US embassy cable - 03GUATEMALA243

AMBASSADOR AND RIOS MONTT DISCUSS DECERTIFICATION, CAFTA, HUMAN RIGHTS AND LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

Identifier: 03GUATEMALA243
Wikileaks: View 03GUATEMALA243 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Guatemala
Created: 2003-01-29 20:00:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL SNAR PHUM ETRD PINR MOPS 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 03 GUATEMALA 000243 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/28/2013 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, SNAR, PHUM, ETRD, PINR, MOPS, GT 
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR AND RIOS MONTT DISCUSS DECERTIFICATION, 
CAFTA, HUMAN RIGHTS AND LEGISLATIVE ISSUES 
 
 
Classified By: PolCouns David Lindwall for reason 1.5 (d). 
 
1. (C) Summary:  In a January 27 meeting with the Ambassador, 
President of Congress Rios Montt professed to be a strong 
supporter of CAFTA (which he views as reducing the political 
influence of the traditional economic elites), and expressed 
understanding for Guatemala's impending counternarcotics 
decertification.  He regretted that the decertification 
decision would come during the election year, but said it was 
"correct."  Rios Montt volunteered nothing on his plans for 
the upcoming election, but did say it would not be easy for 
the USG to remain neutral.  He offered to help us on a 
variety of bilateral issues.  Although the meeting was frank, 
it was cordial enough, and it was clear that Rios Montt wants 
to be viewed by us as a pragmatic ally on those issues where 
our interests coincide.  End summary. 
 
2. (SBU) The Ambassador, PAO and PolCouns met with President 
of Congress Efrain Rios Montt at Congress on January 27.  The 
retired General and former defacto President was accompanied 
by three of his most trusted parliamentary advisors: First 
Vice President of Congress Carlos Hernandez, Third Vice 
President of Congress Jorge Arevalo and Frente Republicano 
Guatemalteco (FRG) caucus head Aristides Crespo.  Not present 
was Second Vice President of Congress Zury Rios Sosa, his 
daughter.  Rios Montt took the Ambassador's 
"isn't-there-a-Vice-President-missing?" tweaking in good 
grace. 
 
Counternarcotics Cooperation and CAFTA 
-------------------------------------- 
3. (C) As he has with other official and unofficial 
interlocutors, the Ambassador said that the White House would 
soon announce a decision regarding the certification of 
countries that cooperate in the war against drugs, and that, 
in all likelihood, Guatemala would be decertified.  He noted 
that a recent upsurge in cooperation by the GOG and increased 
cocaine seizures would augur well for Guatemala getting a 
vital national interests waiver.  The Ambassador noted, 
however, that it is critical that GOG cooperation against 
narcotics improve quickly, as prolonged decertification would 
make it more difficult for the U.S. Congress to consider 
entering into a free trade agreement with Guatemala at the 
time negotiations are concluded.  The Ambassador argued that 
a free trade agreement (CAFTA) offers the best hope for 
reducing poverty in Guatemala, and that it is in both 
countries' interests to ensure that negotiations proceed 
smoothly, addressing promptly non-trade related issues that 
could fuel opposition to an agreement. 
 
4. (C) Rios Montt regretted that decertification should come 
at the beginning of the election campaign, and said 
Guatemalans would inevitably link the two.  He added that the 
United States "would do what it had to do," but said that we 
were "correct" in decertifying.  He did not defend the 
Portillo Administration's record on counternarcotics 
cooperation, nor argue (as other senior GOG officials do) 
that flagging counternarcotics cooperation was a result of 
resource constraints. 
 
5. (C) On CAFTA, Rios Montt said that he is one of its 
greatest proponents.  He agreed that it was the region's best 
hope for poverty reduction, and added that it would break the 
power of the monopolies that have long dominated Guatemala's 
economy as well as its politics.  Rios argued that free trade 
would also be hard to sell to some in Guatemala's Congress, 
noting that legislators who have ties to "mercantilist 
business sectors" are intent on opposing it. 
 
6. (C) The Ambassador noted that critics of globalization and 
others in the U.S. will question why we are entering into a 
special trade relationship with Guatemala when threats 
against human rights workers are growing and the murders of 
11 Amcits (now 12) since 1999 have gone unsolved.  He urged 
the ruling party legislators to use their influence with the 
government to ensure that attention is brought to these 
issues. 
 
The Upcoming Elections 
---------------------- 
7. (C) The Ambassador told Rios Montt that the United States 
will be scrupulously neutral in the November 2003 national 
elections.  He noted that the sole USG interest in the 
elections is that they be "free, fair and constitutional," 
and noted that we are working with the Supreme Electoral 
Tribunal (TSE) and civil society organizations to contribute 
to the transparency of the process.  The Ambassador asked 
Rios Montt if criticisms of the way the TSE members were 
elected could contribute to a constitutional challenge at 
some point (Note: OAS reps have told us they have doubts that 
the mechanism used to replace a full tribunal member who 
resigned with an alternate was legal. end note).  Rios Montt 
responded that the mechanism used was that established in the 
Tribunal's statutes, but said that constitutional lawyers 
could make arguments for and against (Note: None of the 
political parties has objected to the way the TSE member who 
resigned was replaced, and the OAS' concern does not, at 
least at this stage, appear to be shared by any of the 
parties. end note). 
 
8. (C) Rios Montt said that he doubted that it would be easy 
for the United States to remain truly neutral in the upcoming 
electoral campaign.  He made no allusions to his own possible 
candidacy, but at one point in the conversation said that if 
the FRG were the largest "opposition party" in Congress in 
the next session, we could count on their support. 
 
9. (SBU) Rios Montt said that the FRG continued to pursue 
reform of the electoral law, but had given up pressing for 
implementation of reforms this year.  He believes the bill 
will eventually be adopted, but not put into place until 
after the 2003 elections. 
 
