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Cablegate: Atlantic Coast Election Delays Could Spark Violence

VZCZCXRO1983
PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #0297/01 0712058
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 112058Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2232
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 000297

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT PLS PASS TO USAID LAC
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN GREENE AND NYMAN
DEPT FOR DRL G. MAGGIO
DEPT FOR USOAS
NSC FOR V ALVARADO
SOUTHCOM FOR FPA
SOUTHCOM FOR J2 J3 J5
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/05/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ECON KDEM NU
SUBJECT: ATLANTIC COAST ELECTION DELAYS COULD SPARK VIOLENCE

REF: MANAGUA 105

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

1 (C) SUMMARY: Residents in Nicaragua's North Atlantic
Autonomous Region (RAAN) are sharply divided and close to
violence over the possibility of elections being suspended
because of Hurricane Felix damage in the municipalities of
Puerto Cabezas, Waspam, and Prinzapolka. Supreme Electoral
Council (CSE) magistrates traveled to Puerto Cabezas, RAAN on
February 26 on a "fact finding" mission, but reportedly met
only with anti-election supporters, including the Regional
Council, which handed over a resolution in favor of
suspension. On March 12, the CSE will present its
recommendations to the National Assembly's Executive
Committee. Although suspension legally requires an electoral
law reform ratified by 56 deputies, pro-election deputies and
supporters fear the CSE will judicially engineer suspension,
effectively bypassing the National Assembly, to fend off a
near-certain electoral loss for the indigenous Yatama party,
a close ally of President Daniel Ortega. There are reports
that Yatama is recruiting "shock troops" in the RAAN to
intimidate voters and expel "mestizos" and pro-election
supporters. END SUMMARY.

GON Seeks Excuses to Suspend Elections
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (SBU) On February 26, Supreme Electoral Council (CSE)
President Roberto Rivas and magistrate Emmett Lang visited
the RAAN capital of Puerto Cabezas to assess the region's
preparedness to hold municipal elections in November 2008.
Originally billed as a "fact finding" mission in November
2007 (reftel), Rivas and Lang allegedly met only with local
Yatama officials allied with President Daniel Ortega's
Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), including the
mayor of Puerto Cabezas, the RAAN's governor, and the
Regional Council -- the highest governing body in the
autonomous region. The Regional Council presented the CSE
magistrates with a resolution requesting that elections be
suspended in the RAAN municipalities of Puerto Cabezas,
Waspam, and Prinzapolka on grounds that the physical and
psychological damage caused by Hurricane Felix was too
extensive to justify the contests. Further, the Council
requested that funds earmarked for the elections be put
towards reconstruction efforts.

3. (C) The Government of Nicaragua (GON) is also seeking a
legal basis to suspend the elections. In conversation with
USAID officials, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Valdrack
Jaentschke cited as justification GON non-compliance with an
Inter-American Human Rights Court (IAHRC) verdict won by
Yatama following their exclusion from the 2000 elections.
Jaentschke advised that elections in the RAAN would likely be
postponed until the constitutional reforms mandated by the
court had been implemented in order to avoid further
international legal troubles. Javier Williams, a former Vice
Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Bolanos government who is
intimately familiar with this case, dismissed this assertion,
insisting that the GON's non-compliance "had not stopped
Yatama from running pro-FSLN candidates in the 2005 and 2006
elections" that brought National Assembly deputy Brooklyn
Rivera and RAAN governor Reynaldo Francis to power.

Pro-Election Representatives Denied Access to CSE
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

4. (C) Aware of the CSE magistrates' visit, a group of
pro-election leaders requested and were granted a meeting
with Rivas and Lang to present a counter-petition in favor of
elections. When the pro-election representatives arrived for
their meeting, a Regional Council representative reportedly
attempted to divide the group, authorizing only certain
members to present the proposal. Instead of acquiescing, the
group refused and left the premises without an audience with
the magistrates. Separately, local religious leaders sought
a meeting with Rivas and Lang to lobby for elections, but
never received a response. (NOTE: The World Food Program's
Country Director, in Puerto Cabezas at the time of the
magistrates' visit, characterized the visit as "a private

MANAGUA 00000297 002 OF 003


dinner party. They arrived in the late afternoon and went
straight into a meeting for the rest of the evening." END
NOTE)

A Growing Threat of Violence
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (C) Multiple sources have warned us that there will be
violence in the RAAN no matter what the final decision on
elections in these three municipalities. There is mounting
evidence to support this concern:

- The day before the CSE's visit, hundreds of Yatama
supporters participated in a pro-suspension rally in Puerto
Cabezas. Osorno "Blas" Coleman, a pro-election movement and
indigenous leader, was roughed up after showing up at the
rally with 80 supporters and demanding to speak.

