Inside Scoop On Regional Politics And Unasur

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Classified By: DCM Michael J. Fitzpatrick; reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) Chilean Ambassador Fabio Vio Ugarte told Ambassador
September 17 that he met privately with Chilean President
Bachelet when he returned to Santiago for a COM meeting to
prepare for the UNASUR Summit. To his surprise, she firmly
stated her dislike for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
However, he said, Bachelet is under great internal pressure
from pro-Chavez members of her administration who want her to
publicly support Chavez. She is also being criticized
domestically for not doing enough for Chile’s neighbors and
focusing too much on commercial allies in Asia, the United
States, and Europe. Bachelet saw the UNASUR meeting for the
Bolivia conflict as Chile’s chance to get involved in a
constructive way in the region. (NOTE: Vio was Ambassador to
Venezuela during the Lagos administration but was recalled
for consultations for three months as a result of tense
relations between Venezuela and Chile. He is strongly
anti-Chavez and considers himself close to Lagos and Frey but
does not know Bachelet; Vio was concerned about where
Bachelet could take Chile’s relationship with Chavez given
her leftist origins. END NOTE).

¶2. (C) Vio told the Ambassador that he spoke with President
Lugo’s Chief of Staff, Miguel Angel Lopez Perito, and
Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) Senator Alberto Grillon
(chair of the Paraguayan Senate Foreign Affairs Committee)
the day before they traveled with Lugo to Chile. Vio
stressed the need to keep the United States out of the UNASUR
declaration; all agreed that the UNASUR declaration should
not be anti-U.S. Vio said Lugo held that line during the
UNASUR meeting, and that Chilean MFA staff were relieved that
UNASUR agreed on a declaration given the high risk associated
with the meeting.

¶3. (C) Ambassador met separately with Senator Grillon
September 18 upon his return from Chile. Grillon said
Colombian President Uribe played a key role in moderating
UNASUR discussions about Bolivia, and that Argentine
President Kirchner and Brazilian President Lula (who does not
want the Venezuela/Bolivia issue to spill over into Brazil)
were also “helpful.” Grillon said Chavez gave a long-winded
speech attacking the United States — to the annoyance of
most of the other heads of state — and that only Bolivian
President Morales echoed his rhetoric. Grillon said Morales
spoke disparagingly about Ambassador Goldberg, alleging that
he contributed to the crisis because of his meetings with the
opposition and “interference.” Lugo’s participation was
limited, but his interventions moderate, according to
Grillon. Sen. Grillon overhead one of Chavez’ advisors press
Lopez Perito not to accept President Bush’s invitation for a
White House meeting with Lugo. The Venezuelan advisor
aggressively tried to convince Lopez Perito that the
Bush/Lugo visit should not take place. Lopez Perito
disagreed.

¶4. (C) President Lugo told the Ambassador September 19 that
he wants to talk to all sides in the Bolivian conflict, and
that he has reached out to the political opposition in
Bolivia directly. He confided in the Ambassador, saying that
he believes Morales “has a complex” about race and dismissing
Chavez’ recent rhetoric. COMMENT: Lugo continues to walk a
fine, pragmatic line on regional politics. In the press, he
has been very balanced on the Bolivia crisis, supporting
Morales as Bolivia’s democratically elected president but
avoiding any mention of the United States. On September 24,
Lugo publicly stated that he will not expel any ambassadors
from Paraguay, including the current U.S. Ambassador.
Simultaneously he stated that “Lugo is not Hugo Chavez and
Hugo Chavez is not Lugo, thank God.” END COMMENT.