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Cablegate: (C) Argentina: Cfk's First Two Cabinet Chiefs Say Kirchners'


DE RUEHBU #1235/01 3241653
O R 201653Z NOV 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 2034/11/20



1. (C) Summary: Over the past six weeks, we have held several
conversations with President Fernandez de Kirchner's first two
Cabinet Chiefs, Alberto Fernandez and Sergio Massa. Both believe
that the Kirchners, despite their recent political successes,
cannot win re-election in 2011. They disagree on whom is next in
line: Fernandez thinks that the next President will be Vice
President Julio Cobos, while Massa believes that Senator Carlos
Reutemann will prevail. Both ex-Cabinet chiefs are (separately)
plotting their futures in a post-Kirchner political landscape.
Massa expanded on earlier comments to us (ref a) on life with the
Kirchners, describing ex-president Nestor Kirchner as a "monster"
and a "psychopath." End Summary.

2. (C) We have had several conversations with the first two
Cabinet Chiefs of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK), Alberto
Fernandez and Sergio Massa. The Ambassador had an introductory
meeting with Alberto Fernandez, who served as Cabinet Chief in both
Nestor and CFK's administrations, on October 28, and DCM lunched
with Fernandez on October 2. The Ambassador and DCM also had
dinner with CFK's second cabinet chief Sergio Massa and his wife,
city councilor-elect Malena Galmarini, at the home of Massa's
former Casa Rosada aide, businessman Jorge O'Reilly, on November
12. In each of these conversations, the two prominent Peronists,
who during their tenures in the Casa Rosada worked every day with
the Kirchners to run the Argentine government, were quite frank in
expressing their estrangement from the Kirchners and their
pessimism about the first couple's political prospects.

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Alberto and Massa Agree: Kirchners Will Lose in 2011

3. (C) Massa said that the Kirchners have no chance to capture the
presidency in 2011. When asked to estimate their chances, Massa
replied, "zero." He also discounted the view that the Kirchners
would extend their rule through Chavez-style governance. Massa
said that, for all of its problems, Argentina is not Venezuela.
Its society remained too literate, too middle class, and too
"temperate," and its economy is far more complex and diverse than
Venezuela's oil monoculture. Argentina, he said, would not abide
the Kirchner's attempts to consolidate power through more
autocratic rule. The result of their hardball tactics after the
midterm elections, he argued, was even more negative ratings in the

4. (C) Fernandez predicted that Nestor would be the Kirchners'
presidential candidate in 2011. He claimed that Nestor has a
better reputation for competence than CFK. Fernandez told the DCM
that his soundings on CFK's potential run for re-election
invariably provoked reactions of alarm and exasperation.

5. (C) But Nestor cannot possibly win, continued Fernandez,
comparing the former president to Carlos Menem circa 1999. He said
that, like Menem ten years ago, Kirchner could hope for no more
than 20 percent of the votes in the first round of the presidential
election. These voters, he continued, are Kirchner
"fundamentalists" whose votes reflect ideological affinity or
association with the various political machines (controlled by
piqueteros, labor leaders, etc.) that remain loyal to the Kirchner
project. Fernandez said that, because Kirchner at this point in
his political career has zero attraction to independent voters, he
could expect to win no more votes in the second round of elections
than he would in the first. Fernandez predicted that Nestor would
run and CFK would increasingly govern from the Left, as that "is
the only constituency that remains to them." He added, though,
that such a strategy was doomed to fail -- "the Left on its own
can't elect anyone to the Presidency in this country," he said.

Alberto and Massa Disagree on Next President

6. (C) Massa identified Santa Fe Senator Carlos Reutemann as the
likely presidential winner in 2011. He said that Reutemann's
strategy of lying low was prudent, not a blunder or sign of
indecision as often portrayed in the press. With Reutemann quiet,
the Kirchner machine was focused on pummeling Vice President Cobos
and Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri. The onslaught, he argued,
would damage both of those potential opponents to a Reutemann
candidacy. When the race really begins, Reutemann would be
well-placed to obtain the Peronist nomination and steamroll the
rest of the field. Massa said that the Peronist race would not
begin in earnest until May 1, 2010, when he said five large
Peronist rallies would mark May Day for the first time in years.

