Cablegate: Nicaraguan Women Activists Warn Choice Is


DE RUEHMU #0964/01 1071856
P 171856Z APR 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 000964




E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/16/2017

REF: A. MANAGUA 06 02599
B. MANAGUA 07 00463

Classified By: Ambassador Paul A. Trivelli for reasons 1.4 (b and d)

1. (C). SUMMARY: Leading members of the Women's Autonomous
Movement of Nicaragua recently met with Embassy officers to
discuss the need to encourage women within civil society to
defend Nicaragua's democracy, promote development, and stop
the slide toward authoritarianism and "legal dictatorship"
they fear is underway in their country. These women worry
that unless civil society acts now, Nicaragua will replicate
Chavez,s Venezuelan model. Although the movement first
emerged in protest against the Somoza regime and its
ideological roots lie with the revolutionary Sandinistas, the
organization,s disillusionment with Daniel Ortega started in
the mid-1980s. Lamenting the lack of a strong opposition
party on either the right or the left, these women are
seeking to move beyond the traditional, anachronistic party
structures that have perpetuated caudillo-style government
and encourage an alliance across the political spectrum based
on human rights, equality, freedom, and justice.
Self-proclaimed feminists, they are leading the charge to
debunk the FSLN mystique, particularly among the European
left. They termed the encounter with U.S. Embassy
representatives "historic," as it was the first time they had
experienced this type of dialogue with the U.S. government.

Historic Encounter
- - - - - - - - - -

2. (C) At an informal gathering at the home of PolCouns on
April 12, Sofia Montenegro, president of the Nicaragua's
Women's Autonomous Movement (MAM) and a journalist by
profession, delivered a frank and compelling history and
evolution of the women's movement and the fight for gender
equality during and after the war of the 1980s. Before
launching into her story, she remarked that this meeting was
"historic," as it was the first time in at least 25 years
that government representatives from the "most powerful
country on the planet" had met with this segment of the
Nicaraguan women's movement. MAM started as an anti-Somoza
group of 25 members in alliance with the Sandinista
Liberation Front (FSLN), and then mushroomed into a movement
during the civil war period.

3. (C) Relations with the FSLN began to sour in 1984 when
it became apparent that the Sandinistas were neither truly
supportive of their cause nor their call for gender equality.
Montenegro explained that the FSLN under Daniel Ortega
defined women as members of three limited, "non-intellectual"
categories: peasant (campesina), laborer (obradora), and
pobladora (settler)--anyone else represented the "dreaded
bourgeoisie." Relations deteriorated further in 1986, but
rather than sever ties with the Sandinistas, the group fought
for and won an equal rights provision in the 1987
constitution. Again, just before the elections in 1990, MAM
worked past differences within the FSLN, and agreed to a
truce in exchange for Ortega,s commitment to increased
female political participation, including a 50-50 split in
power sharing.

4. (C) When Ortega lost the 1990 election to opposition
leader Violeta Chamorro, he and his cohorts reneged on their
promise to the women's movement. The organization broke from
the FSLN and aligned with the Sandinista Renovation Movement
(MRS). Although the period of political transition under
Chamorro represented a shift toward conservatism and a return
to greater influence of the Catholic Church, Montenegro
dubbed it the "spring time" for women's rights compared to
subsequent periods. She explained the situation for women's
rights worsened under Arnoldo Aleman,s presidency, who
allegedly under pressure from the Catholic Church, persecuted
the women's movement and portrayed them as feminist "man
eaters." During the Bolanos years the women's movement was
essentially ignored. The movement currently remains allied
with the MRS, but had there been a second round in the
November 2006 presidential election, Montenegro contended she
along with the others would have voted for Eduardo
Montealegre of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) to
prevent an Ortega victory. MAM regards the victory of the
FSLN in 2006 as the "worst possible scenario" for women.

