This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 GUATEMALA 002673
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/21/2014 TAGS: CASC ETRD MARR PHUM NU ES OAS USAID SUBJECT: LUNCH WITH PRESIDENT BERGER
Classified By: Ambassador J.R. Hamilton for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Summary: At lunch October 21, President Berger and the Ambassador addressed a variety of international and national topics. Principal among them, Berger said Guatemala would give the informal candidacy of exGuatemalan UN PermRep Gert Rosenthal 30 days and then fall in behind his good friend Francisco Flores. Berger is deeply concerned over the stability of the Bolanos government in Nicaragua and was pleased to learn of our strong support for it. Berger intends to keep current Defense Minister Mendez Pinelo on through the end of the year and then replace him with General Carlos Aldana (not current chief of staff Ricardo Bustamante, whose nomination would send shivers through the human rights community). Berger acknowledges that Guatemala has not pushed CICIACS the way it should but reiterates his government's interest. Ditto for establishment of an office here of the UN Human Rights Commissioner. He is still optimistic that Hague Convention-consistent adoptions legislation can be approved by the Guatemalan Congress this year. He is similarly optimistic that the CAFTA will enjoy strong support in the Guatemalan Congress. Expressing appreciation for U.S. support of what his government wants to accomplish, the President also committed to signing, together with the Ambassador, the recently negotiated 5-year umbrella agreement with AID in a public ceremony. End summary.
2. (C) The Ambassador and Mrs. Hamilton hosted the lunch, which Mrs. Berger also attended. Taking each topic in turn:
3. (C) OAS Secretary General election:
Berger said he knows former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores a lot better than he knows veteran Guatemalan diplomat Gert Rosenthal, but that he had signed off on an effort to explore possibilities of a Rosenthal candidacy just before Flores phoned him to advise of his candidacy and to seek Guatemala's support. Berger says Flores would provide the OAS strong leadership, while noting that Rosenthal is a good diplomatic technocrat. Berger confirmed that the Central Americans have committed to supporting a single candidate - whoever can line up the most support in the next month. Berger thinks that Flores' baggage is his close association with the U.S. and that the votes of Venezuela, Brazil and CARICOM states could conceivably be won by a Rosenthal candidacy. He is aware of Peruvian and Argentine interest, but notes that Chile, Bolivia and Colombia would not support an Argentine candidacy and he is not sure that Peru's interest, whether for Paniagua or FM Rodriguez, is serious. Notwithstanding his observation about Flores' relationship with us, Berger indicated an expectation and hope that the U.S. would support him, repeating that Flores could provide the kind of strong leadership the OAS needs. The Ambassador said we think Flores is in fact the strongest candidate, to which Berger responded that he was honor-bound to let Rosenthal have a run at the job but that he would fall in behind Flores after that.
4. (C) Nicaragua:
Berger spoke of his trip over the weekend to Managua to support the embattled Bolanos government and he recounted Bolanos' description of what he is facing in terms that match Managua's reporting. He was not previously aware that we are strongly supportive of Bolanos and sounded relieved to hear it, noting that ousting Bolanos would be "disastrous" for the region and its image as a democratic, modernizing partner of the U.S. in CAFTA.
5. (C) Defense Ministry:
Confirming what our DATT has been picking up, Berger said he had decided to make recently promoted General Carlos Aldana his next Minister of Defense, at the end of the year, a traditional time for changes in the military. Berger acknowledged that former GANA coalition partner General Otto Perez Molina is upset that his own close associate, General Ricardo Bustmante, current Chief of Staff of the Armed Foreces, is being passed over and retired. Berger said he had not yet settled on a replacement for Bustamante. (Comment: Bustamante's appointment would have been unsettling to civil society groups, here and abroad. Aldana, who is a support, not combat, officer, will be better received outside the military. Inside it, there will be grumbling that an officer who has not paid his combat dues is being elevated. End comment.) On a related subject, Berger said his government would (contrary to what we have been hearing) have funds in its 05 budget for military modernization. He also said that Guatemala is prepared to send up to 650 troops to Haiti (500 bilaterally, an additional 150 as part of a Central American peacekeeping battalion). He noted that the compensation from the UN was not insignificant. So lucrative as to be a source for modernization.
6. (C) CICIACS, the Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, and Article 98:
Berger acknowledged the Ambassador's point that CICIACS has been languishing but reiterated his government's support of reconfiguring it so as to overcome Constitutional Court and Congressional objections. A further comment implied that he has personally spoken about CICIACS in recent meetings he has held with Congressional leaders. He is similarly committed to winning Congressional approval for the agreement with the UN to set up an office here of the Commissioner for Human Rights. He said Human Rights Adviser La Rue and former UN PermRep Rosenthal are en route to Geneva now to tweak the agreement so as to meet the strongest Congressional objections to it. Berger did not make any particular comment about Article 98 but seemed comfortable with the Ambassador's description of MFA/Embassy plans to seek ratification this fall.
7. (C) CAFTA:
Asked about the Guatemalan timetable for submitting CAFTA to their Congress, Berger's response suggested he had not given it much recent thought, as he recalled what he had told the Ambassador a couple of months ago, that the Centrals wanted to move in unison. He did say that, in his own travels around the country, he is finding that indigenous leaders strongly favor CAFTA and that only a few "tiny groups" would ultimately be opposed. Comment: This unfortunately does not jibe with our own impressions that the public, indigenous groups especially, are not yet well informed on CAFTA. Berger could hardly contain his enthusiasm for a November 15 ceremony on the border with El Salvador where the last remaining obstacles to physical integration will be stood down. Crossing the border will thereafter be much like crossing a state line in the U.S.; Berger feels that he and his Salvadoran counterparts have done more this year to promote real integration than their predecessors did in 40.
8. (C) Adoptions:
Berger and Mrs. Berger, who is deeply involved in the adoptions issue, confirmed that they are supporting a new, Hague-consistent version of adoptions reform legislation, that they oppose any suspension of adoptions (as some reformers have advocated), and that they favor a grandfather clause for adoptions in process once the new legislation goes into effect. Mrs. Berger thought the opportunity for getting such legislation approved this year was slipping away but the President, citing a conversation earlier this week with the President of Congress, said there was still a good chance for positive action.
9. (C) Bilateral relations:
The Ambassador briefed Berger on his consultations in Washington, noting the changed, more positive view of Guatemala both within and outside the executive branch (while emphasizing the more critical view, largely because of CICIACS and the UNHRC office, within the U.S. human rights community). The Ambassador said that we have a good possibility of freeing up at least $2m in frozen MAP funds and that doing so would send an important signal of progress made civil-military relations and ending impunity within the military. Reiterating how out on a limb he is with his military over modernization, Berger said he would be deeply grateful if we could provide such support. He also recounted with pleasure how friendly and gracious ("and he recognized me immediately") the President was when they spoke briefly at the UNGA and said how much he appreciates the support we are giving in general. In that vein, he said he wants to conduct a public signing of the new 5-year umbrella agreement between his government and AID, which AID has recently negotiated.
3. (C) Comment:
This was a fairly informative, useful exchange. Atmospherics were on this occasion quite good. HAMILTON