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Viewing cable 09BUENOSAIRES174, EX-PRESIDENT DUHALDE HANDICAPS THE NEW GENERATION

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09BUENOSAIRES174 2009-02-20 09:09 2011-02-20 06:06 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Buenos Aires
VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #0174/01 0510951
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 200951Z FEB 09
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3068
INFO RUCNMER/MERCOSUR COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 1850
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L BUENOS AIRES 000174 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/18/2039 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR ECON SNAR AR
SUBJECT: EX-PRESIDENT DUHALDE HANDICAPS THE NEW GENERATION 
OF ARGENTINE POLITICAL LEADERS 
 
REF: BUENOS AIRES 144 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Thomas P. Kelly for reasons 
1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
1. (C)  Summary:  Former Argentine president Eduardo Duhalde predicted during a meeting with the CDA that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK) will complete her term, but that the Kirchners were fast being eclipsed by new faces and new ideas in Argentine politics.  After venting his spleen about the Kirchners, Duhalde handicapped the current crop of presidential aspirants.  He indicated that Senator Carlos Reutemann, at 67, is "too old" to run a successful campaign, calling him "our McCain."  Duhalde spoke highly of Buenos Aires City mayor Mauricio Macri and former Buenos 
Aires governor Felipe Sola.  Although Macri, Sola, and Deputy Francisco De Narvaez have forged an alliance for the mid-term elections, he acknowledged that it will be difficult for the three ambitious politicians to agree on who will lead the ticket in 2011.  Duhalde said that he hoped Argentines would have two viable parties to choose from by 2011.  To that end, despite his reputation as an arch-Peronist, he claimed that he was communicating with the Radical Party to help it 
recover its standing.  He praised Vice President Julio Cobos, characterizing him as a principled man who is the first Radical politician with truly national appeal since Raul Alfonsin.  Duhalde dismissed Civic Coalition leader and 2007 presidential runner-up Elisa Carrio as "too combative" and Kirchner-like to build an effective political alliance.  End 
Summary. 
 
2. (C) Former President Eduardo Duhalde on February 19 stopped by the Embassy's front office while visiting the Embassy to renew his U.S. visa prior to traveling to Europe and Colombia (at, he said, President Uribe's invitation). Duhalde began by expressing deep concern about Argentina's ability to weather the global financial crisis.  He noted that talk of the U.S. demise in some circles is wrong, adding 
that the U.S. has demonstrated time and again its ability to overcome crises.  However, developing countries such as Argentina are limited in the actions they can take to mitigate the economic downturn.  He described as foolhardy those who claim that the "U.S. tsunami will reach Brazilian beaches as gentle waves."  He added that "if we sit on the sidelines, we will only be waiting for the next crisis -- which could be worse." 
 
Duhalde Slams the Kirchners 
--------------------------- 
 
3. (C) Noting that he'd had his own differences with the IMF, Duhalde said that the Kirchners had overdone the Fund-bashing.  He characterized as "ridiculous" Nestor Kirchner's decision to pay off the GOA's entire IMF debt in one fell swoop and rely instead on more expensive financing from Hugo Chavez's regime.  Now that there is talk about IMF reform, he expressed the hope that the GOA would reach a 
rapprochement with the IMF that would allow it to regain access to IMF credit lines. 
 
4. (C) Duhalde bluntly called the Kirchners "incompetent", and acknowledged that he was partly to blame as he had a hand in bringing former President Nestor Kirchner to power. Instead of taking advantage of the economic boom after Argentina's 2001-02 crisis to develop a plan in conjunction with the country's productive sectors, like Brazil and Chile had done, the Kirchners opted to fight them.  The CDA observed that the GOA's protracted dispute with the farm sector seemed to be an inflection point for the Kirchners' political strength.  Duhalde agreed, saying "Nestor and Cristina are the same thing.  Both are aggressive with everyone.  Instead of looking to build Argentina's future, they focus on rectifying the abuses of the past to defend the human rights of the dead.  What they should be doing is defending the rights of those who live today." 
 
