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Cablegate: Codel Nelson Meets with Liberal Leaders In

VZCZCXYZ0013
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #0538/01 0591429
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 281429Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9267
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 0973
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 000538

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN AND H FOR MIKE SMITH

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/20/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR OVIP VE NU
SUBJECT: CODEL NELSON MEETS WITH LIBERAL LEADERS IN
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY


Classified By: CDA Peter Brennan for reasons 1.4 (b and d)

1. (C) Summary: The heads of the Nicaraguan National Assembly
Liberal caucuses recently shared with Senator Nelson their
skepticism over President Ortega's professed commitments to
democracy and reconciliation and believe that the Assembly
and international community must serve as checks to Ortega's
totalitarian ambitions. Maria Eugenia Sequeira of the
Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and Maximino Rodriguez of
the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) confessed to fears of
retribution from the Sandinistas for criticizing the
administration, but agree that Liberal deputies must accept
risk for the good of the country. Both Sequeira and
Rodriguez supportQe goal of unifying the two Liberal
parties and forming a united front in the Assembly, but
disagree on methodology and the role the party leaders should
play in the process. End Summary.

2. (U) Codel Nelson met with the Liberal caucus chiefs on
February 19 to discuss the future of Nicaragua under
President Ortega and the role of the opposition. The meeting
originally included Edwin Castro of the Sandinista National
Liberation Front (FSLN), and Victor Hugo Tinoco of the
Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), but ultimately Castro
and Tinoco could not attend. Consequently, the conversation
became an open "family chat" between the two Liberals.

The Direction of Nicaragua under the Ortega Administration
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

3. (C) When Senator Nelson inquired about the future of
Nicaragua under the Ortega Administration, Sequeira replied
that Nicaraguans had hoped for the best and were encouraged
by the FSLN's message of peace and reconciliation before the
inauguration. Unfortunately, she commented, Ortega's message
has changed during and after the inauguration as Ortega has
sought support from hard-line governments in Venezuela and
Iran and attempted to centralize control of the government in
the Presidency. Sequeira specifically mentioned the
Administration's direct violation of laws by taking control
of the Olof Palme convention center without reimbursing the
managing institution and granting powers and budgets to newly
created citizen councils.

4. (C) Rodriguez stated that Ortega is a "hostage" of his
inner circle of advisors, most of whom are not competent.
Commenting on Ortega's "double talk" regarding relations with
the U.S. and extremist regimes, he said that Ortega wants to
"be favored by God and the Devil." Rodriguez criticized
Ortega's refusal to destroy Nicaragua's stock of portable
surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), claiming that Ortega's
intransigence could scare off investors and tourists who
could perceive Nicaragua as unstable and insecure.

5. (C) Despite their skepticism, both Sequeira and Rodriguez
believe that moderating factors will prevent Nicaragua from
reverting to a full-fledged dictatorship. Sequeira mentioned
pressure from the private sector and opposition control of
the National Assembly. Rodriguez agreed that the Assembly
will take a close look at Ortega's agreements with Iran and
Venezuela and propose constitutional reforms to limit the
President's powers. He also believes that Nicaragua's need
for assistance from international organizations and the donor
community will hold Ortega in check.

Opposition Leaders Must Accept Risk, Despite Fears of
Retribution
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- -

6. (C) Referencing the chaotic atmosphere and extra-judicial
killings that occurred in the post-revolution period, Senator
Nelson asked the deputies if they fear for their personal
safety. Sequeira responded that she never left Nicaragua
during the 1980s, enduring "ten years of terror." She
believes that the Sandinistas have become more
"sophisticated" in their intimidation tactics, although her
children warn her not to criticize Ortega too openly, and she
admitted that she is afraid to drive at night. Nevertheless,
Sequeira stated that the deputies have a responsibility to
overcome their fears for the sake of the country.

7. (C) Rodriguez recounted his experience as a contra fighter
and agreed that the opposition deputies must "accept some
level of risk." He said that Ortega's supporters are still
assassinating their critics, mentioning the case of a
journalist who was gunned down two years ago. Rodriguez, who
maintains his residence in the department of Matagalpa (which
he represents), was advised not to commute to give the
Sandinistas less opportunity to kill him in an "accident."

The Future of the Opposition and Liberal Unity
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

8. (C) Rodriguez and Sequeira engaged in a lively but
respectful discussion sparked by questions from Senator
Nelson and Ambassador Trivelli regarding Liberal unity and
the future of the opposition. Both agreed that Liberal unity
is essential to block Ortega's totalitarian tendencies and
reverse the Sandinistas' recent electoral gains in municipal
and national elections. Sequeira insisted that PLC leader
(and ex-President and convicted money launderer) Arnoldo
Aleman is beholden to his political pact with Ortega and
should retire to allow ALN leader Montealegre to assume the
unquestioned mantle of Liberal leadership. Rodriguez did not
defend Aleman, but faulted Montealegre's lack of charisma and
suggested that both leaders step aside. Senator Nelson
reminded them that Chavez owes his power to the infighting of
Venezuelan opposition forces and urged them not to let that
happen in Nicaragua.

9. (U) Participants:

Nicaragua:

ALN Caucus Chief Maria Eugenia Sequeira
PLC Caucus Chief Maximino Rodriguez

USG:

Senator Bill Nelson
Mrs. Grace Nelson
Ms. Caroline Tess
Ms. Sherry Davich
Captain Gene Moran
Ambassador Paul Trivelli
DCM Peter Brennan
Polcouns Victoria Alvarado
Poloff Timothy L. Smith, note taker
Poloff Irene Marr, control officer

10. (U) This cable was cleared by Codel Nelson.
TRIVELLI

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