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Cable sobre la concesión de créditos baratos durante la campaña de Cristina Fernández

La banca argentina acuerda concedérselos a los pequeños empresarios "solo para los titulares" de prensa y con fines electorales

ID: 139928
Date: 2008-02-04 15:29:00
Origin: 08BUENOSAIRES129
Source: Embassy Buenos Aires
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Dunno:
Destination: VZCZCXYZ0000
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FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0167
INFO RUCNMER/MERCOSUR COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 1097
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1696
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L BUENOS AIRES 000129

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/04/2018
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, ECON, EINV, EPET, KPAO, KCOR, MARR, VZ, AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINA PERSPECTIVES

Classified By: Ambassador E. Anthony Wayne for reasons (B) and (D).

1. (SBU) Summary: As part of outreach efforts during recent
friction in U.S.-Argentine relations, Ambassador held
one-on-one discussions with key players on the Argentine
scene. In each, he explained the U.S. perspective on discord
over the Miami court case and on bilateral relations.
Interlocutors expressed strong support for the U.S. position
and offered to help quietly. Almost to a person, they said
the GoA's overreaction reflected a limited understanding of
the U.S. and things international, the very small circle of
decision-makers for key issues, and the penchant for the
Kirchners to respond aggressively to perceived challenges and
make up afterwards. Interlocutors anticipated the GoA's
reconciliation efforts with the USG, noting the Kirchner
regime's need for U.S. and international investment/financing
and the fact that, while anti-Americanism plays well in
Argentina, serious conflict with the United States does not.

2. (SBU) Interlocutors were also fairly united in their
views on the challenges facing the government: controlling
inflation and wages and dealing with public security concerns
related to rampant street crime. Many noted that the new
government has yet to break out of the short-term framework
for policy-making which characterized Nestor Kirchner's
government and suggested that Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
(CFK) had yet to demonstrate that she will govern in a manner
distinct from that of her husband. End Summary.

3. (SBU) The following are highlights of individual
conversations over the past three weeks. Topics covered
include GOA decision-making style, economic policy making,
inflation, salary negotiations, investment policy, public
security challenges, anti-Americanism, corruption, oil and
energy policy, and regional security concerns.

Bank President
--------------

4. (SBU) Clarisa Lifsic is President of the Banco
Hipotecario, Argentina's second largest bank in terms of net
worth. She has an MBA from MIT and represents private
shareholders in this formerly state-owned mortgage bank.
Private shareholders control the majority of seats on the
board, but various public entities still control over 50% of
Hipotecario's stock following its "de-nationalization" in
1997. While the bank used to specialize in mortgages, it is
now a full service bank and has been expanding rapidly in
recent years.

5. (C) She sees the main challenge to the Argentine economy
and the banking system as getting inflation under control.
The GoA's interventionist anti-inflation policy, including
freezes in public utility tariffs and "voluntary" price
stabilization agreements on a sizeable basket of consumer
goods, has just hidden a very serious problem.

6. (C) The government has displayed little understanding of
how to expand credit markets for medium- or long-term loans.
Just before the elections, the government got banks to pledge
to issue small enterprise and mortgage loans at less than the
cost of money at that time. The banks signed because the
head of the Banking Association (see para. 12) assured them
that the government just wanted the headlines and would never
check to see if the loans were issued. The government has no
long-term vision or plan about generating a mortgage market,
for example. You don't do that by telling banks they have to
make loans at a loss, she said. You create policy structures
and make funds available in the way Mexico did to begin
expanding home mortgages.

7. (C) The appointed government members of the Banco
Hipotecario Board of Directors have been weak. The last two
were friends of former Finance Minister Felisa Miceli's
siblings. One was an architect, who knew nothing about
banking, and the other was an accountant, but he still asked
where the mortgages were kept on his initial tour of the
bank. Much time had to be spent educating them both on
basics and keeping them informed of what issues and topics
meant. Similarly, the lack of coordination and clear lines
of responsibility within the government mean that a great
deal of time has to be spent going individually to each actor
in the government who might influence the bank's policy to
brief them on new policies or strategic decisions by the
bank.
It is a very time-consuming process.

8. (C) One of the great failings of GOA policy has been its
very short-term focus. There has been hope that CFK may
change that. She asked a number of individual economists and
economic players to write longer term strategy papers for
her. She has also told at least one person that she intends
to create a committee charged with developing a longer term
economic vision for Argentina. So far, however, there have
not been any clear signs of more focus on the longer term.
There is also no clear sign so far that the government will
implement the "social pact" between labor, business and the
government which CFK discussed in her electoral campaign.

