The Non-Smoking Gun

MEXICO CITY – Everyone these days, it seems, has their own favorite American diplomatic cable – or will soon – given that the 250,000 documents obtained by WikiLeaks include references to almost every country in the world. For Latin America, Wikileaks has so far provided enticing tidbits of both gossip and substance about Brazil and Argentina; interesting, first-rate analysis regarding Honduras, Bolivia, and Mexico; and a few intriguing notes about regional politics and international relations.

Nothing extraordinary has been revealed, but the cables now available allow readers and analysts to draw some preliminary conclusions about the Obama administration’s views of the region; about Latin American leaders’ attitudes toward the United States; and about the quality of US diplomatic and intelligence-gathering activities in the hemisphere. Nothing to write home about, but a lot to write about.

There have been some notable documents, though not many. One is clearly the note written by Hugo Llorens, US Ambassador to Honduras, on July 24, 2009, immediately after the coup d’état that exiled President Manuel Zelaya. The American envoy got right what happened, its implications, and how to enable Barack Obama’s incoming administration to deal intelligently – and differently from the past – with one of its first crises in Latin America. A coup was a coup, could not be accepted, and, however provocative Zelaya had been, the only possible US position was his unconditional return to power.

Another impressive cable was sent on November 17, 2009, by Charles H. Rivkin, US Ambassador to France, regarding the competition between French companies and Boeing for a contract worth tens of billions of dollars to provide advanced fighter planes to Brazil. The authors got it right: French President Nicolas Sarkozy was pulling out all the stops to close the deal, including support for Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on issues of interest to him, and acceptance of technological, legal, and military conditions imposed by Brazil on French firms, mainly the armaments manufacturer Dassault.