Cablegate: Arena: Five Candidates Survive First Cut
DE RUEHSN #0147 0361936
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 051936Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8972
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN SALVADOR 000147
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/05/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM ES
SUBJECT: ARENA: FIVE CANDIDATES SURVIVE FIRST CUT
REF: SAN SALVADOR 36
Classified By: Charge D'Affaires Michael A. Butler, Reasons 1.4 (b) and
1. (SBU) Summary: ARENA's executive board announced the names
of five candidates who will continue in the party's
competition to become ARENA's nominee for 2009 presidential
elections. In a surprise to many observers, ARENA founding
member Hugo Barrera was not among those moving on to the next
phase of the contest. End Summary.
2. (SBU) On February 4, COENA (ARENA's Executive Board)
announced that five of the eighteen candidates for the
party's presidential nomination would continue to compete in
the second phase of the selection process. During the next
three weeks, the five remaining candidates will travel around
El Salvador and invite ARENA members, business and industrial
interests, religious groups and the general public to their
own formal and informal events. During the third week of
February, COENA expects to select three of the five
candidates to travel around El Salvador and participate in
televised debates and other events organized by the party.
Then on March 15, nearly 3,000 party officials will vote to
select the party's candidate for the Salvadoran Presidency.
3. (SBU) The five remaining candidates are Vice President Ana
Vilma de Escobar; former Foreign Minister Francisco "Pancho"
Lainez; former Legal Advisor to the President Luis Mario
Rodriguez; former National Civilian Police (PNC) Director
Rodrigo Avila; and ARENA founding member Eduardo Barrientos.
4. (C) The surprise in COENA's February 4 announcement was
reducing the number of names for the next phase of selection
to five from the expected six, and eliminating the name most
observers in and outside the party expected to see: Hugo
Barrera, founding member of the party, successful
businessman, and former head of the Salvadoran Port and
Airport Authority (CEPA). Sources close to Barrera darkly
told PolCouns February 5 they suspected -- but could not
prove -- this was due to fears among President Saca's inner
circle, including Security Minister Figueroa, that they would
have little control over a Barrera candidacy and that
Barrera's strong support among ARENA's rank and file would
catapult him to the front of the pack.
5. (SBU) In an informal poll of listeners on the popular "A
Primera Hora" radio program February 5, listeners were asked
whom they expected would ultimately become ARENA's candidate.
Rodrigo Avila and Pancho Lainez were effectively tied,
chosen by 31 and 30 percent of respondents, respectively.
The rest of the candidates trailed considerably.
6. (C) Comment: The only surprise in COENA's February 4
announcement was its reduction to five the number of
candidates that will move forward and the absence of Hugo
Barrera, though we doubt he could have mounted an effective
campaign against the FMLN's Funes.
7. (C) Comment continued: The anecdotal results from "A
Primera Hora" match what we hear from San Salvador's
chattering classes. They also match the views of President
Saca, who told CDA February 5 that he expected either Avila
or Lainez to be ARENA's candidate. Few believe VP Escobar or
Barrientos will become ARENA's candidate. While Rodriguez
benefits from his association with President Saca, he is
handicapped by his tender age (35) and the fact that he was
never a party activist. Both Avila and Lainez benefit from
strong name recognition and significant support from power
centers inside ARENA.