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Cablegate: Opposition Assembly Caucus Leaders Seek Training

VZCZCXRO3895
PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #0466/01 0522237
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 212237Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9174
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0958
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 000466

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

WHA/CEN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/21/2017
TAGS: PGOV PINR KDEM NU PREL
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION ASSEMBLY CAUCUS LEADERS SEEK TRAINING

Classified By: Charge d,Affaires a.i. Peter M. Brennan. Reasons 1.4 (B
,D).

1. (C) Summary: National Assembly caucus leaders
representing the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), Liberal
Constitutional Party (PLC), and the Sandinista Renovation
Movement (MRS) recently met with the Ambassador and sought
more U.S. training assistance, especially for freshmen
lawmakers and consultants handling legal matters and thematic
issues. Convinced that the legislature offers the best wall
to contain President Ortega's efforts to consolidate power
and sideline Nicaragua's established democratic institutions,
they are considering legislation that would remove the
Executive's authority to establish national councils.
Assembly opposition to Ortega's exceeding his authority may
be producing some positive effects as on February 18, the
Presidency announced that the national councils and their
staff will not be funded through the national budget.
However, the following day, Ortega circumvented the problem
by reappointing Paul Oquist -- the former director of the
National Policy Council and a long-time UNDP official -- as
his ministerial-ranking private secretary for National
Policy. End Summary.

Legislature the Front Line against Ortega Excesses
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (C) Victor Hugo Tinoco, Maria Eugenia Sequeira, and
Maximino Rodriguez, leaders of the National Assembly's MRS,
ALN, and PLC caucuses, respectively, met on February 16 with
the Ambassador, DCM, polcouns, and USAID election advisor to
discuss their perceptions of the Ortega government,
legislative priorities, and possible USG assistance. The
lawmakers asserted that the National Assembly offers the best
containment wall against President Ortega's efforts to
consolidate power and sideline Nicaragua's established
democratic institutions. Alarmed over President Ortega's
disregard for the restrictions the Assembly placed on the
President's newly established national councils -- including
stipulating that the councils can neither exercise authority
over the ministries nor receive any share of the national
budget -- the lawmakers may propose to eliminate the
President's authority to establish national councils.

Sandinista Visionaries, Intellectuals Abandoned Ortega
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

3. (C) Tinoco, a former FSLN militant familiar with the
Sandinista leadership, criticized President Ortega's choice
of ministers, terming them FSLN "nobodies" selected for their
blind loyalty, not capabilities. Tinoco, an FSLN insider for
many years, said he had never even heard of many of the new
ministers. All of the party's visionaries and intellectuals
have abandoned Ortega, claimed Tinoco. Ortega is stuck in
the past, a retro-revolutionary incapable of thinking
democratically -- more bent on consolidating his power than
resolving Nicaragua's social problems. However, Ortega is
also confined by Nicaragua's need for the IMF and donors like
the United States. At this juncture, all Ortega has left is
his revolutionary symbolism; hence his decision to alter the
national seal and to invite the anti-U.S. Iranian leader to
launch a tirade against imperialism on Nicaraguan soil,
opined Tinoco.

4. (C) Rodriguez, who was cautious in his assessment of
Ortega, noted that Ortega has yet to define himself, even
though the President appears not to have learned much from
Nicaragua's 16 years of democracy. This time around, Ortega
is adrift, confronted with the difficult dilemma of placating
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, while remaining within the
boundaries of the IMF. Agreeing with Tinoco's assessment
that Ortega's ministers are essentially place holders with
virtually no authority or influence, Sequeira recounted that
during the Finance Minister's recent appearance before the
Assembly, he had "parroted" the Sandinista party line. It
was clear that the Minister was unauthorized to answer any
questions outside of those in his marching orders, she said.


