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Cablegate: Lula's Alliance with Pmdb: More Trouble Than It's

VZCZCXYZ0003
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBR #1127/01 2531401
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 101401Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY BRASILIA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5045

C O N F I D E N T I A L BRASILIA 001127

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/10/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR BR
SUBJECT: LULA'S ALLIANCE WITH PMDB: MORE TROUBLE THAN IT'S
WORTH?

REF: A. BRASILIA 1099
B. BRASILA 931

Classified By: Charge D'Affaires Lisa Kubiske for reasons 1.4 (b) and ( d).

Summary -------

1. (C) The last couple of months have added new challenges to President Lula's bid to put his Casa Civil Minister Dilma Rousseff into the Planalto Palace as his successor in 2011. By leveraging his support for corruption-tainted Senate President Jose Sarney to reinforce a core electoral alliance backing Rousseff, Lula has for the moment weakened his party's long-term prospects by turning the upcoming election into a referendum on the alliance between his Labor Party (PT) and Sarney's Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) -- rather than on himself. PMDB has successfully used PT's weakened position to extract support from them in key state races while providing only lukewarm support for Dilma in the presidential race. PT members (petistas) understand that a strong alliance with PMDB will erode their identity as a principled left-center party. There are signs that petistas will try to take a stronger statist-nationalist line on certain issues, such as state ownership of the recent "Pre-Salt" offshore oil finds, in order to solidify their center-left credibility. Despite these problems, PT has generally maintained party unity, albeit with significant grumbling and a couple of high-profile defections. Senator Marina Silva's (PT-Acre) move to the Green Party has grabbed headlines but her prospects as a national presidential candidate are less than convincing. With the election still over a year away, these latest developments will be overtaken by events before most voters have formed their opinions. Jose Serra (PSDB) remains the strong frontrunner, but Dilma and the PT are almost certainly in a better position than recent events suggest. End summary.

Dilma, Jose, Petrobras, and Pre-Salt ------------------------------------

2. (C) As outlined in ref B, Lula spent much of his vast political capital over the past two months saving the Senate Presidency of Jose Sarney, despite opposition from the PT leader in the Senate, Aloisio Mercadante, and much of his party base. The conventional wisdom holds that Lula supported Sarney primarily to maintain a base of electoral support for Dilma. On a related note, many also point to Lula's need to build allies to shield Petrobras from an audit that could prove damaging to his party. As Dep. Eduardo Cadoca (PSC-Pernambuco) told poloff on Sept. 2, "Lula didn't save Sarney. He saved Petrobras so he could save PT from auditing. Petrobras was always part of his election strategy." Even members of the governing coalition including, including Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dep. Severiano Alves (PDT-Bahia), have told us that the relationship between Petrobras and PT has grown close and politicized.

3. (C) Shortly after Sarney's mid-August clearance by the Senate's ethics committee, the August 31 Pre-Salt oil basin rules announcement provided a perfect photo op of power in today's Brasilia: Lula, Dilma, Sarney, and other leading PMDB officials standing together after days of public negotiations (ref A). Legislators from various parties told poloff that both the statist nature of the proposed rules and the process of negotiation can be seen as a template for future PT-PMDB partnership. Dep. William Woo (PSDB-Sao Paulo) called the proposal "campaign material for Dilma and PMDB," saying it would be impossible to vote on quickly, and, if passed, to implement. Interestingly, he and other opposition politicans weren't bothered by its statist nature as much as its impracticality. Dep. Mauricio Rands (PT-Pernambuco) praised the proposal but lamented that PMDB-affilated governors in Rio De Janeiro and Espirito Santo had succeeded in getting Lula to remove his plan to share proceeds evenly with non-oil states. Division of revenues will be dealt with in Congress, where it will be fiercely contested. Even PT politicians have been reluctant to predict final passage with confidence, mostly because they cannot envision a compromise on division of royalties, including within PMDB ranks.