- The day after the CSE visit, hundreds of pro-election
supporters burned tires and took to the streets of Puerto
Cabezas.

- Four days later, on Sunday, March 2, pro-election
supporters staged marches in Puerto Cabezas and Waspam.
Coleman estimated that over 1,000 people participated in
Puerto Cabezas and 2,000 in Waspam. He recounted that
marchers entered the city halls in both municipalities,
allegedly removing the mayor of Waspam and threatening to
burn down City Hall in Puerto Cabezas if elections were
suspended. In a public statement following the marches,
Yatama Governor Reynaldo Francis accused pro-election
supporters of ransacking Yatama's party headquarters in
Puerto Cabezas.

- In a published statement, the mayor of Puerto Cabezas and
Francis openly threatened Sunday's march participants,
declaring that the price for Sunday's actions would be "very
expensive."

- Sources have reported that pro-FSLN members of Yatama have
been forming what one contact dubbed "shock troops" in
communities throughout the RAAN to "take action" if elections
go forward as planned in November. According to contacts,
these groups are allegedly trying to persuade indigenous
communities that elections in November would delay the
region's recovery. To tangibly demonstrate what is at stake,
these groups are said to be passing out school uniforms,
books, pens/pencils, and livestock to the communities with
the message that all such assistance would stop if elections
are held. Further, these "shock troops" are said to be
spreading the notion that the "mestizos" (non-indigenous
immigrants from other parts of the country) are pushing for
elections to keep the indigenous in conditions of poverty,
thereby allowing the mestizos to "continue taking advantage
of them." If elections are held, these shock troops are
threatening to forcibly remove mestizos and pro-election
indigenous residents from the RAAN.

CSE Set to Meet with National Assembly
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

6. (C) The National Assembly Executive Committee will meet
with CSE magistrates Rivas and Lang on March 12 to discuss
the Regional Council's proposal to delay elections. Under
Nicaraguan law, changing an election date requires electoral
law reform, a legislative move that requires a minimum of 56
votes in the National Assembly. Convinced that the FSLN
cannot garner enough votes to approve such a change, Liberal
Constitutional Party (PLC) National Assembly deputy Victor
Duarte -- the most vocal advocate in favor of elections --
confided that he fears the Ortega government will try to push
the suspension through the CSE or some other mechanism
without consulting with the National Assembly. Duarte
reported that he is advocating for a new National Assembly
committee to conduct an independent study of electoral
conditions in the RAAN prior to the March 12 meeting to
ensure the "Executive Committee has a balanced picture of the
RAAN's environment." Duarte also expressed concern over
rumors that the CSE intends to discreetly reconfigure voting
jurisdictions to fragment Liberal voter bases in key

MANAGUA 00000297 003 OF 003


municipalities and bolster FSLN registeries. A Conservative
Party (PC) leader told us on March 10 that the CSE plans to
seek a judicial ruling upholding the Regional Council's right
to suspend the elections under the country's regional
autonomy law (Law 28), thereby effectively bypassing the
National Assembly altogether.

Comment
- - - -

7. (C) The RAAN is a tumultuous region, where isolated
protests and disturbances occasionally erupt due to
underlying political and racial tension that simmers just
below the surface. It is a population that feels neglected,
forgotten, and often exploited by national and regional
governments. However, up until now the residents' right to
vote has never been threatened. There is deep concern that
the Ortega government will engineer an election suspension to
avoid almost certain electoral losses in Puerto Cabezas,
Waspam, and Prinzapolka. As a result, our sources warn us of
potential widespread intimidation and violence regardless of
the final decision on the status of elections. They claim
the FSLN and their Yatama allies are actively recruiting
enforcers to intimidate voters and carry out mass expulsions
and other 9DOQ,ELLI

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