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Cablegate: Introducing Eduardo Frei: Chile's Center-Left Presidential

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/11/16
TAGS: PGOV ECON PINR CI
SUBJECT: Introducing Eduardo Frei: Chile's Center-Left Presidential
Candidate

REF: SANTIAGO 755

SANTIAGO 00000899 001.2 OF 004


CLASSIFIED BY: Paul Simons, Ambassador, Stte, US Embassy Santiago;
REASON: 1.4(B)

1. (C) Summary: Smart, dependable, honest, and dull, Concertacion
candidate Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle is attempting to regain the
presidency that he held from 1994-2000 and that his legendary
father, Eduardo Frei Montalva, held from 1964-1970. Despite many
successes during his first four years as president, particularly in
increasing Chile's international presence and promoting free trade,
Frei's legacy is tainted by the economic setbacks that Chile
suffered in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. In
Chile's three-way presidential race, Frei represents both stability
and stagnant politics, and his success depends on whether voters
are ready to embrace the political change espoused by presidential
rivals Marco Enriquez-Ominami and Sebastian Pinera, or remain with
the familiar, safe, and tired Concertacion. End Summary.


Family Background: The Long Shadow of Eduardo Frei Senior

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------
--------------


2. (SBU) Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle was born in Santiago on June 24,
1942, the fourth of seven children and the eldest son of Maria
Ruiz-Tagle and Eduardo Frei Montalva. Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle's
childhood was marked by his father's ever-expanding role in
politics. The elder Frei was already a prominent politician by the
time his namesake was born, and went on to serve as Minister
(1944-1946), Senator (1949-64, March- September 1973), and
President (1964-70). (Note: Frei Montalva's last Senate term was
cut short when the Congress was dissolved following the 1973
military coup. End Note.) Considered one of Chile's greatest
modern leaders, Frei Montalva is known for his role in founding
Chile's Christian Democrat party and for the numerous reforms he
enacted as president: expanding public education, supporting
unionization efforts, building new public housing, improving health
infrastructure, and expanding opportunities for agricultural
workers to acquire their own land. Although initially supportive
of the coup as a short-term antidote to Allende's excesses, Frei
Montalva later became the face of opposition to military rule.
When he died unexpectedly following hernia surgery in 1982, many
suspected that he was poisoned by agents of Pinochet's regime,
although this has not been proven.


From Engineering to the Asian Financial Crisis: Frei Junior Turns
to Politics

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------
-----------------------------


3. (SBU) As a young man, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle initially showed
only moderate interest in the political scene where his father
played a starring role. Frei studied civil engineering at the
University of Chile and business management in Italy. Upon his
return to Chile in 1968, he went to work for Sigdo Koppers, a major
industrial firm, and climbed the ladder from project manager to
partner in six years. However, the aftermath of his father's death
(which his family views as "assassination") spurred the younger
Frei to take on the family political mantle. In 1988 Frei sold all
of his shares in Sigdo Koppers, reportedly for just over US $1
million, his last substantial involvement in the private sector.
He helped to found the Fundacion Frei, dedicated to his father's
memory, and was one of the creators of the Committee for Free
Elections, which promoted open elections during the Pinochet
dictatorship. He actively campaigned for the "No" (anti-Pinochet)
movement in advance of the 1988 plebiscite on continued military

SANTIAGO 00000899 002.2 OF 004


rule.


4. (SBU) In 1989, Frei ran for Senator from the East Santiago
district, facing a field of six candidates, including his current
rival, Sebastian Pinera. (Note: Reftel profiles Sebastian Pinera,
septel will profile the third leading candidate, Marco
Enriquez-Ominami. End Note.) Frei led the pack with 41% of the
vote; he and second place finisher Pinera became the two senators
from that district. In 1991 he was overwhelmingly elected as
president of the Christian Democrat party. After defeating
Socialist Ricardo Lagos in a primary, he became the Concertacion's
1993 presidential candidate, winning the election with 58% of the
vote, the highest total in recent Chilean history. Frei detractors
charge that the politician rode to the presidency on his father's
coattails.


5. (SBU) During his six-year presidential term, Frei implemented
sweeping judicial reform; signed twelve free trade agreements and
began negotiations for many more; further expanded the public
education system; and used public-private partnerships to expand
the nation's highway network. Frei struggled in the public
eye--his approval rating ranged from 28 to 44 during most of his
term--but is remembered fondly by rural, older, and poor Chileans.
Frei's forward-leaning pro-trade and pro-Asia policies were
ill-timed: his legacy is often cast--particularly by his
critics--as presiding over Chile's painful economic contraction
during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.


6. (C) When his presidential term ended in 2000, Frei became a
senator for life under the terms of the 1980 constitution but led
the successful effort to eliminate such positions. In 2004 he was
again elected to the Senate, this time representing the southern
region of Concepcion, Los Lagos, and Los Rios. He served as Senate
President from 2006-2008. Frei confidante Belasario Velasco tells
us that if he is unsuccessful in his presidential bid, Frei will
continue his work in the Senate and may even stand for re-election
in 2012.


