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Cablegate: Prepping for a/S Valenzuela: Paraguay's Foreign Minister On

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id: 240025
date: 12/15/2009 17:25
refid: 09ASUNCION681
origin: Embassy Asuncion
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination:
header:
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DE RUEHAC #0681/01 3491725
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O R 151725Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY ASUNCION
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0285
INFO MERCOSUR COLLECTIVE
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RUCQSAB/USSOCOM INTEL MACDILL AFB FL
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C O N F I D E N T I A L ASUNCION 000681
SIPDIS
WHA/FO CMCMULLEN, WHA/BSC MDRUCKER, BFRIEDMAN, MDASCHBACH
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2034/12/15
TAGS: PGOV CVIS ECON PREL MASS PA IR
SUBJECT: PREPPING FOR A/S VALENZUELA: PARAGUAY'S FOREIGN MINISTER ON
REGIONAL RELATIONS
CLASSIFIED BY: Perry Holloway, DCM; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
1. (C) SUMMARY: Ambassador and Foreign Minister Lacognata met
December 10 to review the bilateral agenda before WHA Assistant
Secretary Valenzuela's December 17-18 visit. The Ambassador told
Lacognata that we believe the investment climate is deteriorating.
She also expressed concern about the sustainability of the Joint
Special Forces Battalion (BCFE). Lacognata pumped the Ambassador
for U.S. views of the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP), worried that
the Zevala kidnapping was ongoing after 60 days. The Ambassador
said we see the EPP as a small, manageable group, but that the GOP
needs to isolate them before they have the opportunity to grow.
Lacognata expressed frustration that the public views Lugo as
following Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. He said that while Brazil will
likely approve Venezuela's entry into MERCOSUR, "it won't happen
here even if Chavez dresses up like Santa Claus." On the Colombian
DCA, Lacognata criticized Chavez's efforts to unite regional
players around his own agenda and an external enemy (the U.S.), but
viewed Chavez as increasingly isolated. On Honduras, Lacognata
said Paraguay would see how Lobo governs and if he can gain the
confidence of all sectors. He said Paraguay's position was not
set in stone, but that they worried about the precedent of getting
rid of "a government that nobody likes." Lacognata lamented that
Lugo's impeachment appears to be a permanent topic of discussion.
He thinks the votes are being gathered for impeachment, but that
two political sectors are blocking impeachment for now. The
Foreign Minister showed himself to be frank, pragmatic, and
concerned about maintaining close relations with the U.S. While
the GOP does not see eye-to-eye with us on all issues (e.g.,
Honduras), its positions were rational given their domestic
context, particularly regarding a growing frustration with Lugo's
inability to lead. While most political actors tell us that
impeachment remains only a possibility for now, we are closely
monitoring the situation. END SUMMARY.
---------------------------
COMMERCIAL ISSUES
---------------------------
2. (C) The Ambassador, accompanied by DCM and Pol/Econ Chief
(notetaker), informed Lacognata, who was flanked by Vice Minister
Caceres and three other staff members, that we believe the
investment climate in Paraguay is deteriorating, which would be
reflected in our upcoming Investment Climate Report. The Foreign
Minister said there is only so much he can do since his ministry is
not part of the GOP's economic cabinet. He and his team were
familiar with the Crescent Oil litigation (DCM provided an update),
but inquired if there were other pending claims/cases. The
Ambassador noted that the Embassy's commercial section was seeing
an increased number of preliminary complaints/concerns from U.S.
businesses. The Paraguayans underscored the importance of ATPA
trade benefits for Paraguay, and their continued interest in
lobbying the U.S. Congress for trade preferences.
------------------------------
MIL-TO-MIL RELATIONS
------------------------------
3. (C) Regarding the Joint Special Forces Battalion (BCFE), the
Ambassador expressed concern about whether the Paraguayan
government had plans to sustain the unit via this year's budget.
She noted that the BCFE, whose primary mission is anti-terrorism,
was not being used to respond to the Zavala kidnapping. Lacognata
said the BCFE's deployment was likely complicated by recent changes
in military leadership, but was not sure why the unit was not
deployed. Lacognata surmised that the GOP's decision not to use
the BCFE was a political one, and would have its consequences. The
Foreign Minister hoped that CECOPAZ, Paraguay's brand-new
engineering company to be deployed on UN peacekeeping missions,
would be ready by January to go to Chad.
4. (C) Lacognata pumped the Ambassador for U.S. views of the
Paraguayan People's Army (EPP), worried that the Zavala kidnapping
was ongoing after 60 days. The Ambassador said we see the EPP as a
small, manageable group, but that the GOP needs to isolate them
before they have the opportunity to grow. Lacognata asked about
the EPP's agenda, and the Ambassador responded that their goal
appears to be to destabilize the government, not to topple it (e.g.
they are not viewed as a threat in terms of political ambition or
popular support). The Foreign Minister said he doubted the EPP's
existence as recently as two to three years ago, but is now worried
about their potential political/economic impact (particularly if
Zavala does not emerge alive).
---------------
VENEZUELA
---------------
5. (C) Lacognata expressed frustration that the public views Lugo
as following Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Quipping that his
strategy was to continue asking questions in an effort to keep the
Ambassador from asking him questions, Lacognata solicited the
Ambassador's view on whether Lugo is a Chavista. The Foreign
Minister said when he interacts with the press, he asks them to
give him two examples of a Chavista policy of the Lugo government,
and they can't. Lacognata admitted that Lugo is ambivalent and
unclear, and that he allows others to clarify his policies for him.