International Banker and Financier
----------------------------------

9. (SBU) Guillermo "Willy" Stanley is a board member of
Macro Bansud, one of Argentina's largest banks, former
President of Citibank Argentina, and Director of D&G, a
consulting and investment firm that owns Havanna, a very
successful Argentine cookie and coffee bar company. Stanley
noted that his companies have been prospering with
Argentina's economic growth. Havanna sales have grown 7%
over the past year. It now has 30 stores in other parts of
Latin America and hopes to open a store in the United States.
Macro Bansud's deposit base has been growing steadily in
recent years, loans are booming, and the bank has been able
to borrow significant amounts at excellent rates in Europe
over the past year.

10. (C) Inflation is the biggest challenge facing the
government. The inept price control policies of Commerce
Secretary Guillermo Moreno have made the problem much more

SIPDIS
serious than it needed to be. By destroying the credibility
of the national statistics agency, INDEC, and by using
offensive pressure tactics to try to control prices, the
government has raised inflationary expectations for most
economic actors. Rather than what easily could have been
inflation hovering around 13%, now most sectors have
(self-fulfilling) expectations that inflation will be 20-25%.
This has repercussions across the economic spectrum as
recent union claims for wage increases demonstrate.

11. (C) The government's repeated focus on the short-term is
also taking its toll. There had been hope that CFK would
bring about a change in her husband's focus on the immediate,
but decisions are still being made by the same small group
and with no evident shift from the near-term political
motivation for most decisions.

Banking Association President
-----------------------------

12. (SBU) Jorge Brito is president of Banco Macro,
Argentina's largest bank by several measures, and president
of the association of Argentine-owned private banks, ADEBA.
Macro has over 7,000 employees and 440 branches operating in
many provinces. It has enjoyed over 20 consecutive
profitable quarters.

13. (C) In Brito's view, Argentina's economy is well placed
to weather the current international turmoil, but the
domestic banking sector will still be squeezed by the higher
cost of international capital, as money retreats from
perceived risk. The government needs to start letting prices
rise on energy and key services and start to give more
signals to encourage investment. The key in the near term
will be where salary negotiations end up. If they end up
granting higher than 20% raises, for example, that will
seriously fuel inflationary expectations and produce
dangerous effects throughout the economy. If the final set
of raises average less than 20%, the effects will probably be
manageable. The government needs to adopt a new set of
policies for tackling inflation. The price limits and other
controls were supposed to be in place only for the short
term, but clearly, after more than a year in practice, they
are not working.

14. (C) Brito observed that the banking sector is growing
well, with Banco Macro having a 40% growth in loans last year
for example. But the key to continued domestic economic grow
is job creation, and much of that will only come if new
domestic investment, especially by SMEs, is affordable. The
government has started again to urge private banks to make
loans at low interest rates, but how, he asked rhetorically,
can a bank make a five year loan at 7% if it has to give 10%
to get 60 day deposits? Only if the government finds a way
to offer a guarantee or something like a rate subsidy, can
private banks lower rates. So far, he said, the government
has not come up with workable ideas or mechanisms.

15. (C) Brito noted that Argentina still suffers from having
a large part of the money flow in the economy taking place in
the informal system. Only about 65% of the money flows in
the formal system. The rest is off the books, and many
entrepreneurs are fighting hard to keep it that way, as it
allows them to save about 25% that would otherwise go into
retirement and health benefit payments. The rural economy
also has much of its transactions taking place through
informal, untaxed transactions, he said. Brito added that he
and his association looked forward to working further with
the USG on better controls for money laundering and against
terrorist finance.

Political Pollster and Professor
--------------------------------

16. (SBU) Manuel Mora Y Araujo is currently Professor in the
Masters in Journalism program at the Di Tella University and
in the Masters in Political Science program at CEMA
University. He is also the Director of the International
Center of Public Opinion of Torcuato Di Tella Institute and
director of the local polling firm IPSOS, among many other
activities.

17. (SBU) He argues that the government will be judged by
how well it handles the problems of inflation and public
security. People are deciding how happy they are depending
on how much money they have to spend in their pockets, what
they can buy with it, and how safe they feel carrying their
money around. CFK's poll numbers have improved since her
inauguration, in part because people feel they are doing well
in their personal lives and give her the benefit of the doubt
at the moment.

18. (C) CFK's overreaction to the U.S. court case and Nestor
Kirchner's ill-fated trip to Colombia as "guarantor" of a
hostage release doesn't weigh heavily, because most of the
Argentine public do not care that much about foreign affairs.
Plus, in the case of the United States, playing the
anti-American card pays off initially. Governments have to
be careful, however, as the population doesn't like being in
conflict with the United States - a strange (but, from our
perspective, salutary) counterpoint to the anti-Americanism.
Thus, in this case as in many past ones, the best U.S.
response to an anti-American outburst by an Argentine
government is not to fuel the fire but just to keep calmly
explaining the U.S. point of view.