7. (C) Alberto Fernandez identified Vice President Cobos as the
next president of Argentina. Fernandez noted that Cobos continues
to be the most popular politician in the country, and is conserving
his advantage intelligently. He expected that Coalicion Civica
leader Elisa Carrio, the runner-up in the 2007 election and a
bitter rival of Cobos, would run in the first round and win a
maximum of 12 percent of the vote, deflating the Vice President's
first-round numbers, but Cobos would come out on top. "It's his
election to lose," concluded Fernandez. He took issue with Massa's
view that Peronists would prevail once they united behind a
candidate. Fernandez, a long-time Peronist activist who headed the
party apparatus in Buenos Aires city for many years, said that his
party only controls the loyalty of 38 percent of the electorate.
Given the Kirchners' continuing control over the party apparatus,
the Peronist candidate, even if it ends up being someone with a
last name that is not Kirchner, would not appeal to non-Peronist
voters in 2011. The party's presidential prospects in the coming
election were therefore, in Fernandez's view, poor.

Massa: Nestor is a Monster and Psychopath

8. (C) Massa was scathing in his criticism of the first couple,
especially Nestor. Though he made light of press reports that he
and Kirchner came to blows at the campaign bunker in the pre-dawn
hours after their mid-term defeat last June, he called Nestor "a
psychopath," "a monster," and "a coward" whose bullying approach to
politics masks a deep sense of insecurity and inferiority.
(Massa's wife registered such alarm at these uninhibited comments
that he asked her to "stop making faces at me.") He disputed the
argument that Nestor deserved credit as a savvy tactician,
describing the ex-president as blunder-prone and so convinced of
his own brilliance that he was certain to keep making mistakes.
(We've heard similar comments from Fernandez on Nestor's faltering
political judgment -- ref b.) He said that Nestor could not
relate to others outside the narrow gauge of his own political
ambitions: "Kirchner's not a perverse genius," Massa concluded.
"He is just perverse."

9. (C) Massa described his twelve-month term as Cabinet Chief as
an ordeal, as he struggled to deal with a controlling presidential
spouse and a "submissive, withdrawn" President "who would be much
better without Nestor than she is with him." He said that, during
his tenure at the Casa Rosada, he decided to do the Oprah-like
daytime TV show hosted by grand dame Mirtha Legrand. On the set
minutes before the show's taping began, he received a call from
Nestor instructing him to walk off the set because the apolitical
Legrand "was an opposition figure." Massa told him he would do the
show unless his official boss CFK, who was travelling abroad,
instructed him otherwise. He then received three successive calls
from Cabinet members pleading with him not to do the show. Massa
did not follow their advice.

Both Focusing on Post-Kirchner Future

10. (C) As for his own plans, Massa confirmed that he plans to run
in 2011 for governor of Buenos Aires province, which could pit him
against midterm winner Francisco de Narvaez, incumbent Daniel
Scioli and labor strongman Hugo Moyano. Massa said that he will

announce his candidacy on the third week of January, the week when
(largely vacationing) Argentines buy the most newspapers.
Fernandez also commented on the Buenos Aires race, opining that
Scioli's political moment had passed. Calling the governor "a nice
guy," he observed that Nestor had used him (by grabbing him as his
slate-mate in the province during the midterms) and then cast him
aside. "Scioli is trapped, and he knows it," Fernandez said.

11. (C) Fernandez remains politically active as well. He told
the DCM that he is talking to many political figures within and
outside Peronism, including Cobos and the fellow would-be Peronist
kingmaker, ex-President Eduardo Duhalde. Within the party, he
expressed particular interest in the 40-year-old governor of Salta
province Juan Manuel Urtubey. He said that, despite his belief
that Cobos is likely to win the presidency, he is counseling
Urtubey to throw his hat in the ring. He says that the campaign
strategy would be to nudge Nestor out in the first round for second
place, and then emerge as the Peronist candidate in the run-off
against Cobos. (Comment: It appears that Urtubey, once regarded
as a reliable Kirchner ally, is listening. He agreed to host
Fernandez in a much-photographed visit to Salta on November 14,
fueling speculation that the two were plotting a presidential run.)

Comment: Common Views, Divergent Paths

12. (C) Massa and Fernandez have much in common, from their
unique experience in CFK's cabinet to their active roles in the
burgeoning anti-Kirchner movement within Peronism. They are both
generally pro-American in orientation. They do not, however, work
together very closely, and their futures seem quite different.
Fernandez, 50, is low-key and content to operate in the background
while others take the spotlight. The most that he seems to aspire
to is success in behind-the-scenes political kingmaking, which
could restore him to his former status as the country's most
influential political consigliore. Massa, 37, the younger man by
more than a decade, has more ambitious plans. He hopes to win the
Buenos Aires governorship and, eventually, the Argentine

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