US embassy cable - 03GUATEMALA57

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BERGER SUPPORTS CAFTA AND A REDUCTION OF THE MILITARY

Identifier: 03GUATEMALA57
Wikileaks: View 03GUATEMALA57 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Guatemala
Created: 2003-01-08 22:29:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL PINR ETRD MOPS SNAR GT
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
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 02 GUATEMALA 000057 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/09/2013 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PINR, ETRD, MOPS, SNAR, GT 
SUBJECT: PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BERGER SUPPORTS CAFTA AND A 
REDUCTION OF THE MILITARY 
 
 
Classified By: A/DCM David Lindwall for reason 1.5 (d). 
 
1. (C) Summary:  In a tour d'horizon with the Ambassador on 
January 7, PAN Presidential candidate Oscar Berger said that 
the PAN believes it will win the 2003 national elections, and 
that their priorities as a government would be completing 
negotiation of a free trade agreement with us, "rightsizing" 
the military and implementing the 1996 Peace Accords (without 
calling it that).  The Ambassador told Berger that addressing 
Guatemala's growing problem of violent common crime and the 
influence of the criminal mafias would be critical for the 
success of the next government, whoever is elected.  End 
summary. 
 
2.  (C) The Ambassador and A/DCM had breakfast with 
center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) presidential 
candidate Oscar Berger, and his campaign manager Eduardo 
Gonzalez on January 7.  Most polls show Berger significantly 
ahead of all other potential candidates in public preference; 
Guatemalan polls are notoriously inaccurate, however, and the 
elections remain almost ten months away.  Gonzalez noted, in 
that connection, that current polling is like asking a person 
who isn't hungry what he wants for dinner, implying that the 
PAN realizes current numbers are soft.  Berger enjoys 
considerable financial support from the private sector and 
growing popular support from those opposed to the ruling 
Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG). 
 
THE UPCOMING ELECTIONS 
---------------------- 
3. (C)  Berger expressed confidence that the PAN will win the 
2003 national elections, noting that the polls show him 
considerably ahead of other potential contenders.  He 
believes FRG Secretary General and former strongman Efrain 
Rios Montt will not be a candidate, choosing instead to 
protect his legal immunity by running again for Congress 
where he is certain to win a seat.  Berger and Gonzalez both 
expressed concern that the ruling FRG would use government 
resources to leverage public support in the elections, and 
argued that OAS election observation needs to begin long 
before election day (Note: we understand the local OAS office 
is already in talks with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal on 
the possibility of an early OAS observation role in the 
elections. end note).  Berger believes the FRG will try to 
use financial payments to the former civil patrol members 
(ex-PACs) to buy their votes, and will manipulate the ongoing 
census to increase the FRG's representation in the 
legislature. 
 
4. (C) In response to the Ambassador's question regarding 
public divisions in the PAN, Berger remarked that he had 
decided, against the advise of some of this collaborators, to 
make concessions to party Secretary General Leonel Lopez in 
order to heal the wounds still dividing the party from the 
recent primary election.  He implied that he is prepared to 
offer Lopez much of the patronage he sought.  It was apparent 
from Gonzalez's reaction to this statement that the decision 
to make concessions to Lopez continues to divide Berger's 
team.  Berger also commented that he is meeting with small 
political parties from the full range of the political 
spectrum seeking to build a broad base of support.  He noted 
that he has already had positive responses from emerging 
political leaders Otto Perez Molina and Jorge Briz. 
 
5. (C) Berger believes that his election would ensure that 
all the countries of Central America have forward-looking 
pragmatic leaders, commenting that, following the elections 
of Maduro and Bolanos, the Portillo administration is last of 
a breed of populist authoritarians that used to rule the 
isthmus. 
 
CAFTA 
----- 
6. (C) The Ambassador told Berger that we believe a free 
trade agreement between Central America and the United States 
will revolutionize the countries of the isthmus, and will 
offer unprecedented opportunities for economic growth and 
poverty reduction.  Berger agreed, and said his presidency 
would fully support expedited negotiation of CAFTA, and 
expressed regret that the Portillo government has not 
invested more effort in the regional negotiation.  Berger, 
who travels frequently to El Salvador and maintains a strong 
relationship with President Flores, opined that El Salvador 
is significantly ahead of Guatemala in preparations for 
CAFTA, and argued that Guatemala had suffered from "a poor 
negotiating team" and lack of interest on the part of 
Portillo.  He promised that a PAN government would make CAFTA 
one of its highest priorities. 
 
THE FUTURE OF THE ARMED FORCES AND FIGHTING CRIME 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
7. (C) Prompted by the Ambassador, Berger mused about the 
future of the military in Guatemala, arguing that they 
currently have no role which justified their consumption of 
such a considerable part of the government's budget.  He said 
his own inclination is to eliminate the military altogether 
or turn it into a national guard "like in Costa Rica," but 
his advisors disagree with him.  He said that if the military 
can not be abolished, it should be given a crime fighting 
role "as in Honduras."  He said Portillo has come up with a 
plan to put 15,000 soldiers in a modified uniform on the 
streets to control crime, and Berger thinks that is a good 
idea.  The Ambassador noted that using the military in a 
police support role would violate the Peace Accords, and 
asked if that job could not better be done by the police. 
Berger took the point, but said that he believed military 
discipline was necessary to confront the overwhelming problem 
of violent crime. 
 
8. (C) The Ambassador asked Berger how he envisioned 
combating the organized crime mafias which currently have so 
much influence with the government, noting that the success 
of the next government will depend to a large extent on 
bringing violent crime and organized crime under control. 
Berger acknowledged that controlling the influence of 
organized crime is not going to be easy.  He said that when 
he travels for campaign rallies to Peten, Izabal and Zacapa 
(the heartland of narcotrafficking) he has to be very careful 
about who offers him security and who wants to be 
photographed with him, as he does not know to distinguish 
between local supporters and local druglords.  He said his 
own local campaign organizers are totally intimidated by the 
criminal mafias and often are scared to shield him from them 
when they want to participate in his rallies.  Berger said 
that his campaign would set up an intelligence section which 
would vet all names for public positions, so that his 
government would not come to power with debts or promises to 
give jobs to narco-traffickers. 
 
IMPLEMENTING THE PEACE ACCORDS (BY ANOTHER NAME) 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
9. (C) Berger said that the party is working diligently on 
drawing up a plan of government, and that the basis for the 
PAN campaign platform would be the "essence" of the 1996 
Peace Accords.  Berger commented that there was no national 
consensus to back the accords, generating resistance to plans 
which bear the "Peace Accord" label.  He said that the PAN 
platform would parallel the Peace Accords closely, but that 
it would not make explicit reference to the Accords. 
 
REGIONAL INTEGRATION 
-------------------- 
10. (C) Berger disparaged the Central American Parliament 
(PARLACEN) for not being anything more than a hide out for 
third rate politicians and crooks.  He said that it was the 
most worthless of the more than 60 Central American 
integration organizations, and it absorbed more money than 
all the other institutions put together.  He said that 
governments found it to be a convenient way of providing 
patronage, however, and he does not see any initiative to 
abolish it. 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
11. (C) Berger was very much at ease, and discussed his goals 
for addressing national issues with greater depth and 
self-confidence than in the earlier stages of his campaign. 
He wanted to project himself as someone who shares many of 
our same values, and someone we could work with to transform 
Guatemala through free trade and greater cooperation against 
transnational crime.  Despite early poll results favorable to 
Berger, the outcome of the election is far from predictable. 
That said, disaffection with the current FRG government has 
led many, at this early stage of the campaign, to see Berger 
as the most viable alternative. 
Hamilton 

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