5. (C) Duhalde attributed the Kirchners' failings to lack of experience.  Despite Nestor Kirchner's success in running Santa Cruz province, it is a small province with lots of resources and only 180 thousand people.  Its problems are nothing in comparison to problems at the national level, he said.  What is even more dangerous, he maintained, is that 
the Kirchners do not have a defined political agenda.  For this reason, he said, Argentina not only needs new faces, but also new ideas in politics. 
 
6. (C) Duhalde pointed out that the 2001-02 crisis destroyed public confidence in Argentina's democratic institutions, culminating in the popular cry to "get rid of them all."  By 2003, with order reestablished, Argentines began to believe again.  He noted that 82 percent of the population voted in the 2003 elections.  The Kirchners have abused the public's trust, and each day the public loses their faith and confidence in their ability to govern, he asserted.  When the CDA asked if the Kirchners are more comfortable governing in times of crisis, Duhalde said no, noting that only three days before, CFK reiterated publicly that Argentina is not in crisis and does not need a plan B.  This kind of intemperate remark, Duhalde added (intemperately), was the kind of think you would expect to hear from a politician in Venezuela, Ecuador, or Colombia, "but in the South, we're supposed to be different."  The CDA pointed out that at least NK seems to have acknowledged otherwise, noting that he was quoted in today's papers as saying that the country was about to face the worst crisis in 100 years.  Duhalde laughed, saying it must be difficult for mature countries to take Argentina seriously.  In terms of political rhetoric, the Kirchners seem to be taking their cue from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he said, adding that they are wont to proclaim their administration as "the best the country has seen in 100 years."  He lamented that many people believe what the Kirchners tell them on television, "but it's all a lie." 
 
CFK will Finish Term, But has Lost Public Confidence 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
 
7. (C) Nevertheless, Duhalde indicated that he expected CFK to finish her term.  He asserted that the rumors that CFK was ready to resign at the height of the agricultural conflict over export taxes were true, as she and her husband were in a state of shock over the degree of support that coalesced around the anti-Kirchner farmers, culminating with the 
government's startling loss of the Congressional vote on the tax increases.  They will not react in the same way in the event of an adverse result in the upcoming mid-term elections, he surmised, adding that "the Kirchners know they will lose the mid-term elections, and they are trying to determine what they will do in such an event."  Duhalde added that, for the sake of Argentine democracy, he wanted CFK to 
reach the end of her term. 
 
8. (C) He predicted that neither Kirchner will be a factor in the 2011 presidential elections, either as a candidate or kingmaker.  He explained that "the Kirchners have done nothing to connect with the people.  They are feared, not loved.  The private sector is scared to talk over the phone. Pro-Kirchner Radical governors are fed up, because if they do not support the first couple, the government withholds federal funds designated for the province.  The Congress is a joke.  The Kirchners appointed a strong Supreme Court, but the lower courts are not as strong.  They have created an 'anything goes' political culture and weakened Argentina's federal system and its democracy."  He regretted that the Argentine public has grown so accustomed to public scandals that no one objects when the President's son announces that 
he is beginning a consulting firm to facilitate foreign investment in Argentina. 
 
Duhalde's "Helping Hand" in Mid-Term Elections 
--------------------------------------------- - 
 
9. (C) Turning to a discussion of mid-term elections, Duhalde indicated that there are a number of governors who are running their provinces very well and have very high public approval ratings.  He reiterated, however, that jumping from the provincial to the national level is difficult.  In Senator Carlos Reutemann's case, it is easier, he said, since Reutemann has a national presence.  Nevertheless, he considered Reutemann (at 67, the same age as Duhalde) as "too old" to run a successful presidential campaign, calling him "our McCain."  (Duhalde added to another emboff en route to this meeting that he himself was also too old to be a presidential aspirant.) 
 