19. (C) CFK intellectually knows the value of having a
long-term vision and implementing it, but she is short-term
in her political outlook and practice, he said. She and her
husband share that outlook, but she is still more interested
in exploring new concepts and new countries than her husband.
That might be an advantage.

20. (C) It is far from clear that CFK will implement the
"social pact" that she talked about between labor, capital,
and government over how to keep the economy growing without
disruption for the years ahead, according to Mora Y Araujo.
We have not heard much of the concept from CFK and getting
something like that done will take a great deal of political
effort and capital - no signs of plans to do that so far.

21. (SBU) Di Tella University's 50th Anniversary: Many
events are planned for this year. The university would like
to coordinate on some joint work with the Embassy on bringing
in speakers and working with U.S. universities, for example.

German Ambassador
-----------------

22. (C) Regarding the Paris Club debt, German Ambassador
Wolf Rolf Schumacher said that until the crisis with the USG,
the Germans were getting strong messages that the new GoA
wanted to move pretty rapidly on solving the debt, but since
early December the GoA has gone silent. The Germans think
this is because the GoA knows that the USG will be an
obstacle unless relations improve. They expect the GOA to
move ahead if relations with the U.S. improve.

23. (C) Many German companies are doing quite well selling
into this market, but most are not making big new
investments. Volkswagen is an exception. Its local CEO (and
former Austrian Chancellor) Victor Klima has gone out of his
way to court CFK, using his connections in Europe with good
results. Siemens has found the Argentines eager to purchase
its turbines. As far as the Embassy can tell, all of the
energy deals are on the up and up. However, corruption is
widespread. One German CEO went into see Planning Minister
De Vido to complain that one of his deputies had solicited a
bribe and the CEO had refused. De Vido reportedly took no
interest in getting the name of the offending official but
instead recommended the CEO film and record the next bribe
solicitation.

24. (SBU) Germany's Max Planck Institute has decided to
build its own regional center in Buenos Aires adjoining the
new GoA science center. This will be only the second
overseas institute location for Germany, and Buenos Aires was
chosen because of the consistently high quality of students
and researchers who travel from Argentina for training and
scholarships at the Institute in Germany.

25. (C) The German Ambassador noted that it had been a big
challenge to get Chancellor Merkel to agree to meet with CFK
several months ago during CFK's visit to Germany, given the
reputation of the Kirchner government in Germany. But Merkel
agreed to do so in part because of signs that CFK might bring
about some changes. However, so far there are no real
changes evident. Decisions are still made by the same small
group. The clash with the United States, he opined, shows
that advice from outside that group (e.g., from the Foreign
Minister) is not sought or heeded. The focus is still on the
short-term and political, rather than on medium- and
longer-term goals. Relations with other countries are still
not highly valued, even if CFK has a personal interest in
travel and in meeting other leaders. It is not an impressive
start.

Defense Businessman, Publisher, Ex-Montonero
--------------------------------------------

26. (C) Mario Montoto is involved in defense and security
industries, publishes a monthly magazine on defense and
international affairs issues called DEF, and is an ex-advisor
to the head of the Montonero guerrillas. He is now very
pro-U.S. and does business with Israel. Montoto says the
crisis with the USG is rooted in the limited perspectives of
the key decision-makers. For example, the Vatican is
refusing to accept the GoA nominee for ambassador, former
Justice Minister Irribarne, because he is a divorced and
remarried Catholic. The key decision-makers did not consider
that a 2000-year-old institution that has opposition to
divorce for Catholics like Irribarne as one of its key
principles might have a problem with this nominee. In the
case of the Miami arrests, it took the key GoA figures a
while to figure out that these were not orchestrated by the
USG. Montoto said he had raised this "mistake" with the head
of Argentine intelligence, Justice Minister Anibal Fernandez
and others, arguing that the GoA action was an embarrassment
and runs against Argentina's strategic interests. He said
Anibal Fernandez quietly whispered in his ear that he agrees.


27. (C) Montoto said he is working hard to raise
consciousness in Argentina and the region about the dangerous
arms build-up by Venezuela which he believes emboldens Chavez
to make bellicose statements against neighbors like Colombia.
He said this build-up also spurs similar purchases by
Brazil. Meanwhile, Argentina's military is severely
under-funded. This means that the United States is
strategically more important than ever to Argentina, and the
GoA should reinforce its defense dialogue and cooperation
with the U.S., not limit it. He said he argues with GoA
officials about this. He also said he had a very frank talk
with former President Nestor Kirchner recently where he
warned the ex-president about the inapplicability of Chavez'
model for Argentina and about being careful not to become
captive to Chavez. NK listened but did not concede the
points, Montoto said.