Solid, Credible, Boring: The Personality Behind the Candidate

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------
--------------


7. (C) Frei's confidantes and family members describe him as a man
who embodies many of the stereotypes of the Chilean people:
earnest, hard-working, honest, and a bit stiff. Longtime friend
Belasario Velasco says that Frei is "extraordinarily serious" and
rigorous in his approach to work. Frei reads widely, particularly
during travel time. Frei's daughter and campaign advisor,
Magdalena Frei, notes that her father's analytical training as an
engineer carries over to his political and policy decisions: he
values logical, well-developed arguments supported by facts. He is
open to influence by a wide range of people, basing his judgments
more on data than on personalities. Once his mind is made up, he
can be difficult to dissuade. Frei has a wide circle of advisors,
but can be very loyal to specific individuals: he has clung to
longtime friend Pablo Halpern as his communications director
despite criticisms of Halpern's communications strategy and the
departure of several key advisors due to disagreements with
Halpern.

SANTIAGO 00000899 003.2 OF 004


8. (C) Although a wealthy man, Frei is thrifty and not prone to
display his fortune. Having inherited money from his father and
his wife's family, and benefitting from the 1988 sale of his Sigdo
Koppers shares, Frei is currently worth about USD 8 million
according to estimates by Velasco. These assets are largely managed
by his brother, Francisco Javier Frei, via the Inversiones Saturno
investment firm. Nonetheless, Frei maintains a simple lifestyle:
he has lived in the same house for 40 years, buying the house next
door to serve as his office. Frei is seen as extremely honest, and
advisors have told us that there are no financial or amorous
skeletons in his closet.


9. (C) A serious illness in 2004 led Frei to relax a bit and
"indulge his nature," longtime advisor Eugenio Fredes told us.
Frei developed a severe infection after undergoing prostate surgery
and nearly died that year. Afterwards, Fredes said that Frei
appeared to have a change of spirit--he became less formal, wore
more colorful clothing, opted for a more casual hair style, and
began speaking with more conviction and passion. Always a man of
few words, Frei has become more comfortable with public speaking in
recent years according to several of his advisors. Although not
known for his sense of humor, Frei sometimes shows his wit. During
a September 2009 radio debate, Frei's microphone malfunctioned, and
a technician handed him a new one. When the new microphone also
failed to function, Frei quipped, "See, change isn't always
better"--a gibe at the pro-change platforms of his two main
opponents.


Global Interests

---------------------


10. (C) Frei is intensely interested in the world beyond Chile's
borders and values the relationships he forged with world leaders
during his term as president. Frei's efforts to open Chilean trade
to other countries had him frequently on the road during his term
as president, leading to jokes that newspaper photos of him meeting
with foreign leaders were cropped at his shoulders because he had
his suitcases in his hands. Despite these international interests,
Frei does not speak any foreign languages well. Confidantes
describe him as friends with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
former President Bill Clinton, Helmut Kohl of Germany, Fernando
Cardoso of Brazil, Guilio Andreotti of Italy, Jacques Chirac of
France, and King Juan Carlos and Felipe Gonzalez of Spain.


Family Life

-------------


11. (SBU) Frei is a dedicated family man who several confidantes
described as having "an ideal relationship" with his wife of
40-plus years, the irrepressible Marta Larraechea. Known as a
"metiche" or busybody, Larraechea is as outspoken as Frei is quiet
and is known for her blunt and sometimes offensive comments about
her husband's political rivals and their wives. Larraechea ran for
Mayor of Santiago in 2000 but lost to conservative candidate
Joaquin Lavin. She later served as a city council member from
2000-2004, but has not pursued her own political career further.
She is particularly interested in work with the elderly, and makes
a point of promoting organizations and events that assist seniors.

SANTIAGO 00000899 004.2 OF 004


12. (C) Frei is also a very devoted father to his four daughters
(Veronica, Cecilia, Magdalena, and Catalina) and six grandchildren.
Cecilia, a lawyer, and Magdalena, a business administrator, are
both on the board of directors of the Frei Foundation. Magdalena,
who lived in the U.S. for two years, works on her father's campaign
but does not appear to be a key player. The other daughters,
social worker Veronica and psychologist Catalina, both faithfully
attend many of their father's campaign events but generally
maintain a lower profile.


Comment

-------------


13. (C) The embodiment of stability, dependability, and the
status quo, Frei's candidacy has been saddled with the inevitable
complaints about 20 years of one-coalition rule without
capitalizing on the public's effusive admiration for the current
Concertacion president, Michelle Bachelet. Frei is secure but
boring, smart but inexpressive, and experienced but weary. His
image pales compared to the hip, fresh, but risky and unpredictable
candidacy of Marco Enriquez-Ominami, or the wealthier, more
experienced, slick, poll-tested, presidency-or-bust approach of
Sebastian Pinera. Frei's success or failure will depend, in large
part, on whether the Chilean people are ready to embrace a youthful
and ill-defined Enriquez-Ominami revolution, the more measured
"same policies with new faces" Pinera pitch, or return to the
safety of the tried, true, and tired Concertacion. End Comment.
SIMONS

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