1. (S) This message is in response to reftel request for information on the emotional and physical health of President Alan Garcia. Our responses are slugged to the questions in reftel paragraphs. We do not always have first-hand information on the questions asked, a fact reflected in some of our answers below.
2. (S) Garcia’s overall health appears to be good. Notwithstanding a strenuous work schedule, he has clearly gained weight over the past several months. This shows (both in press photos and private meetings) in his slightly larger jowls and a growing paunch. Reports of manic depression or bipolar disorder are impossible to confirm, but rumors in this connection are widespread. For example, many of our contacts (with purported first-hand knowledge) say that Garcia has always been moody, disposed to sudden flights of enthusiasm, plunges of bad humor, and abrupt changes of mind. Many of the more damaging rumors appear to have their origins in the latter part of Garcia’s first term, when his popularity plummeted and the political and security situations spiraled out of control. According to some reports, in response Garcia at one point fell into a deep funk, locked himself behind closed doors and refused public contact of any kind for days on end. While that report continues to hound him, there are no indications that it responds to a long-standing or deep-set dimension of his psychological or emotional makeup.
3. (S) We do not have the names and/or specialties of his doctors.
4. (S) We have no direct information with respect to medications taken by the president. A number of our contacts have told us (as though it were an established fact) that Garcia takes lithium for anti-depression (anti-bipolar disorder) purposes, but we cannot confirm the veracity of these reports.
5. (S) There is no evidence that Garcia suffers from alcohol or drug abuse. We understand he does drink socially.
6. (S) Persecution, real as well as imagined, has been an integral part of the president’s life. Garcia’s father, a founding member of APRA, was imprisoned for several years for his political activism. The APRA has been the object of political persecution during Peru’s recent era of military dictatorships (1968-80), its activities as anti-regime “democrats” curtailed. Garcia himself chose to leave Peru after his first term ended in 1990, partly out of fears of persecution. After one year of exile in Colombia, he fled to France on hearing reports that he was being pursued by Fujimori henchmen either for assassination or kidnapping back to Peru. More recently, as president, Garcia and his son have been the targets of alleged kidnapping plots. These experiences have broadly shaped his personal and political outlook, and exacerbated an innate tendency to keep information “close-hold,” strictly limited to an intimate circle of advisors.
7. (S) A master politician, Garcia has survived and thrived via the indirect threat, ably playing rivals against one another and undermining, with cold calculation, the political bases of potential competitors, including those within his own party. Garcia’s APRA party is also well known as the most effective political machine in Peru, complete with goon squads that are dispatched to do various kinds of dirty work on behalf of its leaders. We have no information that he has ever issued explicit violent threats or the like. While there are widespread reports that he is a difficult, demanding boss and a moody person, we have no information that he is abusive toward advisors or family.
8. (S) According to most reports, Garcia has an extremely heavy work load and regularly takes on too many tasks. As a man who lives and breathes politics, at the expense of most other dimensions of his life, he often works late. It could almost be said that work is all he does. Moreover, he is a pure politician in the sense that he has never done anything but the work of candidate or president, and it is all he knows how to do. (He has written books, but most critics understand that is not his gift.)
9. (S) Garcia has the reputation of being an acute micro-manager and very demanding on his staff, even tasking senior ministers in public and on the spot with various responsibilities and duties. In the sense that he often expects Ministers to divine and carry out his will rather than to generate policy ideas or propose alternative solutions, he demands the impossible. As for lofty ideas, he appears to have learned lessons from his first term, lowering expectations and focusing on pragmatic programs rather than on large romantic visions. For example, he has no apparent ambition to change the world, re-order political and economic realities according to a new “vision” for Latin America, or create the new socialist specimen or Bolivarian man. The signal programs of his second term so far — Sierra Exportadora, Agua Para Todos, the Decentralization Shock — amount in many ways to recombining and repackaging diverse existing tactical poverty reduction schemes (including USAID’s PRA — Poverty Reduction and Alleviation — project) than to pursuing an overriding lofty ambition. At the same time, most observers see Garcia’s strengths as rhetorical rather than administrative, in inspiring with impassioned and even poetic oratory rather than in overseeing (prosaic) projects slowly through their step by step implementation.
10. (S) Garcia’s public and private persona are, in many ways, at odds. In public, he tends to strike the majesterial presidential pose, chest thrust forward, head held high, arms and hands gesturing in the formal, almost choreographed manner of the leader. He is also prone to giving long public lectures, reflecting a know-it-all and superior tone. All this comes across as pompous and inflated. By contrast, in private Garcia is a more informal, disarming and even considerate figure. He is courteous and deferential with visitors, and an excellent listener, often probing interlocutors for more detailed information. One aspect on which there is near universal agreement is that Garcia has a colossal ego, which can blind him to the merits of good ideas and alternatives that he himself has not generated. To some observers, while he is unlikely to repeat the mistakes that brought Peru close to ruin during his first administration, the ego is Garcia’s Achilles’ heel and could have counterproductive consequences to the current government, especially if unchecked.
11. (S) Garcia’s attention span appears to be good, and his listening skills are excellent. We have no information that he has difficulty in concentrating, gets confused or is forgetful. As noted above, there are widespread reports of a certain emotional volatility, but it is not clear that this impairs his ability to think or to express himself clearly.
12. (S) We have no information about any periods of intense energy or activity, racing thoughts or incoherence. We have not noted any tendency to shake, blink or roll his eyes.
13. (S) While there are widespread reports that Garcia fell into a deep depression near the end of his first term (as noted above), we have no information that that corresponds to a deep-set emotional characteristic or that it has recurred regularly since that time. We have no information about talk of suicide.
14. (S) We have no information regarding any decreased need for sleep or food. A truly gifted orator, he never sounds as though his speech were hurried or pressured, nor does it follow a notably illogical flow.
15. (S) We have no information about his exercise routine or diet regimen, nor any dietary restrictions due to ongoing medications.
16. (S) We have no information regarding any compulsive overeating, shopping, gambling or the like. That said, as noted above, Garcia has manifestly gained weight since being in office and is likely a consequence of his eating amply and well. There are widespread rumors of Garcia’s numerous extra-marital sexual liaisons. Recently, Garcia publicly acknowledged one of them, with Ms. Elizabeth Roxanne Cheesman, with whom he had a young child. While he publicly claimed that this relationship occurred during the brief time he was estranged from his wife Pilar Nores, some observers have suggested that it was much more enduring than he had publicly let on.
17. (S) In the interim between the end of his first presidential term in 1990 and the current term, which began in July of 2006, Garcia has spent time both abroad and in Peru. After leaving office the first time, in 1992 Garcia fled to a kind of quasi political exile in Bogota, Colombia, where he remained for one year. (Garcia harbors a deep sympathy for Colombia dating back to that time.) From there, he fled to France, where he lived for the following eight years. (From this period, Garcia speaks excellent French and has a strong personal sympathy for French society and life.) He returned to Peru in 2001, following Alberto Fujimori’s resignation from the presidency. He was formally separated from his wife in 2004-5.