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Cablegate: Argentina: Cfk's New Cabinet Chief


DE RUEHBU #1017/01 2531523
P 101523Z SEP 09




E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/10/2039

REF: A. TDX-315/090481-08 AND TDX-315/042493-09
B. TD-314/65216-07
C. TD-314/67647-07
G. TD-314/046516-08
K. TD-314/08212-07
L. TD-314/043023-09
M. TD-314/054350-09

Classified By: CDA Thomas P. Kelly for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).

1. (S) Summary: Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de
Kirchner's (CFK) promotion of former Justice Minister Anibal
Fernandez (AF) to Cabinet Chief puts in place someone with
six years of experience working for the First Couple, first
as former president Nestor Kirchner's Interior Minister and
then as CFK's Justice Minister. By dint of his office's
physical proximity to the President's as well as his
portfolio's constitutional responsibilities, AF is in a
position to wield significant power and influence, and is
already playing a key role in shaping Casa Rosada politics,
policy, and message.

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2. (S) AF has been the most accessible member of CFK's
Cabinet for the Embassy, but, unlike his two immediate
predecessors, he has also not been shy about vociferously
attacking the USG (or any other target) in order to defend
the Kirchners. Like many Argentine politicians, he is dogged
by corruption rumors, including ties to narcotrafficking,
according to unsubstantiated press and intelligence reports
(ref A). Additionally, he is suspected of directing
intelligence teams to clandestinely monitor the emails of the
administration's political opponents, according to separate
intelligence reports (refs B and C), and he has been linked
to reported CFK administration efforts to secure additional
votes illegally in Buenos Aires and Cordoba provinces ahead
of the June midterms. Despite the varied and persistent
accusations of corruption lodged against him, however, there
is no hard evidence. End Summary.

CFK Rewards Fernandez' Loyalty with Cabinet Chief Post
--------------------------------------------- -----

3. (C) Former Minister of Justice, Human Rights and Security
Anibal Fernandez (AF) became CFK's third Chief of Cabinet
since she assumed office in December 2007. A longtime
Peronist and a close ally of former President Nestor Kirchner
(NK), AF has worked over six years for the presidential
couple, since the first day of NK's term. He has been one of
the administration's most outspoken public defenders, first
while serving as NK's Interior Minister and later as CFK's
Justice Minister. Many viewed AF's promotion to Cabinet
Chief as a reward for securing in his hometown of Quilmes one
of the few significant Kirchner victories in the June 28
mid-term elections (ref E).

Origins of the Cabinet Chief Post

4. (C) As Cabinet Chief, AF has considerable power and
influence. The authors of the 1994 constitutional reforms
intended the position to be a check on presidential power as
a watered-down prime minister, although in practice the
Cabinet Chief has become a presidential chief of staff,
spokesman, and all-purpose firefighter. The Cabinet Chief is
technically responsible for the collection of national taxes;
submitting the executive's budget request to Congress;
co-signing executive decrees; appointing administration
employees not designated by the President; and overseeing the
Cabinet's ministers. Additionally, the President's Cabinet
Chief is expected to report at least monthly to Congress,
alternating between the Lower House and the Senate. (Note:
The last two cabinet chiefs, Alberto Fernandez and Sergio
Massa, appeared before Congress less than once a year; Anibal
Fernandez will make his first such appearance this week.)

Under the Ks, Cabinet Chief Influence Grew

5. (C) Under the Kirchner administration, the cabinet chief
position has grown in influence beyond its
constitutionally-proscribed powers. Since 2002, the
Argentine Congress has annually authorized economic
"superpowers" for the executive branch. Originally enacted
to address the 2001 financial crisis, these controversial
superpowers enable the Cabinet Chief to redistribute federal
funds coming from export taxes and tax collections above and
beyond budget estimates, at the President's discretion.

6. (C) The Cabinet Chief's influence ultimately depends on
his relationship with the First Couple. AF's immediate
predecessor, the media-friendly Sergio Massa, reportedly had
differences with NK over style and substance. Their tense
relationship soured even further with NK's poor showing in
Massa's hometown in the June 28 midterm elections (ref E).
Alberto Fernandez (not related to AF), who served as CFK's
and NK's first Cabinet Chief, was one of the few capable of
moderating the temperamental First Couple. But even he was
unable to walk the Kirchners back from their
take-no-prisoners approach to an extended conflict with the
farm sector, and he resigned in July 2008 out of frustration
(ref F). Amid a cabinet that does not speak much to the
media, Anibal Fernandez has long been one of the most visible
spokesmen for the Kirchners, and his influence over policy
and political decisions will likely grow in his new post.

Embassy Interaction with Fernandez

7. (C) AF has been for us the most accessible and
forward-leaning member of CFK's Cabinet, welcoming USG law
enforcement training and cooperation (ref G). Again and
again, he has gone out of his way to rearrange his travel
schedule to meet with visiting U.S. officials and greet
Embassy officials at diplomatic events. Although he has
frequently told us that he is the most "pro-American" member
of CFK's Cabinet, we think this reflects his deep-seated
pragmatism rather than any abiding affinity for the United
States. Our positive working relationship with Fernandez,
for example, did not stop him from criticizing the United
States to protect the Kirchners, as he did during the 2007-08
suitcase scandal (ref H). Nonetheless, he was one of the
first Argentine officials to assure Embassy officials that
the suitcase scandal was "water under the bridge."

