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08SANTIAGO933 2008-10-20 15:52:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Santiago
Cable title:  

BACHELET'S UNASUR PARLIAMENT PLANS DRAW FIRE FROM

Tags:   PGOV PREL CI BL 
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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Several Chilean parliamentarians have
criticized President Bachelet's attendance at an UNASUR
parliament event in Bolivia to be held Oct. 17. The Chilean
legislators allege that Bachelet should have consulted with
them before attending and should have invited them to join
the delegation. Although on the surface the complaints are
largely about procedure, sources at both the MFA and Senate
believe that the underlying problem is a deep-seated distrust
of Hugo Chavez and concern about the role that he will play
in UNASUR. End Summary.

Chilean Parliamentarians Criticize Bachelet's Attendance at
UNASUR Meeting


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2. (SBU) Several Chilean parliamentarians have criticized
President Bachelet's attendance at an UNASUR parliament event
in Bolivia. The meeting, which is being held Oct. 17 in
Cochabamba, is the inauguration of a special commission
charged with developing the ground rules for an UNASUR
parliament.



3. (SBU) Some members of Congress have vocally criticized
the President for not consulting with them about the creation
of the new regional parliament and for not inviting members
of Congress to join her delegation. Many members insist that
backing the parliamentary group should be a congressional,
rather than an executive, decision. Moreover, they say that
they were never invited to attend the event. Others,
including Senator Jaime Gazmuri (PS), chair of the Senate
Foreign Relations Commission, backed the President's decision
and planned to travel with her to Cochabamba.



4. (SBU) Press reports and members of Congress quoted in
them have misstated the situation by referring to it as the
inauguration of an UNASUR parliament. Senators Hernan
Larrain (UDI) and Sergio Romero (RN) said that the supposed
UNASUR parliament would not be valid because Chile and other
countries have not yet ratified the UNASUR treaty. The
Senate Foreign Relations Commission called for the Cochabamba
meeting to be delayed until a sufficient number of countries
have ratified the UNASUR treaty. Senator Juan Pablo Letelier
(PS), called the government's handling of the invitation
"sloppy".

Outcry Motivated More By Politics than by Procedure


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5. (SBU) The vehemence of the congressional reaction has
taken many observers by surprise. Julio Camara, Secretary
(Chief Staffmember) of the Senate Foreign Relations
Commission, joked with Poloff Oct. 17 that he "didn't
understand the scandal either." Camara confirmed what
Patricio Pradel, a top MFA official working on UNASUR, told
Poloff Oct. 16: Invitations to the event were sent directly
to Chilean parliamentarians by Bolivian Vice President Alvaro
Garcia Linera, and not by the presidential palace or the MFA.



6. (SBU) Opposition Chilean parliamentarians seem to have
seized on the technicalities of the invitation and Bachelet's
trip to register their discomfort with UNASUR and the
president. Camara and Pradel both stated that many members
of Congress see Chavez as controlling UNASUR and fear that
high-level representation at this meeting would only continue
to strengthen his hand and the organization. In fact,
critics fear for UNASUR's autonomy, are concerned that an
UNASUR parliament would only be another failed attempt at a
regional legislature, and find the location of the meeting in
Bolivia to be particularly politically inconvenient.



7. (SBU) Pradel defended Bachelet's decision to attend the
meeting saying that, as President Pro Tempore of UNASUR, the
Chilean president should support the organization's
initiatives. He added that high level delegations--including
legislators--from nearly every other UNASUR nation would be
attending. Nonetheless, the president reportedly changed
her plans from an overnight trip with a larger delegation to
a two hour stay with a smaller group and no press. Foreign
Minister Alejandro Foxley is no longer attending the meeting.

Instead, the Chilean delegation will include Senator Jaime
Gazmuri (PS); Diputado Jorge Burgos (DC); Diputado Abel Jarpa
(PRSD); Diputado Antonio Leal (PPD); Angel Flisfisch, MFA
Planning Director and UNASUR Secretary Pro Tempore; Juan
Gabriel Valdes, former Foreign Minister and current Chilean
envoy assisting with the Bolivian crisis; and Roberto Ibarra,
the Chilean consul in La Paz.



8. (SBU) As for the decision to locate the parliament in
Cochabamba, Pradel said that this was actually a suggestion
made several years ago by Brazilian President Lula da Silva
which has since been strongly supported by Bolivia.



9. (SBU) COMMENT: In this polarized country, congressional
leaders have firm opinions about Bolivia's controversial
president, and Bachelet's efforts to buck up Morales'
administration with a show of international support have
angered many in Congress. While it is impossible to know
what happened to the missing invitations that the Bolivian VP
was supposed to have sent to Chilean legislators, what is
clear is that Bachelet reached out to her Concertacion
backers in Congress to support this trip, leaving the
opposition to grumble. END COMMENT.
SIMONS