28. (C) On public security, Montoto said he believes
Argentines in greater Buenos Aires are going to judge their
government on how well it controls crime and returns peace to
the neighborhoods. This is the reason that Buenos Aires
province governor Daniel Scioli, whom Montoto advises, has
just rolled out a big effort to get more police on the
streets: he wants to show his voters that he is acting boldly
on this serious problem. Montoto said he just worked out the
broad outlines of an agreement between the State of Rio de
Janeiro and the Province of Buenos Aires to share experiences
and expertise on public security. Montoto said he has told
Scioli that he believes Buenos Aires may face the same
serious problems as Rio in a couple of years if firm action
is not taken now. Of course, the other part of the solution
is job creation, and that is why Scioli is also taking a
number of steps to promote SME creation and to attract
investment, including from the United State.

Fund Manager, Entrepreneur, and Real Estate Magnate
--------------------------------------------- ------

29. (SBU) Eduardo Elsztain is the founder of Dolphin Fund
Management (with several very large U.S. partners), President
of IRSA Inversiones y Representationes (real estate), and
Cresud (livestock), among many other activities. He is an
active civic leader and active in the NGO Endeavor which
promotes young entrepreneurs.

30. (C) Elsztain argues that the key to understanding
Argentine economic developments is to realize that it's the
concrete that matters (e.g., real estate, not financial
instruments). Right now, the key factor is salaries - how
will the government negotiate new salary caps with the
unions. Argentina is well-placed to weather current economic
problems in the world. "I would rather have a populist
government with a good fiscal policy and reserves, than a
liberal government with a big deficit." But, it will be very
important what policy signals the government sends to
investors. This government is on the right side of the
"private property" debate compared to Chavez, but it is not
yet clear that it will come up with the right set of
policies. If it does, plenty of capital will flow here.
Essential to sustain such capital flows will be the justice
system and sanctity of contracts. Elsztain noted that his
investments in Brazil are currently valued three times higher
than similar investments in Argentina in good part because
people have more faith in the enforceability of contractual
agreements in Brazil. Still, investments in solid things
such as real estate and gold are good, and he will pursue
some additional mining investments in Argentina, for example.
(The strength of the Brazilian Real is also a factor in
Brazilian values, he noted.)

31. (SBU) Elsztain said he had just donated a computer
center for kids in the city of Buenos Aires with Mayor
Mauricio Macri earlier in the week, and Macri had asked him
to work on creating 90 more. Elsztain said he thought there
was room to work with the U.S. Embassy on this project.

Oil Man and Entrepreneur
----------------------

32. (C) Jorge Estrada is a Colombian-Argentine-American who
started his career as a successful oilman and has
subsequently branched out successfully in many other areas.
In his view, inflation is the key issue facing the new
government, with the real figure probably somewhere around
18%. The government has been sending all the wrong signals
to the oil and gas sector. At present, for example, wealthy
households pay less for gas than do the poorest, who are
compelled to pay world prices to buy bottled gas for their
homes. While the government has been able to raise a lot of
money through its export taxes, the result is that the price
market does not work effectively, and production and
investment are distorted in agriculture as well as oil and
gas. The government should move to new taxing and pricing
schemes, he opined; it could still collect more taxes via
income taxes rather than using the export taxes. Right now,
the Argentine economy is well-placed to support such economic
reforms. Demand for Argentina's commodities is high, and
will remain so for a couple of years.

33. (C) At present, it is not yet clear that the government
is ready to introduce significant reforms. Nestor Kirchner
seems to still call many of the shots, and the government
seems to function in the same way as it did when he was
president. There is still no evident long-term vision. GOA
reactions to events are often based on domestic political
calculations, and there is little appreciation of other
countries. All of this was evident in the reaction to the
court case in Miami. As for the suitcase money itself, it
was probably coming in for some under-the-table deal, he
commented, but not likely for CFK's own campaign. She had
plenty of campaign money flowing in from various sources in
country, including the government.

34. (C) As for overall corruption, it seems as bad or worse
than under Menem. In the oil area, two old friends of Nestor
Kirchner have won many of the concessions offered publicly:
the bidding rules were designed so they would win. Also,
Nestor Kirchner has been a master at using state revenue to
build alliances with governors and mayors. Kirchner has used
his combative style (characteristically followed by a
subsequent embrace) to build a set of alliances founded on
mutual interests and fear. With Argentine supermarket owner
Coto, for example, he first criticized him harshly, almost
forced him to go broke, and then saved his business. Coto is
now an ally.
WAYNE
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