8. (C) More political hack than diplomat, AF is a
fiefdom-builder who loathes giving up control over strategic
resources. When he moved from the Interior Ministry to
Justice, for example, he took the internal security agencies
with him. Many believe that even now, as Cabinet Chief, AF
retains operational control over the law enforcement forces.

9. (C) Although AF confided to the Embassy's former LEGAT
that he was not in a position to micromanage the Ministry of
Justice at first, he said he immediately centralized control
once he got the lay of the land. As Chief of the internal
security forces, including the Border Patrol/Paramilitary
Police (Gendarmeria Nacional), Coast Guard, federal police,
and special airport police, AF quickly imposed a strict
vertical hierarchy where he discouraged information sharing
and commanded security chiefs to report directly to him. He
has boasted to Embassy officials that while his predecessor
at Justice, Alberto Iribarne, only signed a few ministerial
decrees, he signed hundreds. Judicial contacts have told us
that as Justice Minister, he even tried to pressure
provincial judges to advise him of any judicial assistance
requests from federal judges, but subsequently backtracked on
that position after judges complained that the directive
interfered with judicial independence. His micro-management
over even routine matters in his portfolio resulted in
bureaucratic backlogs for us. Naming participants to U.S.
training programs, the visits of Transportation Security
Administration teams to conduct airport/air carrier
assessments, and clearance for U.S. Federal Air Marshals all
required his personal approval. Once, when the DCM visited
Fernandez's Chief of Staff at Justice, Fernandez got wind of
the meeting while it was in progress, got into a car, and
stormed into the office, taking over the meeting while the
chief of staff clammed up.

10. (C) A pragmatic and politically savvy interlocutor, AF
prefers not to include his staff in meetings with Embassy
officials. Although he is always well-prepared, his speech
and demeanor can sometimes be crass. On more than one
occasion, he has taken obvious notice of an attractive
translator during a meeting with visiting U.S. officials.
Additionally, he has referred to the existence of local
"demand for young genitals" when explaining the challenges
his Ministry faces in fighting human trafficking for the
purposes of sexual exploitation.

AF Denies Drug Problem, Advocates Decriminalization
--------------------------------------------- ------

11. (C) Although he has not interfered with USG CN activity
here insofar as we can ascertain, AF has frequently denied
that drug trafficking is a major problem in Argentina,
despite evidence indicating that Colombian and Mexican drug
cartels operate in Argentina, and that Argentina leads Latin
America in cocaine consumption. AF insists that Argentina is
merely a transit point and continues to deny the existence of
drug labs in Argentina. In an October 2008 workshop on
Argentine narcotics policy, AF described press reports
claiming that drug cartels had established production
facilities in Argentina (ref I) as mere fiction. He is also
a long-time advocate for the decriminalization of drug use,
saying he dreams "of the day when drug addicts are sent to
rehab instead of prison." AF argues that the government
should stop focusing on small-time carriers in order to focus
on dismantling large drug trafficking networks (ref J).

12. (S/NF) According to late December 2006 intelligence
reporting (ref K), AF advised then Vice-President Scioli that
he should not make counternarcotics his number one campaign
issue when he ran for Governor of Buenos Aires province.
Reasoning that the narcotraffickers are well-organized with
the capacity to frame politicians, AF suggested that Scioli
pay only lip service to counternarcotics efforts. He argued
that Scioli should not assume the risks since drug-related
crimes would never be resolved.

Ties to Drug Trafficking?

13. (S/NF) Unsubstantiated press and intelligence reports
(refs A and M) suggest that AF may be financially profiting
from narcotrafficking. These reports state that AF's ties to
narcotrafficking date back to 1994 when AF was mayor of
Quilmes and allegedly directed a cocaine trafficking network.
The Embassy's DEA section has heard similar allegations from
contacts at the Argentine Counternarcotics Secretariat
(SEDRONAR), which has been at loggerheads with AF. SEDRONAR
contacts told poloff that AF personally called off an ongoing
drug investigation in Salta province near the Bolivian border
when he got wind of the investigation.

14. (S/NF) We have no information to corroborate these
allegations, and we are unaware of any formal legal complaint
against him on narcotrafficking charges. However, there are
two formal legal complaints pending against former
subordinates -- including Federal Police officials -- for
protecting or willfully ignoring various illegal brothels in
the Monserrat neighborhood (within a five-block radius of
Federal Police headquarters) in Buenos Aires City where the
sale of drugs is suspected.