Using the Budget and Court Appointments to Contain Ortega
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (C) Sequeira remarked that the National Assembly's
control over the national budget offers the best "containment
wall" against Ortega. She added that the opposition
lawmakers will develop a clearer picture of the Nicaraguan
government's (GON) true intentions once it receives Ortega's
proposed budget. Rodriguez and Tinoco nodded, concurring
with Sequeira that how the opposition members of the Assembly
deal with the proposed budget will be determinant in setting
the direction of the country. Regarding the National
Assembly's pending appointment of three Supreme Court
Justices, the Prosecutor General and Deputy, as well as 16
other judges, Sequeira remarked that her caucus will support
qualified, independent candidates, not the usual party hacks.
Tinoco professed the same, while Rodriguez was more
circumspect. (Note: On February 20, the Assembly appointed
two special commissions to review candidates for the Supreme
Court and for the Prosecutor General and Deputy.)

Opposition Leery of Venezuelan and Iranian Accords
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

6. (C) The caucus leaders reported that copies of the
Venezuelan and Iranian agreements that the GON recently
signed had finally arrived in the National Assembly after
weeks of opposition pressure to review the accords. All
three lawmakers shared that they had not seen the documents,
and were only familiar with them through media coverage.
Noting that according to press reports the Iranian agreement
entails mutual support in international fora regarding issues
of global concern, the DCM shared our concern that Iran could
try to draw in Nicaragua into supporting its nuclear
ambitions in violation of the United Nations, the United
States, and the EU. Disconcerted by our observations,
Rodriguez explained that the Assembly's role is to approve or
reject each document, but it is not authorized to make any
changes. (Note: Also on February 20, the Assembly appointed
a special commission to review these accords.)

Chavez Will Stop Once He Runs out of Gas
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

7. (C) Rodriguez, who opined that Chavez is neither as
bright nor as capable as Cuban dictator Fidel Castro,
attributed Chavez' success to his country's vast oil wealth.
"Chavez is like a car. He will lose power once he runs out
of gas," ventured Rodriguez. Sequeira, who quipped that
Chavez could last for some time, asserted that she has not
seen one sign that Ortega is democratic, but plenty of
indications that he is following in the footsteps of Chavez.

Ortega "Lost It" Over MANPADS
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

8. (C) Responding to the Ambassador's query regarding the
Assembly's recent renewed interest in MANPADS and President
Ortega's remarks on the subject, Sequeira clarified that the
Assembly had invited General Halleslevens to explain the
military's MANPADS position in order to inform new
legislators of the matter, not/not to put him on the spot or
to press a vote. However, President Ortega had overreacted
to media coverage of the Hondurans' purchase of small
counter-narcotics planes, causing the issue to spin out of
control, explained the ALN lawmaker. The Ambassador
clarified that our assistance to the Nicaraguan military is
quite substantial -- approximately $17 million for 2006-2007
-- and that, while the Hondurans preferred to purchase planes
to combat narco-trafficking with our funds, the Nicaraguans
had purchased boats and communications equipment. Sequeira
suggested that CHDS advisor Richard Downie's May defense
workshop will provide the opportunity for Nicaraguans to
develop a modern defense strategy that will enable Nicaragua
to modernize and streamline its defense and make better use
of U.S. military assistance.

Caucus Leaders Seek Capacity Building, Thematic Experts
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

9. (C) Sequeira, who recently participated in an
IRI-USAID-sponsored program for legislators and a trip to
Mexico to meet with her Mexican counterparts, lauded these
programs and sought more of them, especially for new
lawmakers. Rodriguez suggested that we also provide training
to the Assembly's legal advisors and thematic experts, as
many current advisors are out of touch with new developments
and are ill prepared to provide the kind of expertise
lawmakers require to draft sound legislation. Tinoco
mentioned the need to inculcate in lawmakers and staff a
sense of public service to offset the traditional
rent-seeking mentality of many Assembly deputies. All three
deputies supported the idea of joint training sessions for
the three opposition parties, as well as separate sessions
for each party to develop individual capacity.

Comment
- - - -

10. (C) Through USAID, we will arrange follow up meetings
for the caucus leaders with NDI and IRI. National Assembly
opposition to Ortega's exceeding his authority may be
producing some positive effects. On February 18, the
Presidency announced that the national councils and their
staff, including their coordinators, will not be funded
through the national budget. However, the following day,
Ortega circumvented the problem by reappointing Paul Oquist
-- the former director of the National Policy Council and a
long-time UNDP official -- as his ministerial-ranking private
secretary for National Policy, with the equivalent salary to

BRENNAN

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