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Cablegate: The Social and Political Rehabilitation of Arnoldo

VZCZCXRO7153
PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #2373/01 2961543
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 231543Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1553
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAGUA 002373

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/15/2017
TAGS: PGOV KCOR KDEM NU
SUBJECT: THE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL REHABILITATION OF ARNOLDO
ALEMAN?

REF: MANAGUA 2287

Classified By: Ambassador Paul Trivelli, reason 1.4 (d)

Summary
- - - -

1. (C) There is a nascent, subtle process underway in
Nicaragua that represents a serious threat to the future of
democracy in the country and, by extension, U.S. interests:
the public rehabilitation of former President and convicted
felon Arnoldo Aleman. Polling data consistently shows that
Aleman is the least popular politician in the country, but at
one recent poll indicates that Aleman's numbers may be
rising. The mainstream press certainly appears to be taking
a softer line against Aleman, and the National Assembly is
likely to approve this fall a revision to the penal code that
would make Aleman a free man next year. We believe that
Aleman continues to represent a significant danger to
democracy in Nicaragua, and we will watch closely his efforts
to return to the nation's good graces. Aleman's return to a
position of respect and authority would be disastrous for
this poor nation. End summary.

Criminal or Party Leader?
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (C) Poloffs observed Aleman publicly entertaining the
editorial board of "La Prensa," Nicaragua's main newspaper
and one of Aleman's foremost critics, at one of Managua's
"see and be seen" restaurants on October 12. Officially
still serving a prison term for money laundering, there are
no limitations on Aleman's freedom of movement or activities.
The "La Prensa" editors told us that the lunch had been
planned with other members of the PLC to discuss ongoing
political issues but, in an obvious set up, they were later
informed that Aleman would be hosting the event. While still
holding negative views of his influence on the country, they
admitted that they were not displeased to have the chance to
hear Aleman's views firsthand.

3. (C) Over the past few months the press has increasingly
quoted Aleman as a legitimate commentator on political
issues. For some time Aleman's epithet in the mainstream
Nicaraguan press has been "ex-President and convict;"
however, this is subtly changing. Recently, the "and
convict" part of the epithet has been losing favor in the
press; sometimes he is simply called "PLC leader." In early
October, when members of the International and Regional
Courts of Justice were gathering in Managua, Aleman was
invited to attend, which he eagerly did, and was covered
widely by the press, including publication of front page
photos of his participation. We also note that Aleman has
openly (and shamelessly) called for public participation in
an upcoming memorial mass to commemorate the death of his
son.

4. (C) Politicians close to their political bases tell us
that ironically Aleman is losing the confidence of PLC
rank-and-file supporters. On October 16, National Assembly
backbenchers Elman Urbina and Augusto Valle told the
Ambassador that, at the grass-roots level, Aleman is
increasingly unpopular due to his perceived pro-Sandinista
actions. However, both Urbina and Valle admitted that
undermining Aleman's power base in the state institutions --
for example, the Comptroller's Office, the Prosecutor's
Office, the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Electoral Council
-- would be a long process. (Note: Indeed, in mid-September
Aleman hosted a very public luncheon for roughly 30 of "his"
people in these institutions. End note.) Because of this
power base, few prominent PLC politicians or activists have
been willing to openly criticize his continued political
role. While we hear among our contacts a few people
lamenting that there used to be lasting shame attached to a
criminal sentence in Nicaraguan, the majority of Nicaraguans,
whether they support Aleman or not, appear to accept as a
matter of fact that Aleman continues to play an important
political role in this country.

Immune for Life?
- - - - - - - - -

5. (C) Meanwhile, the National Assembly is approving,
point-by-point, a reform to the Nicaraguan penal code. One
of the changes buried in these reforms is a reduction of the
sentence for money laundering from 20 to 5 years. We expect
that this reform will pass. Aleman, convicted in 2003 for
money laundering, will probably be a free man in December
2008. For all intents and purposes Aleman is a free man now;
a reduction in his sentence will remove the stigma of "and
convict" from Aleman's title.

6. (C) Aleman's next step, and thus a key reason for the
effort to rehabilitate his image, will be to return to a
position of public authority and respect. The current rules
of membership bar Aleman from sitting as a National Deputy,
but there is certain to be an effort in the coming years to
fudge these rules. Among the reforms to the constitution
being discussed by Aleman and Ortega is the notion that all
former Presidents (and Vice Presidents, and first runners-up
in presidential elections) will be given National Assembly
seats for life. If these reforms come to pass, Aleman will
regain lifetime criminal immunity as a National Assembly
Deputy, and, if the Ortega/Aleman "Pacto" succeeds in
creating the first Prime Minister position in any
Latin-American country, he conceivably could, as a leader of
the PLC, hold the reins of power once again. Even as members
of Aleman's PLC party flirt with other new opposition
groupings (reftel), Aleman is working to make sure he's not
cut out.

7. (C) We also believe there exists a real possibility that
if Daniel Ortega's polling numbers go down, as he fails to
fulfill aspirations and deliver on promises, Aleman's
popularity will rise from the depths. Already there are
indications that Aleman's numbers are up slightly. Results
from Nicaraguan polling company M&R's September poll show a 5
percent rise since April in the number of respondents who
believe that Aleman is the main opposition leader in
Nicaragua. (Note: Eduardo Montealegre's numbers were also
up, by a smaller margin, so the up-tick for Aleman was not at
Montealegre's expense; instead there was a marked decrease in
those who responded "nobody." Pollsters told us that they
believe Aleman's increase is mostly the result of growing
dissatisfaction with Ortega. End note.)

Comment
- - - -

8. (C) We see the powerful forces of corruption in this
country starting the process to rehabilitate Aleman, a
process abetted by the Nicaraguan political class' apparent
ignorance of the concept of social shunning. Aleman's drift
towards public acceptance is doubtless being engineered with
the help of Ortega, who understands that a stronger Aleman
will block any attempt at Liberal unity, thereby boosting
FSLN fortunes in the 2008 municipal elections. His return to
respectability clearly is not in the interests of the United
States, nor a benefit to anyone who hopes for a brighter
democratic future in Nicaragua. For our part, we will
continue to stand in favor of those who support the
democratic process and we will continue our efforts against
corruption. Sadly, even though his powerbase in the PLC
party may be weakening, Aleman gives no impression of going
away.
TRIVELLI

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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