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Cablegate: Ortega's Citizens' Councils - Pandora's Box?

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 002516

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/27/2017
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ECON KDEM NU
SUBJECT: ORTEGA'S CITIZENS' COUNCILS - PANDORA'S BOX?

REF: A. MANAGUA 1944
B. MANAGUA 2375
C. MANAGUA 2486

Classified By: Ambassador Paul Trivelli for reasons 1.4(B,D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: On November 21, a Pandora's Box was opened
when the Nicaraguan National Assembly (NA) voted to override
President Ortega's veto of a controversial legislative change
that would prevent him from creating his Citizen Power
Councils (CPC) as an extension of the Executive branch.
Since the vote, three departmental appeals courts have filed
injunctions and counter-injunctions to prevent the NA from
officially recording the veto override vote. Opposition
deputies have boycotted the NA, leaving Ortega's other
proposed legislation dormant due to a lack of quorum; Ortega
has threatened to use "whatever means necessary" to implement
the CPCs, including the issuance of Presidential decrees for
all future legislation. Social tensions are building over
the government's utilization of the CPCs to sell below
market-price beans, in effect to blunt popular discontent
over rising inflation. The controversy has not affected
Ortega's plans formally launch the CPCs on November 30. END
SUMMARY.

Injunction Anyone?
- - - - - - - - - -

2. (U) Since the November 21 vote to override Ortega's veto,
three separate appeals courts have issued injunctions and
counter-injunctions to, respectively, prevent and support the
National Assembly from publishing the reformed law (ref. C).
The first injunction, issued by the Managua Appeals Court
(TAM), came only 63 minutes after the vote, and forbade the
Assembly from publishing (and thereby formalizing) the law.
On the afternoon of November 26, the Liberal-dominated
Bluefields Appeals Court (located in the South Atlantic
Autonomous Region - RAAS) issued a counter-injunction,
overruling the TAM's earlier decision and allowing the law to
be published.

3. (SBU) According to Supreme Court (CSJ) Justice Rafael
Solis, within hours of the Bluefields decision, the
Sandinista-dominated Matagalpa Appeals Court issued a
counter-injunction against the counter-injunction.
Commenting on this "domino effect", Solis smugly noted that
"certainly there will be a war of resolutions throughout the
country, but those Liberals are at a disadvantage because
they only have control over two appeals courts - Bluefields
and Masaya - and we, the FSLN, control seven." (COMMENT: As
these appeals courts have no binding authority over each
other, their counter-injunctions amount to little more than
public spectacle. Only the Constitutional Court within the
CSJ enjoys this final legal authority. Further, it is
unclear whether the TAM even had the legal authority to issue
an injunction -- against the implemention of a still
unpublished law -- in the first place. According to Solis,
the Constitutional Court will hear the case on December 5.
END COMMENT)

All Quiet on the Legislative Front
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

4. (C) In protest of the TAM's quick (and questionable)
legal move, Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), Constitutional
Liberal Party (PLC), and Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS)
deputies boycotted the Assembly for two days following the
court's decision, leaving the legislature without the quorum
necessary to vote on other pending legislation. (NOTE: The
boycott might have lasted longer, but the Assembly was
officially closed the following week as previously scheduled.
END NOTE.) In a November 26 meeting with Polcouns, PLC
caucus chief Maximino Rodriguez stressed that the three
opposition parties would attempt to "stack the deck" during
the last two weeks of the Assembly's session to prevent
FSLN-favored legislation from getting on the agenda (septel).

Round Two - Off With the Gloves
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (U) In response to the opposition bloc's veto override
and subsequent boycott of the NA, Ortega has gone on the
offensive, using nearly every public event or press
conference to drive home the point that he will do whatever
it takes to breath life into his CPCs, including "governing
by (presidential) decree." In a closed press conference on
November 26, referring to the opposition's boycott of the NA,
Ortega warned that "If they (the NA) will not approve this
law in benefit to the people, I will approve it. They would
obligate me to govern by decree." In a clear sign that
Ortega is digging in his heels, he emphasized that he will
match every legal challenge mounted by the NA with a new
decree "until the CPCs are installed."

Full Steam Ahead for November 30
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

6. (U) Despite the legal stalemate and the ongoing battle
between the government branches, Ortega has repeatedly
emphasized that he will formally launch the CPCs on November
30 in the Plaza of the Revolution with the long-anticipated
naming of a national CPC cabinet. This cabinet, sitting top
of a pyramid structure consisting of thousands of local CPCs
will, according to Ortega and First Lady Rosario Murillo,
advise Ortega and provide him with a "street-level" check on
the effectiveness, efficiency, and conduct of the government
ministries (ref. A). (COMMENT: Given the growing
controversy surrounding the CPCs and recent poll results -
referenced by Liberal legislators during the November 21
debate (ref. C) - that indicate that upwards of 95 percent of
Nicaraguans are opposed to the CPCs, there is no doubt that
Ortega will spare no expense or effort to pack the plaza as a
demonstration of "popular support." END COMMENT)

CPCs Get Beans
- - - - - - - -

7. (SBU) Adding to the tension was the recent announcement
that the State-run National Enterprise of Basic Grains
(ENABAS) has begun setting up subsidized bean distribution
centers overseen by the CPCs. While citizens desperately
need price relief after bean prices more than tripled this
year (ref. B), there is concern about CPC partisan bias
against non-Sandinistas. Nicaraguans have nerviously joked
that this marks the return of the Sandinista's "AFA"
rationing of the 1980s - Arroz, Frijoles, y Azucar (Rice,
Beans, and Sugar).

Comment
- - - -

8. (C) President Ortega's very public row with the National
Assembly over the legal status of the CPCs is costing him and
the CPCs popularity as he threatens to use increasingly
draconian measures to get what he wants. However, within the
storm of controversy, the CPCs are calmly going about their
business within communities, seemingly unaffected by the
battle raging above them.

9. (C) This stark contrast suggests that Ortega is willing
to gamble - and sacrifice - popular support to lock down this
formal social mechanism. Legal recognition of the CPCs would
enable Ortega to "verticalize" party (and personal) control
of the government from the cabinet level down to the
neighborhood level, where the CPCs are already demonstrating
that they can wield considerable influence, both through
genuine efforts to improve the lives of their neighbors and
potentially less benign forms of controlling access to State
services (such as distribution of daily staples, like beans).
Thus, even if the FSLN lacked a broad base of popular
support leading up to the 2008 municipal elections, Ortega
could use the localized power and control of the CPCs to
influence voting by either persuading or preventing voter
participation, as needed.

10. (C) With the "Pacto" controlling the CSJ (ref. C),
chances are good that Ortega will eventually get what he
wants. The only remaining question is what will be the
extent of the "collateral damage." Ortega's efforts to push
the CPCs have already exposed fissures within the FSLN party
struture (FSLN Mayor of Managua Dionisio "Nicho" Marenco
recently has been embroiled in a public and vicious
altercation with First Lady Murillo, in part, over whether
the CPCs are necessary). It remains to be seen whether the
internal FSLN resentment of and external opposition to the
CPCs will finally compel opposition political groups and
civil society organizations to work together to develop a
unified strategy against Ortega for the 2008 elections (or
successfully turn the campaign into a referendum on Ortega
and the CPCs).
TRIVELLI

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