Leaked U.S. Cables Prompt Latin American Furor

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

hide captionArgentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is among the subjects of U.S. diplomatic cables about Latin America leaked by WikiLeaks. Some of the cables speculated about the mental and physical health of regional leaders, such as Fernandez de Kirchner.

Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

The some 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks aren't all about North Korea's nuclear ambitions or the fate of Afghanistan.

Closer to Washington, there have been cables about mental health, gastrointestinal problems and a mysterious tumor. Written by American diplomats about Latin American leaders, the messages have a region up in arms.

In them, there is plenty of American concern about terrorists as well as information about the close ties between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iran.

But what has struck a lot of observers on the region is the almost personal obsession about leaders, such as Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Personal, Not Political, Matters

In a 2009 cable to Buenos Aires, the State Department asks if she's on medication — and whether she's able to manage her nerves and anxiety.

Adam Isacson, an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank, has been reading the cables carefully.

"The real damage done here has not been nefarious plots or conspiracies or, you know, planning coups or anything. If there's damage at all it's that we've seen a lot of snarky comments, backhanded insults, speculations about people's mental and physical state rather than a lot of new information about the political and strategic situation," he says.

The Argentine cable by the State Department says: "We have a much more solid understanding of Nestor Kirchner's style and personality," referring to Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's husband, who had been president of Argentina until 2007.

The cable goes on to say, "We'd like to develop a more well-rounded view of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner."

The cable also asked about Nestor Kirchner's gastrointestinal problems and whether he took medicine. Nestor Kirchner died recently of a heart attack.

As in much of the world, the WikiLeaks cables have caused something of an uproar in the press.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Argentine president to express regret, as a State Department spokesman put it, after the release of the cables.

Fernandez de Kirchner has kept silent.

Not so Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela.

On his nationally televised show, Chavez said the United States was "left naked by the release of the documents."

Another personal rumor came out of Brazil. A U.S. Embassy cable reported that the country's defense minister, Nelson Jobim, had told the American ambassador last year that Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, had a nose tumor.

Morales is a leader often at odds with U.S. policy. His office denied that he had ever had a tumor.

Evidence Of Professionalism

Not everything reflects badly on U.S. diplomats. Cables show they are closely tracking Iran's budding ties to Latin America and Tehran's search for uranium.

The U.S. ambassador in Honduras also sent a cable last year saying that the removal of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya by the military was "illegal and unconstitutional."

Michael Shifter, an analyst in Washington and president of the Inter-American Dialogue, says the cable shows the U.S. was not involved in the coup. "I think the U.S. showed some professionalism in handling the Honduras crisis," he says. "And what the private communications show is pretty much what was said publicly. I think it will be disappointing for conspiracy theorists."

Observers of the region say they want to read more. Isacson, the think tank analyst, has closely tracked Colombia for years — in particular, the man who recently left the presidency, Alvaro Uribe.

Uribe was a loyal U.S. ally, but he was caught up in many scandals.

"It's almost pure prurient interest. I want to find out what these diplomats in the region are saying when they think no one is listening," Isacson says. "What did they say about their staunch ally when they thought they were just talking to each other?"

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