The Clandestine Groups 
---------------------- 
10. (SBU) The Ambassador drew attention to the recent 
announcement of the Human Rights Ombudsman in regard to the 
creation of an international commission to investigate the 
operations of clandestine groups.  The Ambassador praised the 
legislators for passing a resolution supporting this 
initiative and urged the FRG leaders to give this proposal 
their full support.  Congressman Arevalo responded that 
indeed Congress had passed the resolution with the vote of 
all the FRG members. 
 
The 2003 Legislative Agenda 
--------------------------- 
11. (U) In response to a question from the Ambassador, Rios 
Montt said that the priorities for the 2003 legislative 
agenda would include laws designed to implement Peace Accord 
commitments.  He noted that financial transparency laws would 
top the agenda, with the Law of Public Contracts and a 
Freedom of Information Law already under discussion.  He said 
that Congress was also working on a law to compensate those 
affected by the war (note: the term he used did not 
distinguish between victims and former civil patrol members). 
 This legislative session will be substantially reduced by 
the election campaign, which will soon begin distracting the 
attention of legislators. 
 
New Horizons 
------------ 
12. (C) The Ambassador thanked Rios Montt for the quick 
action by Congress in 2001 to approve the New Horizons joint 
military exercise in the Peten.  He noted that we are 
planning a similar exercise in Jutiapa in 2004, and were 
already working on an agreement with the GOG to authorize 
this exercise.  He asked the legislators if we could count on 
their continued support for this exercise.  Rios Montt 
responded that he is a strong believer in civic action 
exercises and would ensure continued support in Congress as 
long as he was President of Congress.  He noted that, by 
2004, the composition of Congress was less certain. 
 
IPR Legislation 
--------------- 
13. (U) The Ambassador expressed concern about legislation 
recently passed by Congress which represents a big step 
backward for IPR protection and violates Guatemala's 
international commitments on the matter.  He asked the 
legislative leaders to take quick action to bring Guatemala 
back into compliance with its international IPR commitments, 
particularly in view of ongoing CAFTA negotiations where 
Guatemala's IPR regime would become a matter of discord. 
 
14. (SBU) Rios Montt opened by saying that the new law was 
not inconsistent with the direction international drug patent 
protection was heading, and alluded to official USG 
statements supporting generic drugs.  He recognized, however, 
that arguments could be made against its conformity with 
Guatemala's international IPR commitments, and said Congress 
was prepared to repeal the law as soon as it is published and 
the Executive sends a bill calling for its repeal.  He 
implied that the law, which was promoted by opposition 
congressmen, would not be in effect for long before it was 
repealed. 
 
Fuel Taxes 
---------- 
15. (SBU)  The Ambassador commented that the Guatemalan tax 
authority (SAAT) was using the lack of explicit language 
exempting diplomatic missions from paying the new fuel tax to 
charge this tax to embassies in violation of the Vienna 
Convention.  Noting that Congress was rewriting that law, he 
asked that they give consideration to including specific 
language which would honor Guatemala's commitment under the 
Vienna Convention and specifically exempt diplomatic missions 
from these taxes.  Rios Montt said that he had been a 
Military Attache in Madrid for several years and understands 
the importance of fully implementing the Vienna Convention. 
He promised to ensure that new tax laws include assurances 
that protect diplomatic missions against paying the taxes. 
 
Tyco and 911 
------------ 
16. (U) The Ambassador told the legislators that a U.S. 
company (Tyco) had made a significant investment in designing 
the architecture of a 911 system for Guatemala at the request 
of the GOG, and they needed to know if the GOG was interested 
in purchasing their product (the actual phone and support 
equipment).  Tyco does not want to invest further if the GOG 
is not interested, but they do not want to walk away now if 
the GOG is going to buy the system.  Tyco told us that the 
funding decision was being held up by Congress. 
 
17. (U) Rios Montt said that GUATEL (the national phone 
company) has the funding in hand should it decide to purchase 
the system, and said Congress will not have any role to play 
in this decision.  He added that he thinks a 911 system is a 
good idea, but noted that in Guatemala there is no police and 
ambulance infrastructure to support it.  He quipped that 
there would be no first responder to send if someone called 
911 asking for help.  He questioned whether it would not be a 
better idea for a U.S. company to bid on a concession to run 
not only a 911 phone line, but the complete package of first 
response. 
 
Rios Montt's view of his country 
-------------------------------- 
18. (C) Rios Montt closed the meeting by welcoming the 
Ambassador to Guatemala and saying that Guatemala is a very 
complex and complicated country.  He said that ethnic 
identity continues to divide the country in ways that will 
not be easily overcome.  He added that Guatemalans have a 
deeply entrenched culture of confrontation which long 
preceded the arrival of the Spaniards, and said that 
compromise and consensus are not native.  Rios Montt said 
that much of the current confrontation can be blamed on the 
traditional economic elite's often violent resistance to 
change, but said that CAFTA offered the opportunity to 
"democratize" the economy once and for all. 
 
Comment 
------- 
19. (C) The General was animated, in good form, and clearly 
wanted to come across as a pragmatist we can deal with in 
areas where our interests coincide.  He did not try to 
address the historic concerns he knows that we have regarding 
his role during the internal conflict and appeared resigned 
to accepting that those impressions will never change.  Rios 
Montt views CAFTA as the best tool for breaking the back of 
the traditional economic monopolies that have long played an 
important role in Guatemalan politics, and as such he is an 
ardent supporter.  While tacitly acknowledging that there 
will be areas where our interests will not coincide (e.g. his 
electoral ambitions), it was clear that Rios Montt believes 
we share many interests in common, and he is prepared to work 
with us to advance those interests. 
Hamilton 

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