4. (C) PMDB, recognizing its internal conflicts, successfully pushed Lula to remove the "Provisional Measures" (PM) status of the legislation. Lula announced the change after a September 9 meeting with Chamber of Deputies President Michael Temer (PMDB). According to PM rules, the Chamber and Senate would have been forced to approve the legislation and bring it to a final vote within 90 work days, with virtually no space for amendments. Speaking with the press after the meeting, Temer emphasized that Congress would still stick closely to the schedule envisioned by the PM rules, with the Chamber vote scheduled for November and the final vote scheduled for early 2010. Earlier in the day, Senator Valdir Raupp (PMDB-Rondonia) told poloff that Lula would recognize the political wisdom of removing PM status, arguing that the legislation in itself is popular but the PM rules are not. "Without the (PM rules), PSDB has no angle to oppose this except defending Sao Paulo," he said. Raupp also said PMDB is working internally to develop a proposal by which producing states would get a larger share of royalties, but in which non-producing states like Rondonia would also get a significant share.

Marina: The Next Big Thing? ---------------------------

5. (C) The Lula-Sarney alliance has provoked such a strongly negative public response that it provided the perfect environment for Marina Silva to disaffiliate with PT (Aug 18) and affiliate with the Green Party (PV)(Aug 31) as a prospective presidential candidate. Marina cited as reasons for departing a lack of support during her tenure as Minister of Environment and specific disagreements with Dilma about economic development policy. Most leading politicians and political analysts see Marina as a serious presidential candidate, but probably with limited electoral impact. Senator Romero Juca (PMDB), leader of the governing coalition, told poloff that Marina could pull "about ten percent of the vote, but it would come equally from PT and PSDB." A top PSDB political advisor grudgingly agreed that Marina pulls from both sides, but emphasized that Marina's departure hurts Dilma more because Marina,s life story closely resembles that of Lula -- a reminder to voters of how PT has strayed from its roots. Juca, among others, said that Marina is better served as a national candidate promoting environmental issues, which are popular among educated voters in major cities, than as a senator from her Amazonian province of Acre, where her stands are not always popular. Several Marina sympathizers have told us that they like her but question whether she is really presidential material or really wants to be -- the same questions Lula faced 20 years ago.

PT Chronicles -------------

6. (SBU) Despite the departure of Marina and disaffected PT Senator Flavio Arns, Lula has been largely successful in keeping a united front in a party that was deeply divided on protecting Sarney. As PT Senator Paulo Paim told poloff, "No one is happy to make a compromise like that; I was with (Mercadante) in voting against him." He emphasized, however, that Dilma embodies the mainline thinking of PT and that party enthusiasm for her is high. Dilma herself has become a subject of controversy in the Sarney affair given the accusations by former Internal Revenue Service (RF) chief Lina Vieira that Dilma pressured her into dropping an RF investigation into Sarney's son. While neither Lina's version nor Dilma's is provable at this point, public opinion surveys indicate that the vast majority believes the former. Meanwhile, several rounds of early September polling indicate that Dilma's negatives are rising quickly and she still trails PSDB prospective candidate Jose Serra by a solid 20 points or more. Even Lula's sky-high numbers have dipped.

7. (SBU) Meanwhile, PT also faces the question of how to proceed in the aftermath of the August 29 dismissal by the Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF), by a 5-4 margin, of 21 criminal charges against former Finance Minister Antonio Palocci. Palocci had been accused of breaking the bank account privacy of a witness against him in a corruption case. On the following day, Palocci -- still considered the primary PT backup choice for President if Dilma's health condition worsens -- was nominated as one of a list of "pre-candidates" for Governor of Sao Paulo. The public response to the STF Palocci decision has been muted, suggesting that his political rehabilitation may well be possible -- even though winning in Sao Paulo probably is not.

