Cablegate: Nicaragua Civil Society: Struggling to Keep

DE RUEHMU #0349/01 0852300
P 252300Z MAR 08





E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/22/2018

REF: A. 08 MANAGUA 130
B. 07 MANAGUA 2135
C. 07 MANAGUA 1730
D. 07 MANAGUA 964

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

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1. (C) Nicaraguan civil society actors have expressed growing
concern about the anti-democratic tendencies of the Ortega
government, frustration with the political class, the private
sector, and the lack of a coherent political opposition.
They are also convinced that civil society is the only viable
tool to counter the Ortega Administration's efforts to
perpetuate its grip on power. Most groups share a common
view on issues such as opposition to the Citizen Power
Councils (CPCs), the importance of mobilizing citizen
participation ahead of the 2008 municipal elections, the
challenges of competing for donor resources, and a sense of
despair about the future. However, their organizations lack
a coherent vision on such basic issues as whether to work
together as a single coalition versus operating
independently. Our efforts to engage with these diverse
organizations and individuals outside the usual political
party channels were well received and revealed a strong
desire for more regular dialogue and exchange with the
Embassy, if only to provide, as one civic leader noted, a
form of "therapy."

2. (SBU) This is the first of a two-part series of cables on
civil society organizations currently active in Nicaragua.
This report will focus on their perceptions of the current
political situation and their role as an opposition force
defending democratic reform. The second cable will focus on
the challenges these organizations face in working together
as a coalition of the opposition. A short directory of the
NGOs appears in para 13. END SUMMARY

Democracy vs. Authoritarianism
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2. (C) We have conducted an extensive outreach campaign with
twelve different organizations representing youth, women's
associations, human rights activists, and democracy promoters
across the ideological spectrum. A number of these
organizations are, or have been, recipients of USG
assistance. Participants were frank, and angry about the
direction of country under Ortega. Despite their ideological
and personal differences, the leaders of these groups are
unified in the belief that they must work together to defend
democracy, stop the slide toward authoritarianism, and oppose
the centralization of power in the hands of the president and
his wife, Rosario Murillo, which they perceive is well

3. (C) NGO leaders fret that the Ortega government has
already begun to close the democratic spaces that many of
them had been fighting to pry open for the past 17 years. In
their view, Nicaraguans have become disenchanted with the
traditional political class which has perpetuated historic
"caudillo" pattern by replacing a corrupt leader on the right
with a corrupt leader on the left. All alluded to the
political "Pacto" power-sharing agreement between former
President Arnoldo Aleman of the Constitutional Liberal Party
(PLC) and Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front
(FSLN) as the primary source of political corruption within
the party system, the judiciary, and the National Assembly.
Summing up a typical view of the main difference between the
two political sides, Maria Jose Zamora, Vice President of the
center-right NGO Hagamos Democracia, mused that "the right
isn't good for anything," and the left won't let anything,
"even the death of one's mother," stand in its way. While
they regard the Liberals on the right as being fragmented
(despite the current electoral unity agreement), the FSLN is
considered more organized and disciplined but "has no respect

MANAGUA 00000349 002 OF 005

for the rule of law."

4. (C) Another key concern, as representatives of the
election-oriented NGO Etica y Transparencia and the
independent youth-oriented Juventud para la Democracia de
Nicaragua (JUDENIC) emphasized, is the ongoing corruption of
the judicial system and the fate of the eight seats on the
Supreme Court Justice that will be opening this year. They
warned that the next composition of the highest court could
further entrench the "Pacto" with implications for
deal-making in the November 2008 municipal elections. The
municipal elections will be a major milestone in determining
the direction of the country; thus many of these NGOs are
anxious to play a role in getting out the vote, increasing
citizen participation, educating the people about their civic
duty, and countering a sense of apathy and resignation they
fear is underway.