Spying on the Opposition

15. (S/NF) Intelligence reporting suggests that AF has not
hesitated to resort to questionable means to keep tabs on
political opponents. In mid-May 2007, AF, as Interior
Minister, allegedly directed a private intelligence team
composed of retired military and intelligence officers to
clandestinely monitor the emails of provincial and federal
government officials, business executives and journalists
suspected of working against NK's administration (ref B). In
September 2007, he reportedly used a private, unofficial
investigative team to read the emails and collect derogatory
information on then-gubernatorial candidates for Buenos Aires
province, Francisco de Narvaez and Juan Carlos Blumberg, and
Buenos Aires province Minister of Security Leon Arslanian
(ref C). According to intelligence reporting in November
2007, AF used two computer technicians to hack into
high-level email accounts, including Chief Justice
Lorenzetti's email (ref G). San Isidro judge Sandra
Arroyo-Salgado (wife of Alberto Nisman, the Special
Prosecutor investigating the 1994 bombing of the Argentine
Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA)) is investigating AF's
relationship with the two technicians, according to press
reports. (Note: These technicians in the past have been
associated with Argentina's State Secretariat for
Intelligence (SIDE) and sought asylum in Uruguay.)

16. (S/NF) AF reportedly may have played a tangential role in
illegally bolstering voter registration ahead of the June 28
midterms, according to a June 2009 intelligence report. He
supported efforts -- led by Interior Minister Florencio
Randazzo and Secretary of Intelligence Hector Icazuriaga --
to illegally procure national registry identification numbers
(DNIs) to register ostensible supporters and secure
additional votes in Buenos Aires and Cordoba provinces (ref


17. (C) Although AF once bragged to the Embassy's former
LEGAT that he has a "transparent and honest style," he did
little as Justice Minister to fortify his agency's
anti-corruption efforts or enhance governmental transparency.
Admittedly, the MOJ's Anti-Corruption Office (ACO) was a
weak unit to begin with, but it made no headway during AF's
tenure. Contacts who work for the Cabinet Chief's government
accountability and transparency unit have expressed concern
that the GOA will become even less transparent under his
watch. They note that since AF took over as chief of the
internal security forces, criminal statistics are no longer
public information. Indeed, despite public alarm over rising
insecurity, AF refuses to acknowledge a rise in robberies and
kidnappings and instead has argued that insecurity is only "a
sensation fed by the media."


18. (C) Like many Argentine politicians, AF has been dogged
by rumors of corruption. In recent years, some Embassy
contacts have alleged that AF has a corrupt relationship with
the Japanese computer company, NEC. When AF was mayor of
Quilmes (1991-1995), he was charged with several counts of
corruption, becoming a fugitive for 48 hours. Although he
was later acquitted, he has continued to face accusations of
corruption from the opposition, and the allegations remain
fresh in the minds of some Argentines. When CFK named him
Minister of Justice, one judicial contact told us that many
in the judicial system considered the appointment "ironic"
and called AF the "fugitive from Quilmes."

Bio Data

19. (SBU) AF began his political career in 1983, working
first as an advisor to the budget committee of the Buenos
Aires provincial Senate. From 1985 to 1987, he served as the
administrative secretary for the Peronist party (PJ) in the
Buenos Aires provincial Senate. He also simultaneously held
positions in the municipal councils of Quilmes and Florencio
Varela. In 1991, AF was elected mayor of Quilmes. In 1995,
he won a provincial Senate seat where he presided over the
Commission on Public Health and Control over Addictions. He
was named provincial government secretary in 1997, labor
secretary in 1999, and the province,s first labor minister
in 2001. AF served in former President Eduardo Duhalde's
cabinet as secretary general of the presidency in January
2002, and then as production minister in October of the same
year. He switched allegiance to NK in 2004 when the Peronist
party split into two factions - one that supported NK and
another that supported Duhalde. Since then, Duhalde
supporters have called him a traitor and the "first Kirchner
convert." In 2007, CFK tapped him to serve as her Justice
Minister and on July 7 she named him Cabinet Chief.

20. (SBU) AF was born in Quilmes, Buenos Aires Province on
January 9, 1957. A public accountant, AF received his law
degree while serving as Interior Minister. Although the
Kirchners stifled AF's ambitions to run for Governor of BA
province in 2007 when they tapped then Vice President Daniel
Scioli for the job, AF's power and influence within the
Kirchner Cabinet has steadily grown. He accompanied CFK to
the United States in July when she went to the OAS to discuss
the political crisis in Honduras. He also accompanied her in
May 2007 when she addressed the American Jewish Committee as
Senator and First Lady. During that visit, he met with the
U.S. Attorney General, FBI officials, and State Department
officers on TIP-related issues. AF lives in the trendy
waterfront Puerto Madero neighborhood in Buenos Aires City
with his wife and one son. A fan of technology, he carries
multiple cell phones and his office has six television sets
permanently tuned in to every local news channel. He speaks
limited English.

Comment: Handle with Care

21. (S) For USG officials, Anibal Fernandez has long been the
most readily accessible GOA cabinet member. That has
continued since he became Cabinet Chief, assuming more
importance than ever. Fernandez has far better access to the
ruling first couple than any other member of the Cabinet;
perhaps only reclusive Casa Rosada staffer Carlos Zannini has
more influence with the Kirchners. Given AF's importance,
accessibility, and the absence of hard evidence to
substantiate the allegations described above, we continue to
meet and work with him. At the same time, there are enough
rumors about Fernandez -- even in this rumor-plagued,
conspiratorial society -- to approach interactions with him
with some caution.


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