Cable 104583, Nuevo ministro de Defensa toma el timón
DE RUEHSG #0618/01 1062302
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 162302Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1338
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 2911
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 1694
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 3581
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 0217
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1343
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 5027
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 1671
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
,C O N F I D E N T I A L SANTIAGO 000618
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/12/2017
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, CI
SUBJECT: NEW CHILEAN DEFENSE MINISTER TAKES THE HELM
REF: A) SANTIAGO 500
Classified By: Ambassador Craig Kelly for reasons 1.5 (b and d).
1. (C) New Minister of Defense Goni told the Ambassador his initial focus would be on strengthening Chile’s regional military-to-military ties, including with Mexico and Chile’s more immediate neighbors. Exchange and training programs, along with enhanced cooperation in joint peacekeeeping activities (including Haiti), to which Chile remained committed, would improve relations with these countries even more. Entering into a SOFA with the U.S. would be difficult, overcoming political sensitivities a long-term task. The Ambassador made a strong pitch for U.S. companies as the Chilean military considers purchase of new helicopters. End summary.
2. (U) On April 13, the Ambassador called on newly appointed Minister of Defense Jose “”Goni”” Carrasco, who was appointed to the position on March 26, as part of a general cabinet shake-up (reftel). Goni was accompanied by Advisor for International Affairs Maria Ines Ruz, Chief of Cabinet Sergio Escobar, and General Ivan Fabry Rodriguez (Chile’s CJCS equivlaent). DCM, DATT, MILGRP commander and E/Pol Counselor joined the Ambassador.
Making Nice with the Neighborhood
3. (C) Goni said that he was under instruction from President Bachelet to “”build bridges”” to Chile’s neighbors, including Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. He had just participated in a conference on peacekeeping operations that included Peru’s Deputy MinDef. Noting that nine Latin American countries were active in MINUSTAH, Goni emphasized the “”supreme”” importance of a strong Latin American presence there and in regional peacekeeping operations. The Ambassador replied this thinking was in line with UN SecGen Ban Ki Moon’s call for regional players to take a lead role in regional peacekeeping operations, as in Africa. Haiti is also a good example, with Chile, Brazil and Argentina all key actors there. During the recent U.S.-Chile pol-mil talks, regional peacekeeping was an important topic. The Ambassador noted that when he had first arrived in Chile, he and then-President Lagos had agreed the U.S. and Chile could work together to promote regional cooperation. (Note: Lagos and Goni are reported close friends.)
4. (C) Goni, who had been serving as Chile’s ambassador to Mexico when Bachelet tabbed him as MinDef, reviewed the state of Chilean-Mexican relations. While economic ties were already good – he termed the Chile-Mexico FTA as Chile’s most successful”” trade agreement – the March 2007 visit to Mexico by Bachelet had proved a catalyst to expanding cooperation in this and other areas as well. Goni said that Bachelet and Calderon had decided to kick-start movement on the 2006 Chile-Mexico strategic accord (which established annual political and ecomomic talks (“”Consejo de Acuerdo””) at ministerial and director levels within their respective MFAs – and also established an annual USD 2 million fund (USD 1 million each) to promote projects in academia, small business, education and culture). The presidents had given Consejo organizers “”three months”” to develop a viable work plan. Goni said that Chile’s Caribineros (national police) were also working with Mexican counterparts, at the GOM’s behest. The effort was aimed at attacking rampant corruption within the array of Mexican 100-plus police forces, at both national and state levels. Military-to-military cooperation was “”significantly behind,”” although there had been recent mutual visits by high-ranking officials, and exchanges to discuss experiences on peacekeeping.
5. (C) Goni said relations with Bolivia were good, with a focus on confidence building measures (CBMs). He described the Bolivian press as largely responsible when treating Chile-Boliva relations, although the “”access to the sea”” dispute remains volatile. Still, progress on other bilateral issues would make it easier to deal with that one. He had recently met with his Bolivian counterpart and “”exchanged telephone numbers”” and also discussed cooperation on peacekeeping, including in Haiti.
