(U) ON A ROLL: ARGENTINE FOREIGN MINISTRY FACES STRING OF SETBACKS

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08BUENOSAIRES320 13 March 2008 Confidencial Embassy Buenos Aires

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUENOS AIRES 000320

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/12/2028
TAGS: PREL, ECON, AR
SUBJECT: (U) ON A ROLL: ARGENTINE FOREIGN MINISTRY FACES
STRING OF SETBACKS

REF: (A) BUENOS AIRES 0146 (B) BUENOS AIRES 0230 (C)

07 BUENOS AIRES 2223

Classified By: Ambassador Wayne for reasons 1.4 (b) & (d).

1. (SBU) Summary: Argentine Vice FM Roberto Garcia-Moritan
reportedly offered his resignation to FM Taiana March 11.
Although he claimed the resignation was motivated by
"personal matters" after almost 40 years in Argentina’s
foreign service, the press attributes his move to a string of
public relations disasters, reported scandals and missteps of
the MFA. Largest-circulation daily newspaper "Clarin" claims
that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK) is
looking to name a political appointee to the position, long
held by career diplomats. End summary.

Car Scandal


2. (SBU) Garcia-Moritan’s resignation coincided with the
resignation of another senior MFA official, Marcelo Pujo,
head of protocol. Pujo’s resignation, however, was directly
linked to the ongoing court investigation of the MFA’s role
in the sale of duty-free vehicles to non-diplomats (ref A),
including a luxury Audi for the wife the MFA official in
charge of duty exemptions. The MFA’s lack of internal
controls have also been questioned recently in court
investigations of the sale of visas to Chinese individuals
and of some currency exchange transactions that benefited
Argentine diplomats overseas.

3. (SBU) The Argentine MFA is actually the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship. Since
September 2004, Garcia-Moritan had been the U/S for Foreign
Policy, essentially making him FM Taiana’s deputy for the
international relations portion of his portfolio.
Garcia-Moritan, 60, claimed he was resigning the VFM position
to attend to "personal matters" after almost 40 years in the
Argentina’s foreign service. The local press is portraying
his departure as the consequence of a long string of missteps
by the MFA, including the following.

Foreign Policy Crisis Marred CFK Honeymoon


4. (C) CFK’s first month in office was scarred by her
administration’s heated over-reaction to allegations by a
Venezuelan defendant in a Miami court case that a suitcase
full of cash had been destined for her presidential campaign.
The MFA was shut out of the Kirchners’ inner circle that
defined the GOA’s stance in the seven-week brouhaha that
followed, and the MFA did not play much of a role in the
resolution of the dispute. It was repeatedly pointed out by
the press that Planning Minister De Vido, not FM Taiana and
his MFA staff, runs relations with Venezuela.

"Bungle in the Jungle"


5. (SBU) Later in December, less than three weeks after CFK’s
inauguration, former president Nestor Kirchner was ridiculed
for his role, with FM Taiana at his side, in the
Chavez-orchestrated "bungle in the jungle" that failed to
secure the release of FARC hostages. Although Kirchner
claimed vindication with the following month’s release of
some hostages, pundits thought the contrary: the January
hostage release proved Kirchner and the other international
"guarantors" had been unnecessary.

Out of Africa


6. (SBU) When Teodoro Obiang, the leader of Equatorial
Guinea, arrived February 12 for the first state visit of
CFK’s administration, the media and opposition asked why the
GOA was rolling out the red carpet for Obiang given his
much-questioned human rights record. The MFA was at a loss
to explain why tiny Equatorial Guinea merited such priority
treatment. CFK, in an effort to protect her own human rights
credentials, then publicly told Obiang of her "profound
concern for the human rights situation" in his country, a
remark that was criticized for its lack of specificity as
well as its lack of graciousness toward an invited guest.
(After returning to his capital, Obiang retorted that he "did
not need lessons on human rights from Argentina of all
countries.") There were credible press reports of a
high-decibel CFK tantrum directed at Taiana for having put
her on the spot with the Obiang visit. The embarrassing
incident suggested, at a minimum, poor staffing for CFK by

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the MFA.

No from Bolivia, No from Brazil


7. (C) Another case of poor staffing and advice on
international engagement appeared to be CFK’s February 23
summit meeting in Buenos Aires with her Bolivian and
Brazilian counterparts (ref B). Having fueled high
expectations that the summit would yield a solution to
Argentina’s impending energy crunch, the GOA’s results were
disappointing. The Bolivians noted their near-term inability
to meet contractual gas supplies to Argentina, and the
Brazilians emphatically rejected CFK’s request that Brazil
cede to Argentina a small share of the gas it receives from
Bolivia to help Argentina meet anticipated high domestic
demand this year. The Brazilian Ambassador to Argentina told
the Ambassador that CFK had been very poorly served by her
staff in the opinion of Brazilian officials.

Affronting the Vatican


8. (SBU) The Argentine media had a field day with CFK’s
nomination of Alberto Iribarne, Minister of Justice in her
husband’s administration, as ambassador to the Holy See. As
the Vatican failed to respond to the GOA’s request for
agrement, it leaked that it could not accept Iribarne because
he was Catholic yet divorced and living with a new partner.
The GOA’s initial reaction to the press criticism was to dig
in its heels and insist on Iribarne’s worthiness. Iribarne
ultimately withdrew his name from consideration, but only
after the CFK administration suffered additional ridicule for
taking on the Catholic Church. A well-placed Argentine told
the Ambassador before the scandal blew that the MFA had not
flagged this problem for the Casa Rosada before the
nomination went forward.

Problems with Uruguay


9. (SBU) Although Garcia-Moritan has not been personally held
responsible for any of the above missteps, he was publicly
identified as the GOA lead in negotiating with Uruguay on the
dispute over the Botnia paper mill (ref C). This unresolved
issue remains a bilateral irritant, pending a ruling from the
International Court of Justice on the GOA’s claim that
Uruguay violated the terms of a treaty governing the use of
the Uruguay River.

Comment


10. (C) The MFA has had a string of misfortunes, and it is
hard to identify a single countervailing success story.
Indeed, the MFA’s appalling record led to rumors that Taiana
was on his way out. Garcia-Moritan may be blameless for the
MFA’s mishaps, but his departure may be enough for now to
appease CFK and her inner circle of advisors. In the March
12 "Clarin," influential columnist Eduardo van der Kooy noted
CFK’s stated desire to re-insert Argentina into global
affairs. Van der Kooy claims that Taiana is still in good
standing with CFK, who is looking to fill the vacancy left by
Garcia-Moritan with a political appointee in tune with her
vision.

11. (C) Roberto Garcia-Moritan has consistently been a good
and reasonable interlocutor for the Embassy. He has provided
confidential and good advice in dealing with the MFA. During

SIPDIS
the recent OAS debate on Colombia and Ecuador, he was the
official who assured that the GOA would take a more
constructive role in the second part of discussion.

WAYNE