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Cablegate: The Citizen Councils' Growing Shadow

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #2466/01 3171812
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 131812Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1670
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 002466

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN
NSC FOR V. ALVARADO

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/09/2017
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ECON KDEM NU
SUBJECT: THE CITIZEN COUNCILS' GROWING SHADOW

REF: A. MANAGUA 1783
B. MANAGUA 2207

Classified By: Ambassador Paul Trivelli for reasons 1.4(b,d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: President Ortega's Citizen Power Councils
(CPC) continue to penetrate Nicaraguan society, increasing
fear among civil society leaders. Over the past month, cases
have been reported in which the CPCs have incited civil
unrest, demanded CPC membership in exchange for emergency
aid, and toppled legally elected community representatives.
Police Commissioner Aminta Granera publicly acknowledged that
the 2008/9 police strategy will incorporate the CPCs into
their citizen education efforts and the Minister of
Government confirmed that the Ministry is training the CPCs.
Ortega continues to implement his Zero Hunger program through
the CPCs, which incurred USD 1.7 million in questionable
administrative expenses in 2007. While opposition
legislative forces do have sufficient votes to overturn
Ortega's veto of legislation forbidding the creation of the
CPCs, there are serious questions about their capacity to
align the necessary votes, especially in the face of overt
threats from the Sandinista National Liberation Front's
(FSLN) caucus chief. For Ortega, maintaining the legal basis
for the CPCs is essential to facilitate his future political
aspirations, as it allows him to expand and strengthen a
centrally run patronage state at the expense of locally
elected authorities. END SUMMARY.

Ortega's Octopus - The Growing Reach of the CPCs
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (U) Since President Daniel Ortega's late-September veto
of legislation designed to curb the CPCs' legal power (ref
B), their reach and influence have grown dramatically. The
following is a brief summary of some CPC "services" rendered
since the beginning of October:

- Civic Action: On November 6, residents in two of Managua's
poorer neighborhoods took to the streets and burned tires in
protest against Union Fenosa, the Spanish electricity
distributor. Press reports allege that CPC members organized
and participated in the activities. Three weeks earlier,
during a march against Fenosa in the northern town of Jalapa,
CPC representatives threatened to organize "block-by-block,
neighborhoods, and communities" against Union Fenosa in a
protest over price increases.

- Job Placement: A number of organized labor contacts in the
health and education sectors have complained that CPC
representatives are targeting non-Sandinista labor union
leaders and members to be fired and replaced by CPC-approved
teachers, doctors, etc. In addition, CPC representatives
exert growing influence over the hiring decisions in schools,
clinics and hospitals, ministries, and other public
institutions, creating fear and uncertainty among
non-Sandinista employees.

- Community Involvement: In the northern department of
Esteli, the coordinator of the legally-mandated Departmental
Development Council (DDC) alleged that CPC members pressured
and forced the resignation of most DDC members and, in a
surprise meeting on September 24, the new DDC members deposed
him six months before the end of his term.

- Humanitarian Assistance: Although they have no legal basis
to perform State responsibilities, First Lady Rosario Murillo
has dispatched the CPCs to participate in a month-long
campaign to clean up the country and educate the population,
in coordination with the Ministry of Health, about dengue and
the recent outbreak of leptospirosis that has swept across
the northern departments in recent weeks. In the North
Atlantic Autonomous Region's (RAAN) "mining triangle,"
citizens affected by Hurricane Felix alleged that the CPCs
were demanding "loyalty" to the CPCs in exchange for relief
assistance. In the aftermath of the flooding and mass
displacement in several northern departments caused by heavy
rains, there were similar allegations of coercion.

CPCs - Counterweight to American "Imperialism"
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

3. (U) During a November 8 public event, Ortega declared
that "if the Nicaraguan right has its movements financed by
the North American taxpayers, being the spokespeople for
imperialism, then the FSLN has every right to organize the
CPCs." He went on to say that "We would be stupid to believe
the CPCs aren't important; to accept that the CPCs don't
matter is to accept that the people don't matter."