Dealing with the PMDB Devil ---------------------------

8. (SBU) Weakened and needing support for Dilma, PT leadership finds itself forced to concede support for PMDB in gubernatorial and senatorial races in 2010. Without a viable presidential candidate, PMDB still maintains the majority of Governor, Senate, Deputy, and state legislative slots -- and intends to maintain or even expand that majority. Lula is making the most visible concessions to PMDB in the big-state governor races, such as supporting re-election of Sergio Cabral in Rio and, more contentiously, backing Geddel Lima Vieira, currently Minister of National Integration, in Bahia. In some provinces -- generally smaller ones -- PT and PMDB have reached an informal agreement for one party to target the governorship and the other the senate seat(s). Prospective PT candidates, naturally, are not happy about this and are often running anyway despite what national leadership requests. In several provinces, including Pernambuco and much of the south, there is no agreement between PT-PMDB and likely never will be, adding to the instability of the national alliance.

9. (C) The big question is what, if anything, do the petistas get out of this arrangement? Senator Juca, responding for PMDB, told poloff that PT and PMDB will cooperate at the national level for Dilma even if agreements are not reached at the state level on other races. He then spent five minutes complaining about Dilma's weakness as a candidate. Senator Juca admitted more frankly that his party was split in loyalty between Dilma, Serra, and his personal favorite, Aecio Neves of PSDB, who he would like to woo to PMDB as a presidential candidate. Senator Paim of PT also spoke confidently cooperation in the presidential race, waiving off the historical animosity in his home province of Rio Grande do Sul, where PMDB is expected to support Serra. Dep. Cadoca, a long-time member of PMDB before defecting to PSC in 2007, said there is no way that PMDB will actually work to support any presidential candidate. He emphasized that PMDB backed Serra in 2002 against Lula and delivered nothing for him while winning many new seats for themselves. Dep. Alves, commenting on cooperation in Bahia, said PMDB will stick with PT in this presidential race (rather than jump back to Serra), but will only really work with PT's alliance after the election.

Petista Worries ---------------

10. (C) PT has been pilloried in the press for aligning itself so closely to a party known for representing nothing much more than the desire to stay in power. They are sensitive to the criticism. PT Dep. Rands spoke to poloff of the need to get a few more initiatives in public view that will reinforce his party's identity as a competent, progressive, center-left party with a vision for the future. The Pre-Salt announcement he viewed as a positive first step, showcasing that Brazilian government and business had developed over recent years to a point that they can now manage oil exploration and distribution. He also expected an increased PT emphasis on public education and health in upcoming months. Leading PSDB Senate leadership staff told us that they expected a slew of leftish social program proposals forthcoming from PT, and that they would be ready with their own very similar proposals.

11. (C) Other opposition figures, including Sen. Heraclito Fortes (DEM-Piaui) believe that PT's need to distinguish itself also extends into foreign policy. He specified, however, that Lula and Dilma would only be taking strong left-of-center stands on issues of limited true impact. Sen. Fortes said that he expected PT and PMDB to oppose U.S. use of Colombian bases, which puts them in line with public opinion and has little practical downside for the government. It would not, however, take a significantly different tone -- for or against -- in regard to relations with Hugo Chavez.

Comment -------

12. (C) Unfortunately for PT, their reliance on PMDB has reached such an unprecedentedly high level that they are in danger of being trapped by their much larger coalition partner's foibles. Next year's election now looks like a referendum on Lula's support for the PMDB at the cost of PT principles, rather than the hoped-for referendum on Lula's popular government. And with the PMDB looking out for its own interests, its continuous presence in the campaign may prevent the taint of the Sarney scandal from fading. Nonetheless, Dilma and PT are almost certainly in a much stronger position than recent events suggest. Few here doubt the political genius of Lula, and the lack of loyalty among the Brazilian electorate means Serra is vulnerable to falling from favor again. PMDB-PT cooperation within Congress appears stronger than ever, which might allow for passage of legislation that strengthens Dilma -- although the paralysis in the Senate caused by its recent Sarney-centered crisis could give way to elections-related paralysis. Despite Dilma's continued lag in the polls, PMDB does not yet appear to be seriously looking for new partners, perhaps realizing that PT offers the most favorable pre-election deal. End comment.

KUBISKE

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