Cablegate: Re-Molding the Contras Into a Political Force
DE RUEHMU #0487/01 0542146
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 232146Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9203
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 000487
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN SCHIFFER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/22/2017
TAGS: KDEM PGOV NU
SUBJECT: RE-MOLDING THE CONTRAS INTO A POLITICAL FORCE
REF: MANAGUA 350 AND EARLIER
Classified By: Classified by Charge d'Affaires, i.e. Peter M. Brennan f
or reasons 1.4 (b)
1. (C) SUMMARY: National Convergence (Convergencia) leader
and lawmaker Elia Galeano believes that the Resistance
movement will continue to be ineffective as a political force
in Nicaragua without robust political and leadership
training. She proposes transforming an association of
ex-combatants into a new Resistance political party in order
to re-energize and refocus the pro-Contra base, but warns
that immediate capacity building is essential to success.
She seeks USG support to fund these efforts. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) On Feb 20, poloffs met with Convergencia leader and
National Assembly deputy Elia Galeano to discuss
Convergencia's perspective on, and strategy for, working with
President Ortega's administration. A former Contra who
joined the counter-revolution at the age of 14, Galeano has
held a seat in the National Assembly since 1996 as a
Convergencia member allied with Ortega's party, the
Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). Although known
as a staunch anti-Sandinista, Galeano allied herself with the
FSLN to the consternation of many of her colleagues.
Virtually the only ex-Contra among the Sandinistas' National
Assembly ranks, Galeano has adapted a no-nonsense approach
with the FSLN to advance her goal of improving conditions for
Contra ex-combatants. She was clear that she will sever the
relationship with the FSLN if Ortega fails to deliver on his
promises and she is skeptical that he will.
Contras - Abandoned and Forgotten
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3. (SBU) Going back to the immediate post-war period of
1990, Galeano recounted the personal sacrifice and loss of
her Contra colleagues, lamenting that successive governments
had failed to deliver on promises of re-integration and
support made to the Contras over the past 16 years. She
expressed her anger that, after disarmament, the Contras were
abandoned, left to fend for themselves and find their own way
back into society. She added that what the Contras
experienced during and after the counter-revolution has never
been clearly explained or recognized, despite extensive
analysis and writing on the conflict. She insisted that
these factors have made it more difficult for the Contras to
coalesce into a unified political opposition force.
4. (U) In her own efforts to help the Contras, in 1997
Galeano founded an association named the Nicaraguan
Resistance Association Israel Galeano (ARNIG) in honor of her
brother who died in the war. Claiming a card-carrying
membership of 15-17,000 ex-combatants from both the
Resistance and the Sandinistas, ARNIG members meet every
month at the departmental level to discuss issues and
problems. In addition, every year Galeano uses the ARNIG
network to organize events on July 26 to commemorate the 1990
demobilization of the Contra forces. She also plans to
introduce legislation to recognize July 26 as Nicaraguan
The Seeds of Political Disunity
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5. (SBU) In addition to the post-war neglect of the Contras, Galeano explained that the Contra's current inability to organize itself into an effective political opposition force has deeper roots. Whereas the Sandinista movement had a strong ideological base -- developed, solidified, and advocated by an educated class that successfully garnered international sympathy for its movement -- Galeano pointed-out that the counter-revolution did not. As a grassroots peasant uprising, the Contra movement did not develop a robust political ideology to hold the Contras together after the war. Instead, as Galeano noted, the Contras were abandoned by the Nicaraguan government and by its U.S. allies and had no ideological core - aside from opposition to Sandinismo - to unify them. According to Galeano, the resistance has struggled ever since to transform itself into a political movement. She recounted how once during the early years of the Resistance she had come across an American, who asked her what the Contras were fighting against. Galeano replied "communism." However, when he asked her what communism meant, she could not define the concept because she did not know. The only thing she understood was her hatred of the Sandinistas, she explained.
6. (SBU) Galeano believes that this struggle is clearly evident in the weakness and division of the Nicaraguan Resistance Party (PRN) which saw its President, Salvador Talavera, defect to the FSLN less than two months before the presidential election. Since then, the party's executive committee has been divided and it has been unable to convene a general assembly to determine the party's future (Reftel).
Education Key to Transforming Contras into Political Force
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7. (SBU) Stressing that the Contras will never become a real opposition party without formal training in politics, democracy and leadership, Galeano emphasized the urgency of starting capacity building now. Most of the ex-combatants, like herself, never finished secondary school and have no training in political theory or processes. While she stated that the younger generation of Contra sympathizers have university degrees, most, like the ex-combatants, are politically ignorant. Recognizing the challenge of such a capacity building exercise, Galeano suggested targeting initial efforts at the ARNIG members.
8. (SBU) Further, given the fragmentation and stagnation of the PRN, Galeano revealed her desire to transform ARNIG into a political party to jump-start the Resistance. However, she warned that such a transformation will not succeed without capacity building programs firmly in place. Towards this end, she requested USG support to fund capacity building efforts.
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9. (C) As a member of a liberal opposition alliance, there is a clear role for a Resistance party in Nicaragua. A large segment of the rural population in the northern departments still closely identifies with the Contras. In recent years, however, this segment has lacked an effective political mechanism with which to advocate its political views. Although additional investigation is necessary, ARNIG may be a good vehicle to re-energize and focus this latent political force. It has a strong, well-networked -- and apparently active -- membership base that could be mobilized quickly. The immediate challenge, as Galeano identified, is to develop the political skills and leadership capacity of this core group in a fast and effective way. We will continue to work with Galeano and other ARNIG leaders and identify specific training opportunities and analyze the feasibility of USG-sponsorship.