5. (C) Despite difficult experiences she endured over the
years and her disillusion with the political class,
Montenegro never left Nicaragua. She emphasized to us that
under this Ortega government, she feels like an "exile" in
her country for the first time in her life. Nevertheless,
her long-term dream is to create a women's political party in

Jurassic Park Politics
- - - - - - - - - - - -

6. (C) Montenegro lamented the absence of a viable
opposition in the Nicaraguan political scene, and is
convinced that it is up to civil society to create an
alternative to stop Ortega from following the Chavez path to
a "legalized dictatorship." While she recognized Eduardo
Montealegre as a "contender in a field of limited choices,"
she opined that he is "not really fit for the job." That
said, he would have been preferable to Ortega, and many MRS
voters would also have voted against Ortega in a run-off. In
her view, the Liberals represent greed and an obsession with
money, self-interest, and patronage, while the FSLN is an
even more dangerous breed that seeks to maintain total
control, secrecy, and power at the cost of freedom, rule of
law, and human rights. Neither option will help resolve
Nicaragua's fundamental problems. According to Montenegro,
both the liberals and socialists hail from a "Jurassic Park"
of politics, fossils lodged in the past, out of touch and
ill-equipped to deal with the realities or needs of the
present. While the Sandinistas are more disciplined, to
their advantage, Liberals tend to "cannibalize" themselves.

7. (C) MAM leaders agreed that Nicaraguans must choose
between democracy and authoritarianism and that
democratic-minded parties need to overcome their differences
and work with civil society to counter the non-democratic
forces taking root. The women discussed the possibility of
forging an ALN-MRS alliance that would focus on the common
ground of democracy, while avoiding areas of contention.
(Comment: Unlike the situation of Venezuela, where the
opposition and civil society woke up late in the game, the
prospects for Nicaragua may be more promising. As the
actions of this group of women demonstrate, the FSLN does not
have a lock on the left. Nicaraguan women's groups who wave
the banner of freedom, justice, and equality, could mobilize
forces to preserve a democratic government and play a pivotal
role in the municipal elections in 2008. End Comment.)

Anti-Ortega Offensive
- - - - - - - - - - -

8. (C) MAM members attending the meeting were instrumental
in helping Zoilamerica Narvaez (Reftel A.) denounce her
step-father Daniel Ortega for years of sexual abuse and
harassment in the Nicaraguan courts, and are continuing to
support her in bringing her case before the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The organization has
actively spoken out against Ortega and his supporters who
have "looked the other way" with regard to the Zoilamerica
case. In the run-up to the November 2006 presidential
election, MAM, along with other women's organizations under
the alliance of the Women's Network Against Violence, issued
a statement condemning Ortega and other FSLN party members
whom they also accused of sexual abuse, warning voters that
their election would enable a climate of impunity and
societal tolerance of intrafamiliar abuse of women and girls.
Originally planning to declare
open opposition to Ortega on Inauguration Day in January,
they decided to wait until March 8, International Women's
Day, to mount an offensive with a full page declaration
accusing the government of operating a new clandestine regime
disguised as "Direct Democracy."

9. (C) The MAM,s harshly worded manifesto denounced the man
who ascended to the presidency with a minority of the vote by
means of the Liberal-Sandinista pact as a symbol of sexual
abuse, male impunity, and a "veritable affront to national
dignity." Further, the declaration accused First Lady
Rosario Murillo of selling out her daughter in exchange for
political gain. It judged the triumph of the FSLN "the worst
possible scenario" for women, and dismissed the government's
promise to establish a gender quota as a "grotesque" gesture
to women. Likening Murillo's position to that of "consort,"
the statement voiced indignation that "no one, not even a
minority of FSLN voters had chosen (Murillo) to assume a de

facto presidency." The statement held that neither the votes
received, nor the "pseudo-revolutionary and pseudo-religious
rhetoric," nor a sense of cynicism could hide such a mockery.
MAM also organized a protest on International Women's Day,
pointedly selecting as their venue the monument to
journalists to emphasize freedom of expression. Montenegro
opined that the International Women's Day protests prompted
First Lady Rosario Murillo to cancel a government rally she
had planned for the same day.

Feminists Debunk FSLN Mystique before Stalwart Euro Left
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

10. (C) Unapologetic feminists, the women of MAM nonetheless
expressed frustration with international leftist groups and
political parties who continue to support Ortega, seemingly
blind to his record of human rights and sexual abuses.
Although they receive much of their support from European
leftist and socialist NGOs and political parties, MAM finds
the groups to be naive when it comes to the Sandinistas and
errant in their willingness to give money directly to the
Nicaraguan government rather than to civil society. To
counter the FSLN revolutionary mystique, the organization has
launched an international outreach campaign aimed primarily
at left-leaning organizations in Europe and the United
States, as well as to influence public opinion and raise
awareness of the "dark side" of the Ortega government. One
MAM member, Violeta Delgado, recently returned from a tour of
Germany where she met with women's solidarity groups, Social
Democrats, and other left-leaning parties in 15 cities to
speak the truth about Ortega. She reported some success,
although she was thrown out of one meeting.