10. (C) As a result, Duhalde is now focusing his energy on helping the next generation of political leaders.  He expressed high hopes for Buenos Aires City mayor Mauricio Macri, noting that he is relatively young (48) and has strong ties to Argentina's business class.  He opined that a healthy government-business alliance was key to governability. Duhalde indicated that former Buenos Aires province governor Felipe Sola (reftel), a Peronist who broke from the Kirchners 
in late 2008, has a solid chance.  Duhalde noted that Sola's honesty and track record of performance as governor of the country's biggest province bolstered his appeal as a candidate.  Despite his professed zeal for young leadership, Duhalde claimed that the caliber of today's political leaders has declined, with the majority looking for personal 
 enrichment rather than enhancing the country's well-being. 
 
11. (C) Noting the political alliance forged by Macri, Sola, 
and Deputy Francisco De Narvaez for the mid-term elections, 
the CDA asked whether the three presidential hopefuls would 
be able to agree among themselves on whom would head the 2011 
presidential ticket.  Duhalde acknowledged that this would be 
difficult.  Commenting on press reports that Macri et al. 
were courting Reutemann as well, Duhalde opined that 
Reutemann was unlikely to join, suggesting that he was 
something of a loner.  (Note: Duhalde is seen by many as the 
architect of the Macri-Sola-De Narvaez alliance; former 
President Kirchner recently called on him to step forward as 
the architect of this grouping.  End Note.) 
 
A Closet Radical? 
----------------- 
 
12. (C) Despite his reputation as a Peronist diehard, Duhalde 
claimed to be helping leaders in the non-Peronist opposition 
as well, saying that Argentine democracy would benefit from a 
return to a two-party system and that he hoped there would be 
two viable parties in 2011.  He maintained that the Radical 
party is still well-regarded by the middle and lower middle 
classes, as evinced by the number of Radical mayors 
throughout the country.  The problem with the Radical party, 
he opined, is that no one emerged to fill the vacuum left by 
former president Raul Alfonsin. 
 
13. (C) Duhalde suggested that Vice President and Radical party member Julio Cobos could be that leader, although he is 
currently excommunicated from the party as well as estranged 
from his running mate, CFK.  Cobos, Duhalde argued, is the 
first Radical politician with truly national appeal since 
Alfonsin.  His courage and conviction in standing up to the 
Kirchners by casting the decisive vote to defeat the farm 
export tax increase is widely admired and sustains his 
national popularity.  Duhalde discounted reports that Cobos 
had given up in trying to rejoin the Radical party.  Duhalde 
said that he talked to Alfonsin's son Ricardo on February 18 
and was told that the negotiations between the party and 
Cobos continue.  (He added that his fellow ex-president Raul 
Alfonsin, who suffers from a number of ailments, has taken a 
turn for the worse and "is very ill.") 
 
14. (C) Duhalde was dismissive about Elisa Carrio, the Civic Coalition leader, 2007 presidential runner-up, and presumptive linchpin of another emerging opposition alliance incorporating the Radicals and Socialists.  He remarked that her combative leadership style is similar to the Kirchners, making it very difficult for her to build bridges with other political groups or to connect with the electorate. 
 
Duhalde on Drug Policy 
---------------------- 
 
15. (C) Prior to the meeting, Duhalde told ICE Attache that twenty years ago he argued that Argentina was not just a drug transshipment point, but also a user country.  He maintains that hisprediction is being borne out today.  (Note: According to a recent UN study, Argentina leads Latin America in cocaine consumption.  Press articles have also estimated that over half of Buenos Aires youth have experimented with drugs.)  Duhalde criticized Minister of Justice Anibal Fernandez's assertions that drug consumption is not a major problem in Argentina.  He stated that Fernandez is too focused on the supply side and has not stepped up drug prevention efforts. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
16. (C) This was a golden opportunity to compare notes behind closed doors with the controversial Duhalde, who remains very much in the middle of the Argentine political game.  The fact that Nestor Kirchner, who was hand-picked by Duhalde to succeed him, publicly attacked his former mentor on February 17 is a backhanded compliment -- though it's also intended to diminish "new generation" politicians like Macri by casting them as mere puppets.  Given the currency of the view that 
this ex-president is the brains behind a resurgent anti-Kirchner alliance, we asked for and received assurances from Duhalde that he not publicize the conversation in any way. 
KELLY