He said "I'm a socialist but I know that doesn't sell in Paraguay
right now." Socialism is a "romantic" idea; the reality is
"something else." The Foreign Minister highlighted the GOP's
pragmatism, and was not sure how to change the GOP's image. He
lamented that the government's biggest challenge is Paraguay's
biased, unprofessional media. He said his children all want to
leave Paraguay because of the constant negativity in the press
centered on Lugo. (NOTE: He said that although the Zavala
kidnapping was only one case; it was like a new kidnapping every
day because it dominates headlines. He wished that the press would
agree not to damage Paraguayan institutions. END NOTE).
6. (C) On MERCOSUR, Lacognata said that while Brazil will likely
approve Venezuela's entry into MERCOSUR, "it won't happen here even
if Chavez dresses up like Santa Claus." Lacognata recognized
Brazil's (not Venezuela's) lead in MERSOSUR. UNASUR, however, he
described as the first victim of regional polarization, given that
Venezuela, Colombia and Peru have irreconcilable positions. He
noted that Ecuador voted with Venezuela in the past, but now
appears to have an independent agenda because Ecuador sees Chavez
as a "dead weight." Lacognata criticized Chavez for his negative
agenda in regional organizations. He thought UNASUR was a waste of
time, lamenting that the participants could not even agree on a
final declaration at the close of their meetings.
7. (C) Regarding the Colombian DCA, Lacognata criticized Chavez's
efforts to unite regional players around his own agenda and an
external enemy (the USG) , but viewed Chavez as increasingly
isolated. He also mentioned that Venezuela was annoyed with him
for saying that Chavez was creating political tension over the
Colombian DCA.
--------------
HONDURAS
---------------
8. (C) Lacognata said the GOP position on Honduras, based on the
OAS position, is to see how Lobo governs and if he can gain the
confidence of all sectors. He said Paraguay's position was not
set in stone, but that they worried about the negative precedent of
getting rid of "a government that nobody likes." Lacognata
recognized that the elections were an opportunity to normalize the
situation, but questioned whether elections could be free/fair in a
repressive environment. He said that under Stroessner, Paraguay
had "brilliant" elections every five years in which no incidents
were reported, but they were merely a ritual. Lacognata said
elections are not a one-day event, but a months-long process. And
in the case of Honduras, he said, there were threats to the
opposition, the media, etc. "We're sensitive to what is happening
in Honduras," he said, "because we're afraid we're on the menu."
In Paraguay, however, it would likely be impeachment, and not a
coup, that would interrupt Lugo's presidency. Impeachment would be
institutional according to Lacognata, but would break up the
democratic process and show that alternating power in Paraguay was
not possible. He worried about Paraguay's fragile institutions,
and said "we don't want to feed any similar tendencies here." He
also noted that many Hondurans believed the coup was appropriate
because they had to stop Chavez from meddling in their internal
affairs. In short, he said, "we will talk to the new Honduran
government, and like Brazil, see what happens." He noted that
Paraguay would stick with MERCOSUR on this issue.
----------------------
IMPEACHMENT
----------------------
9. (C) Lacognata lamented that Lugo's impeachment appears to be a
permanent topic of discussion. He said many actors are looking for
instability and ingovernability. He thinks the votes are being
gathered for impeachment, but that two political sectors (Beloved
Fatherland, or PQ , and Castiglioni's faction of the Colorado
Party) are blocking impeachment for now. Either, he said, could
change their position if the middle class pushed them to act based
on fear of Chavez or leftist influence, or based on a major Lugo
misstep. (NOTE: This is why Paraguay's biased media pushed the
image of Lugo as a Chavista, knowing that it could tip the scales
against him. END NOTE). He repeated that impeachment is not
equivalent to a coup, but said the Colorados don't want to see
Liberal Frederico Franco as president, which serves to delay
possible impeachment proceedings. (COMMENT: Like Lacognata,
Embassy does not believe that there are the votes for impeachment,
but will continue to monitor. END COMMENT).
-------
IRAN
-------
10. (C) Ambassador took advantage of the meeting to demarche the
Foreign Minister on Iran's announcement to open ten new uranium
enrichment plants. Lacognata said Paraguay has had less contact
with Iran than any other country in the region, partly because of
the Persian-Arab issue and the large Arab population in Paraguay.
He said Paraguay does not have diplomatic representation to Iran
(not even concurrent), and that they declined Iran's overtures for
a visit when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in the region.
(NOTE: Lacognata noted that Paraguay will open embassies in Qatar,
Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Indonesia and Sweden). Other than that, he
said Paraguay had not defined a position on Iran.
---------------------------
DEPORTATION CASE
---------------------------
11. (C) Regarding the Liberal Party official to be deported to
Paraguay after illegally entering the United States, Lacognata said
the Liberals (really, one vocal Liberal deputy) were making noise
about the case in order to "defend their own." The Foreign
Minister said he had gone beyond the call of duty to try to
accommodate political requests to name Noguera to Paraguay's
consulate in New York, but had pulled back the nomination after
speaking to Ambassador (and learning about Noguera's illegal
overstay in the United States). Lacognata said that after Noguera
knowingly presented an expired diplomatic passport at the border,
he can no longer claim he is a victim. Noguera told officials
working in the Paraguayan Embassy in Washington that he made a
mistake, but had been treated well by U.S. authorities. Lacognata
was sorry the issue made such a big splash in the local press.
--------------
COMMENT
--------------
12. (C) As before, the Foreign Minister showed himself to be
frank, pragmatic, and concerned about maintaining close relations
with the United States. While the GOP does not see eye-to-eye
with us on all issues (e.g., Honduras), their positions as
articulated by Lacognata were rational given their domestic
context, particularly regarding a growing frustration with Lugo's
inability to lead. While most political actors tell us that
impeachment remains only a possibility for now, we are closely
monitoring the situation, and are being careful to stay out of this
highly charged, domestic political issue. END COMMENT.
AYALDE
=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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