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Cablegate: Embattled Senate President Takes Leave, Will

VZCZCXRO0977
RR RUEHRG
DE RUEHBR #1991 2891858
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 161858Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY BRASILIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0208
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 6336
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 5054
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 7044
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 6464
RUEHRG/AMCONSUL RECIFE 7227
RUEHRI/AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO 5248
RUEHSO/AMCONSUL SAO PAULO 0984
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS BRASILIA 001991

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV BR
SUBJECT: EMBATTLED SENATE PRESIDENT TAKES LEAVE, WILL
RESIGN PRESIDENCY

REF: BRASILIA 1745

1. (SBU) Summary. Embattled Senate President Renan
Calheiros (PMDB, Brazilian Democratic Movement Party,
governing coalition; of Alagoas) took leave from the Senate
on October 11 after five months of unrelenting media and
opposition attacks over alleged corruption. He is now
expected to resign the presidency to escape conviction on
ethics charges, but now facing five separate cases, the odds
of avoiding a conviction are against him. The Workers Party
(PT) now has temporary command of both houses of congress, so
should be able to speed approval for legislation supported by
the PT-controlled executive branch. It will take much longer
for the Senate to repair its severely damaged public image.
End summary.

2. (U) Media reports on October 16 confirmed what many
analysts expected: Calheiros has told friends he will resign
from the Senate Presidency to try to avoid being expelled
from the Senate and losing his political rights. His gambit
may fail and he could still lose his Senate seat.

3. (U) Calheiros faces three cases in the Senate Ethics
Committee that were developed after he came under scrutiny
when Veja magazine wrote last May that child support payments
for an illegitimate daughter were paid by, or through, a
lobbying firm that represents construction firms with
government contracts. The cases accuse him of concealing
ownership in radio stations, improperly aiding a brewing
company, and deviating funds from ministries controlled by
his party. A fourth case will accuse him of spying on
political enemies, and a fifth of founding a phantom firm to
defraud the government. He was previously acquitted in the
Senate Plenary of the first case against him (reftel).

4. (U) Calheiros's leave-taking makes Tiao Viana (PT,
Workers Party, lead party in the governing coalition; of
Acre) the acting Senate President, giving the PT the
presidency of both houses of Congress for at least 45 days.
When Calheiros officially resigns the presidency, senators
will elect a successor, with speculation centering on former
president Jose Sarney (PMDB, Amapa), Roseana Sarney (PMDB,
Maranhao), and Gerson Camata (PMDB, Espirito Santo). The
opposition favorite is Jarbas Vasconcelos (PMDB, Pernambuco),
but he is unacceptable to the government coalition and
probably unelectable.

5. (U) Calheiros undermined his case throughout the ordeal
in a series of missteps, including presenting documents that
TV Globo showed to be false, but the last straw was the
allegation that he tried to spy on political enemies. Many
Senate allies abandoned him, and according to press reports,
longtime supporter Jose Sarney counseled him to step aside.

6. (SBU) Comment: The big winner is President Lula's
Workers Party, now at the helm of both houses and in control
of the agenda. This probably will translate into more clout
in the legislative process, but it is only temporary because
Calheiros's permanent successor will come from the PMDB, the
largest party in the Senate. The loser is the Senate's
public image: senators were shown on television in heated
exchanges, trading accusations and insults over the Calheiros
affair, undermining public confidence in the institution's
dignity and integrity, while Calheiros refused to step down
as evidence against him mounted. While the Calheiros case
may have limited long-term impact on the legislative process,
in the near-term the opposition has ended its obstructionism
and the Senate can resume consideration of legislation and
act on key bills. It also prompted some senators to
introduce a bill to require any member of the leadership
("mesa diretora") to take leave from the presidency if the
Ethics Committee votes to consider a case against him or her.
While the proposal is not a watershed response to what could
have been a watershed moment, it is a step in the right
direction.

Sobel

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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