11. (C) MAM considers Spain a positive role model for the
women's movement and plans to travel to the province of
Andalucia to deliver the same message and garner
international support. Lauding Andalucia as a model of
success for linking empowerment of women to development,
Montenegro mused that this region of Spain has transformed
from one of the poorest areas of Europe to one of the most
prosperous in just 25 years. The group also intends to
expand its information campaign to the United States. They
are particularly interested in any assistance we can provide
to link them to women's organizations and think tanks to help
strengthen their institution and build capacity.

Mounting a May Day Blitzkrieg
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

12. (C) Looking ahead to May 1 as another opportunity to
unite in protest, MAM met with such organizations as the NGO
Movimiento por Nicaragua, the Conservative Party, ALN, MRS,
union leaders, and teachers to forge a common strategy. All
agreed that the day's focus should reach beyond the standard
labor themes of workers rights and higher wages and encompass
the broader goal of preserving democracy. They are working
on a "blitzkrieg" approach to organize multiple smaller
gatherings throughout the country, while seeking private
sector support to buttress their efforts. They also will
enlist media coverage, and plan to issue another proclamation
against the Ortega government.

Red Alerts
- - - - - -

13. (C) Three MAM members, Jamileth Mejia, Juanita Jimenez,
and Violeta Delgado, also belong to the NGO Network of Women
against Violence, an umbrella group encompassing women's
organizations across ideological lines. They warned us that
as part of its modus operandi, the FSLN is attempting to
infiltrate the Network. As Sofia Montenegro explained, the
FSLN strategy is to penetrate, divide, and attack. As a
result of their efforts to gain access to the Network, the
FSLN is sowing mistrust and discord among Network members.
The ability to instill fear and intimidate, they worry, could
weaken the Network. Therefore, the women prefer to work with
us from their position within the uncompromised MAM.
Reiterating concerns about Chavez,s influence, they reported
that Venezuela plans to name a women beholden to Chavez to a
seat on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
(IAHRC). In contrast to a similar decision by Evo Morales of
Bolivia, who named an accomplished woman with responsible
feminist credentials to the IAHRC, they regard Chavez,s pick
as a cynical move, and part of a strategy to protect Ortega's
hide on three contentious issues: the ongoing case of

Zoilamerica, the human rights case of the Miskito Indians,
and the Nicaraguan government's decision to criminalize
therapeutic abortion.

14. (C) Participants:


Victoria Alvarado, Political Counselor
Irene Marr, Political Officer
Nicole Chulick, INL Coordinator, Political Officer
Darla Jordan, Public Diplomacy Officer
Isa Laporte, FSN Political Section
Danika Walters, USAID
Deborah Ulmer, National Democratic Institute


Sofia Montenegro, Women's Autonomous Movement of Nicaragua
Jamileth Mejia, Women's Autonomous Movement of Nicaragua and
Network of Women Against Violence
Juanita Jimenez, Women's Autonomous Movement of Nicaragua and
Network of Women Against Violence
Violeta Delgado, Women's Autonomous Movement of Nicaragua and
Network of Women Against Violence
Patricia Orozco, Women's Autonomous Movement of Nicaragua
Azalhea Solis, Women's Autonomous Movement of Nicaragua
Zoilamerica Narvaez, Fundacion Sobrevivientes

- - - -

15. (C) We believe that Post's longstanding support for
Zoilamerica and its decision to present her with the "women
of courage award" on International Women's Day (Reftel B.),
along with our efforts to foster dialogues and networking
with women across party lines, created an opening of trust
with the leadership of the Women's Autonomous Movement. This
connection offers the potential to help forge alliances with
female civil society actors, the media, private sector, and
NGOs. Such alliances will be critical to keeping pressure on
the political parties and National Assembly leaders to
maintain a check on the Ortega government's autocratic and
undemocratic tendencies. It is essential to encourage these
forces for change and to create spaces for women to have
their voices heard in a context that will reach society at


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