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Cablegate: Positive Government Response to Earthquake so Far

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHPE #2860/01 2342246
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 222246Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY LIMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6594
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION PRIORITY 1768
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 4993
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 7538
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES PRIORITY 3062
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0698
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ AUG 4464
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO PRIORITY 9273
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO PRIORITY 1404
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO PRIORITY 1441
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/USCINCSO MIAMI FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS LIMA 002860

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL EAID ECON XM XR PE
SUBJECT: POSITIVE GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO EARTHQUAKE SO FAR

REF: A. LIMA 2850

B. LIMA 2849

1. (SBU) Summary: The Government's swift response to the
August 15 earthquake, with President Garcia and several key
ministers quickly taking charge on site in Ica, earned it
early public kudos. Lapses in communication, security and
effective victims' assistance have since eroded the image of
competence and resolve somewhat. Inevitable rumblings about
the President usurping the functions of local authorities
have also begun, but these reflect a structural problem of
relative capacity and not just Garcia's hope to shore up
popular support. In our view, the central government should
get good marks for its work thus far. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The Government of Peru responded with commendable
swiftness to the massive 8.0 earthquake that struck southern
Peru on Agust 15 (ref A). Within hours of the event,
following an emergency cabinet meeting, key ministers were
dispatched to Pisco -- the epicenter of the quake some 150
miles south of Lima -- to assess the damage and to begin
coordinating the government's operations. These included the
Ministers of Health, Housing, Interior, Labor, Women's
Affairs and Defense. By early August 16, buoyed by the
outpouring of public sympathy and by widespread expressions
of national unity, President Garcia himself arrived on site
to take the reins of the government's operational and public
response. Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo and President of
Congress Luis Gonzales Posada (who represents Ica) were in
tow. Before long, Garcia was presiding over informal cabinet
meetings and holding press conferences in a makeshift
operations center at an airbase on the outkirts of Pisco, the
seaside city most dramatically impacted by the quake (ref A).
Many observers praised the President for immediately
recognizing the magnitude of the challenge and for
proactively engaging the national government's machinery to
respond to it.

3. (SBU) In the intervening days, public focus has shifted
from the government's immediate response to the series of
obstacles that have undermined successful service delivery.
In his initial public declaration, Garcia himself sharply
criticized the quasi-national telephone company --
Spanish-owned Telefonica -- for the immediate and almost
total collapse of land-line and cell phone communication
networks, which have been non-existent to spotty in the Ica
region and parts of Lima ever since (ref B). Likewise, other
services such as water and electricity remain unavailable in
most of the directly affected areas. Security problems too
surged several days after the quake, with reports of looters
stopping supply trucks and of armed bandits robbing stores
and terrorizing innocent civilians. The Government responded
by sending in several hundreds of national police
reinforcements, which appear to have helped restore order.
Continuing reports of victims who have yet to receive
assistance even days after the quake -- juxtaposed with news
articles and TV images of the massive national and
international assistance effort -- underscore the central
challenge of coordination and follow-through, and have begun
to undermine the government's image of competence and resolve.

4. (SBU) The inevitable critical rumblings about the
President, cabinet ministers and other high profile political
figures usurping the functions of the national Disaster
Relief Agency (INDECI) and of regional and local authorities,
and thereby compromising the relief effort, have also begun.
While a politician of President Garcia's caliber is unlikely
to miss the political opportunity latent in a crisis of this
kind, this only partly explains his high-profile
participation in the government's response up to now. For
one, the relative incapacity of regional and local
governments, many of which lack the resources or capabilities
to marshal any response at all, is a real problem. The early
reaction of several key local authorities is illustrative.
According to an Embassy officer who was on the scene August
16, one local mayor who had lost a family member in the
devastation fell into a listless despondency, while another
assumed an attitude of passive waiting for what Garcia and
the central government decided to do. In this kind of
leadership and basic capacity vacuum, the government probably
had no choice but to jump in full bore. Garcia's unmatched
energy, his desire to be at the center of the action, and his
keen attention to detail were precisely what Peru needed at
the time.

Comment: Effective Response So Far
----------------------------------
5. (SBU) If the early challenge was to shine a political and
public spotlight on the scope of the problem in order to
ensure an adequate response, the President has performed
admirably well. In an environment in which the government
would probably be damned either way, an excessively strong
response has been preferable to an insufficiently robust one,
and in that sense the Garcia administration should get high
marks. Strong public support for the government's actions
and a slight boost in the President's informal poll numbers
lend early support to that perception. Second-phase
challenges, particularly the onerous, low-visibility task of
coordination to ensure that the considerable resources
gathered get to their intended beneficiaries, are of a
different order. Already, the GOP has assigned
responsibility for certain tasks and certain areas to
specific ministries, and stood up at least 13 service
delivery centers to facilitate the flow of services. Over
the mid to long-term, however, these tasks will probably
require a quiet hand-off to INDECI and to those local
authorities that are capable of taking up the slack.
Indications are this is underway.
McKinley

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