CPC as Civilian Police Force?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

4. (U) In a November 2 meeting that included CPC leaders,
senior police officials, and Ortega/Murillo to discuss the
relationship between the police (NNP) and the CPCs, Police
Commissioner Aminta Granera announced that she had held a
long meeting with Murillo two days earlier to discuss "the
best way" for the NNP and CPCs to work together. In her
November 2 comments, Granera emphasized that the CPCs would
play an important role in the strategic evolution from
"National Security" to "Citizen Security," which she
characterized as a "return to the origins of this police
(force)." (NOTE: Both the military and the police were
created by the Sandinistas in the late 1970s to replace
Somoza's National Guard structure. END NOTE)

5. (U) Although Granera did not outline a specific strategy,
she mentioned the 15,000-member community Crime Prevention
Committees as a possible mechanism to involve CPC stalwarts.
She reported that some Crime Prevention Committee members are
also CPC members. Further, Granera remarked that
community-level police action plans would be coordinated with
the CPC cabinets' security representatives to ensure "perfect
agreement."

CPCs Receive Government Support
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

6. (U) In spite of the dubious legal status of the CPCs,
President Ortega is implementing his "Zero Hunger" program
(ref A) through the CPC network, using the councils to find
and evaluate appropriate families and distribute the
"packets" of supplies. Ortega and the CPCs recently came
under fire, however, when opposition deputies in the National
Assembly revealed that the program had incurred 32 million
Cordobas (USD 1.7 million) in operating expenses during 2007
despite the fact that all CPC members work as volunteers.

7. (U) In late October, a number of civil society
organizations asked the Comptroller's office to investigate
the Ministry of Government (MIGOB) for allegedly providing
weekend training and capacity building to the CPCs. MIGOB
Minister Ana Morales defended the twice-monthly sessions as
an obligation to inform the people, stating that we "don't
incur a single expense, (aside from) our time on a Sunday."

Formation of CPC National Cabinet on the Horizon
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

8. (U) During the November 2 meeting with Granera and CPC
representatives, Murillo proclaimed that the CPC "National
Cabinet" would be installed before the end of November,
marking the nationwide completion of the CPC structure.
Originally slated for September 14, the ceremony was
purportedly delayed due to the Hurricane Felix crisis.
According to earlier estimates, the CPC structure will
encompass over 900,000 members at the neighborhood,
municipal, departmental, and national levels. (NOTE: A
variety of Managua sources have reported that the CPC
structure in Managua is functionally well. Neighborhood and
district CPCs are reportedly holding regular weekly meetings,
facilitating a smooth flow of information both vertically and
horizontally within the structure. END NOTE.)

Overriding Ortega's Veto - Risky Business
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

9. (C) Although announced in late September, the National
Assembly Justice Commission did not receive Ortega's official
Presidential Veto until early October, according to Jose
Pallais, Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) deputy and
President of the Justice Commission. In public statements,
Pallais gave assurances that the PLC, Nicaraguan Liberal
Alliance (ALN), and Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS)
would unite and use their combined 49 votes to overturn
Ortega's veto. In private, however, Pallais questioned the
legislative experience and administrative capacity of the
three opposition parties to quickly pull together their 49
votes against the maneuverings of the much more experienced
FSLN. Pallais further revealed that Edwin Castro, head of
the FSLN caucus, had threatened him and other opposition
deputies if they "dared" to call a vote, stating that there
could be "car accidents" and "sudden sicknesses" on the day
of the vote. Ortega has made it abundantly clear that the
CPCs will be empowered -- with or without the National
Assembly's blessing.

Comment
- - - -

10. (C) For Ortega, Murillo, and the FSLN, establishing a
legal basis for the CPCs is essential to facilitate their
future political aspirations. With a legally-mandated CPC
structure in place, Ortega will be that much freer to channel
his Venezuelan petro-dollar-funded programs and projects
through the CPCs, enabling him to spread and fortify his
power base by buying and rewarding loyalty while isolating
and choking political, civil society, and labor opposition.
If National Assembly opposition forces fail to override
Ortega's veto, USG funding for democracy building and civil
society strengthening programs will become even more critical
as a democratic counterweight.
TRIVELLI

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