6. (C) The MinDef said he would meet with Peruvian MinDef Wagner the following week. Relations with Peru were also stable, noting the visit to Peru of the Chilean naval training vessel “”Esmeralda”” and the participation of Peruvian sailors on the cruise. The border issues with Peru would remain problematic. Goni echoed Bachelets’s statement last week that should Peru decide to take its case to the World Court at the Hague, Chile was confident of its position. That said, Peru and Chile will also continue to develop CBMs.
7. (C) On Argentina, Goni pointed to “”great cooperation”” in developing with Buenos Aires a joint peacekeeping batallion. It would be operational in late 2008 and could serve as an example to the region.
8. (C) The Ambassador observed that mil-to-mil relations were often key to establishing partnerships that could withstand political or economic “”bumps.”” He noted the USG remained discreet”” when discussing with Chile or its neighbors issues such as the Chile-Peru border issue. The USG would continue to refrain from public comment.
The Chilean Way
9.(C) Asked for USG views on Ecuador, the Ambassador replied that “”We want to keep the door open.”” Commercial disputes involving American firms are real and Correa is sending mixed signals and showing statist tendencies. As to Venezuela, the Ambassador stressed that the U.S. is “”not interested in picking fights”” with Chavez. However, the U.S does believe Chavez is a concern, given his poor economic policies, cozying up to Iran, and repression of freedom of speech and the political opposition. This underscores the importance of Chile as a regional leader. Chile is important to the U.S and the many recent high-level exchanges – including an April
13 meeting between Secretary Rice and FM Foxley going on “”as we speak”” – are proof. We support Chile improving relations with its neighbors Chile’s leadership furthers regional stability.
10. (C) The Ambassador commented that the U.S., while clearly interested in entering into a long-term SOFA with Chile, understood the need to keep a low profile on the issue. Goni replied that the matter was “”very complicated,”” and said the Supreme Court advisory opinion holding the GOC’s draft SOFA law unconstitutional was a very serious setback. The GOC’s strategy was to develop a general framework agreement acceptable to the Congress but then modify it on a case-by-case basis. But sentiment for any SOFA in the Congress is weak and, moreover, there are many other issues pending. The GOC will continue to work this issue, but there’s “”a lot of doubt to overcome.”” The Ambassador said that while the USG would prefer a comprehensive SOFA covering all exercises with Chile, it would be prepared to continue on a case-by-case basis “”for now.”” He stressed that the issue had to be resolved in the near- to mid-term.
11. (C) The Ambassador asked about the status of Chilean military interest in upgrading its helicopter fleet. He noted U.S. manufacturers Sikorsky and Bell both produced excellent equipment that would meet Chilean requirements, citing both firms’ experience and after purchase maintenance
packages. The Mission was prepared to facilitate ongoing discussions. Goni replied he had alot on his plate and wasn’t familar with the issue. General Fabry added that Chile was finalizing a “”short list,”” that included U.S. models, but also French and Indian equipment.
12. (C) Goni told the Ambassador he was studying various reform proposals to Chilean legislation which now requires that ten percent of copper profits be reserved for the military. He wants to discuss it further with the military chiefs and Treasury but hopes to make progress on reforms this year.
13. (C) The Ambassador concluded the meeting by expressing appreciation for Chilean support for MINUSTAH and agreed with Goni that it would be important to improve coastal interdiction efforts aimed at arms smuggling.
14. (C) Goni appeared up to speed on most issues, although still reading in. He was surprisingly unenthusiastic regarding prospects for a long-tern SOFA. The Mexican embassy here says Goni developed a good reputation during his stint in Mexico and noted that his work during Bachelet’s
March visit there had clearly impressed the President, leading her to offer him this key portfolio. Endcomment.