Mendoza Food Bank president Bernardo Zunino and executive director Virginia de Luca. Zunino and de Luca explained the food bank's main activities and support structure. The food bank provides food and nutritional seminars for needy families in Mendoza, which, according to Zunino and de Luca, have not diminished in numbers even as poverty in Mendoza has
decreased. The food bank has 12 corporate sponsors and works
with approximately 40 more companies that donate food,
supplies, and time. Although Argentina does not have "Good
Samaritan" legislation to protect donors from legal action if
a donation harms a recipient, the Mendoza Food bank receives
monthly certification from the Argentine Institute of
Normalization and Certification (IRAM), which is similar to
norms of the International Standards Organization (ISO) for
food handling. Thus, food bank donors are protected from
legal consequences of donations since the food bank takes
responsibility for ensuring donations will not harm recipients.
7. (U) Zunino and de Luca mentioned that they do not
receive assistance from the local Walmart, which they claim
destroys its excess inventory of perishables instead of
donating it probably out of concern about legal liability.
Ambassador Wayne said he was aware of Walmart donations in
other provinces and offered to follow up with Walmart about
the possibility of donations to the Mendoza food bank. Eva Peron Boarding School for the Underprivileged 8. (U) On August 17, Ambassador Wayne visited the Eva Peron Boarding School for underprivileged children and made a donation of books for the school's library. Approximately half of the students reside at the school during the week and return to their families for weekends. The teachers and administration were interested in ways to increase cultural exchanges for the students. Ambassador Wayne explained the GLOBE program provides a forum for virtual classroom
exchanges via the internet and offered to help the school
learn more about accessing the program. Briefing on Mendoza's Economy 9. (U) Ambassador Wayne visited the Mendoza offices of the Mediterranean Foundation (FM), an Argentine economic think tank, and received a briefing on the economic forecast for Mendoza. Mendoza has experienced an impressive 13% growth rate for the past four years, but FM predicts that this will not be sustainable. FM believes that Mendoza's growth depends on three key factors: whether the GoA can maintain (1) a "consumption boom" fueled by income transfer and market intervention policies; (2) low domestic oil and gas prices and high export prices; and (3) a favorable real exchange rate. FM sees the consumption boom continuing in the near term, but as world oil prices continue to climb, domestic
production will continue to fall. FM said that domestic
business profits started to fall in 2005 as wage and input
price increases cut gross revenue margins. According to FM,
the real exchange rate is currently appreciating as domestic
inflation goes up, which will affect the tourism and commerce
sectors of Mendoza's economy. 10. (U) FM believes that the agroindustrial sector in Mendoza will face significant decreases in its market. They base this on signs that the 370% growth in the prune industry was temporary (unexplained increase in Russian consumption of Argentine prunes and a poor harvest in the U.S. in 2005) and that Mendoza is showing signs of overproduction of grapes in the wine industry. 11. (C) FM reports that inflation in Mendoza is around 14%. Ambassador Wayne asked why inflation in Mendoza and neighboring provinces is so much higher than in Buenos Aires.
FM explained that the real inflation rate in Buenos Aires
and for the country is probably around 14% as well, but that,
for political convenience, the GoA has adjusted these numbers
down. FM said that since 1912 there has been a 95%
correlation between the inflation rates in Mendoza and for
the nation. FM said that it is impossible for all regions of
Argentina to have increasing inflation except Buenos Aires
city and province. 12. (U) FM explained that Mendoza provincial government policies and actions can really only affect about 5% of
Mendoza's economy. FM believes that the province should work
to facilitate the growth of business by reducing bureaucratic
obstacles currently in place that make opening legitimate
enterprises a slow and costly exercise. FM said that the
paperwork and fees o legally register a new business are so
prohibitive and time-consuming that they are an incentive to
maintain businesses in the informal economy. 13. (U) FM touched briefly on the energy sector crisis in Argentina, saying that this has been the first year the problem affects everyone in Argentina. Mendoza has problems transporting sufficient natural gas to meet demand, with current pipeline capacity inadequate. FM said that energy shortages in Mendoza has forced some vineyards to operate at night when there are less demands on the energy grid. FM
fears that the energy issue has already begun to affect
exports from Mendoza. ---------------------------------------- Candidate for Governor Offers a Critique-14. (U) Ambassador Wayne met with Senator and gubernatorial
candidate Celso Jaque to discuss his views on the key issues
in Mendoza and his main campaign messages. Also present were
emboffs, Zuccardi Vineyards owner Jose Zuccardi, IV grantee
and Jaque advisor Diego Bossio, and architect Cristian
Racconto. Jaque is running as the Victory Front party
(FPV--President Kirchner's party) candidate for governor of
Mendoza (elections on October 28). Jaque frankly shared his
vision for improving the province of Mendoza. He said that
the principal problem in Mendoza is a lack of strong
institutions, followed by corruption. He believes Mendoza's
current leadership (Governor and vice presidential candidate
Julio Cobos and vice governor Juan Carlos Jaliff) have
mismanaged Mendoza's abundant resources and perpetuated the
poverty and misery of many Mendozans. 15. (C) Jaque said that Mendoza currently has 22,000 children not attending school. He said that the cheap cocaine byproduct "paco" has begun to show up in Mendoza and e fears it will lead to more addiction and more crime. He criticized the province's lack of a strategy to address
demand for drugs, the supply of drugs, nor the faulty police
work in counter drugs in Mendoza. 16. (C) In commentary on the public security crisis in endoza, which has brought National Gendarmerie to the streets, Jaque was particularly critical of police training in Mendoza. He said that in the six-month training course,
cadets only fire their weapons five times. He said this
leads to police on the streets whose fire-arms training is
insufficient to know when to draw their weapons and when to
withhold fire. He added that the cadets must pay for their
own bullets, but that their salaries are not augmented for
the extra cost. Jaque said that if the police continue to be
paid insufficient wages and to be expected to pay for their
own ammunition, the officers will end up living in the same
tough neighborhoods as the "delinquents" they are charged
with policing. Jaque said that Governor Cobos's recent
success in bringing 120 extra gendarmerie troops to Mendoza
will not help the crime situation in the province. Jaque was
clear that he believes the police must be local; they must
know the neighborhoods and their residents. He mentioned
that Cobos's administration had purchased a number of new
patrol cars, but when Jaque went to see the cars, he found
that many had burnt-out motors and flat tires. He cited this
as a blatant example of Cobos's mismanagement of the
province. 17. (C) Jaque was adamant that the province has so many
natural and industrial resources that there should not be any
significant poverty, indigence, or hunger. He said that if
he is elected in October, he will begin negotiating a new
consensus in the province before his accession to power in
December. He believes that the government and the economy of
Mendoza should be decentralized to provide improvements to
the quality of life for all Mendozans, not just those who
live in the capital. He pledged to continue Cobos's record
of good relations with the federal government, which he named
as the only positive aspect of Cobos's administration.
------------- Press Coverage -------------- 18. (U) Local press coverage of Ambassador Wayne's trip highlighted his meetings with a broad range of politicians
and business leaders during his visit. This was particularly
mentioned by the city's two leading newspapers, Los Andes and
Uno, in their coverage of Ambassador's speech to FURP
members. Local newspaper, TV, and radio also covered the
Ambassador's book donation at the Eva Peron school. At the
national level, the press carried the news of the
Ambassador's meeting with Governor Julio Cobos, who had only
two days before formally launched his candidacy in Buenos
Aires as Fernandez de Kirchner's running mate. WAYNE

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