NGOs Regard Government Scrutiny and CPCs as Bad Omen
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5. (C) Our contacts argued that civil society is the only
sector consistently and vocally opposing the Ortega's
government and therefore bears the brunt of government
pressure and "retaliation." Several organizations complained
that the FSLN is attempting to infiltrate civil society NGOs
to foment internal dissent, fragmentation, and mistrust.
Everyone we met reported experiencing some form of government
harassment, intimidation, or hostility. One organization
termed the government's sudden efforts to audit and impose
tax fines on NGOs critical of the government as a form of
"financial terrorism." The financially-strapped JUDENIC was
intimidated into paying government fines, even though it was
up to date on its taxes, rather than incur the legal costs of
fighting and risk further legal problems.

6. (SBU) Some groups, such as the Women's Network Against
Violence (WNAV), comprised of 100 organizations around the
country, have been completely shut out by the government.
Although all previous governments had worked with the Women's
Network--even if on sometimes confrontational grounds --
under Ortega, the government has severed its contact
entirely. The Ministry of the Family recently decreed an end
to all coordination with the WNAV and indicated that it would
instead be working with the Citizen Power Councils (CPCs)
(Ref. A).

7. (SBU) Although the CPCs were not officially launched
until November 30, a number of civil society organizations
have adamantly opposed them since first announced by
President Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo a year ago
(Ref. B). Our contacts aired concerns that as the CPCs
become more entrenched, Nicaraguan NGOs will be increasingly
excluded from major social programs such as "Zero Hunger" and
"Zero Usury." (NOTE: A more detailed assessment of the
impact CPCs are having on civil society actions will be
provided septel. END NOTE.)

Private Sector, International Cooperation: Whose Side Are
They On?
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8. (SBU) While most of our contacts' ire was directed at the
government and the traditional political parties, civil
society actors are also increasingly frustrated by the lack
of support from the country's business class and with the
difficulty they have in accessing international funding.
Some were mystified that international donors were not trying
to do more to strengthen civil society given the current
political climate. With even greater disdain, they judged
the business class as lacking the "courage" to support civil
society out of fear of political retribution.

9. (C) Although they stressed that support for civil society
was now of "utmost importance," several of our contacts
complained that the conditions for accessing development
assistance and working with the donor community are too

MANAGUA 00000349 003 OF 005

inflexible and bureaucratic. A representative of JUDENIC
suggested that the donor community is too entangled in
promoting their own strategies and do not "really listen to
the Nicaraguans." They also warned that assistance to
government organizations or "government-friendly" NGOs only
plays right into the hands of Ortega and serves to legitimize
his regime. They are often discouraged by the strings
attached to certain forms of assistance, which they view as
"interference" in their ability to do their work.

10. (C) Organizations on the left are particularly
discouraged by the types of USG and international development
assistance available to NGOs. One representative found it
ironic that Ortega was accusing them of being "puppets of the
empire," when actually their organizations had not received
any U.S. financial assistance, nor did they understand how it
was awarded. Georgina Munoz, Director of the left-of-center
Civil Coordinator's Office, asserted that the international
community is not doing enough to defend civil society and is
in effect turning a blind eye to the government's attempts to
block cooperation with NGOs. Sofia Montenegro, a former
Sandinista, journalist, and Director of the Women's
Autonomous Movement (MAM) (Ref D), admonished the
international community for allegedly maintaining a neutral
stance in what she insists is a clear choice: either
democracy or authoritarianism. Others complained that
international assistance, including that from the USG, was
too bureaucratic, slow, and inflexible.

- - - -

11. (C) Every organization consulted -- left right, and
center -- asserted that civil society is the only true
opposition force capable of mobilizing people, encouraging
citizen participation, advancing electoral reform, and
defending citizen rights and democracy. While they all share
a common goal of preserving democracy and stopping Ortega's
authoritarian perpetuation of power, they continue to
struggle at forging on a common strategy and joint actions to
advance these goals - thereby undermining their
effectiveness. Based on the positive response we received
from this outreach effort, we will continue to engage civil
society groups and encourage them to work toward building an
alliance to promote a spirit of cooperation and
collaboration, and to avoid the potential of disintegration
and disunity. We are encouraged by the fact that after this
series of meetings, several representatives followed up with
us requesting that we continue to hold a regular dialogue.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

13. (U) Our program of outreach involved meeting with
representatives of the following organizations:

A. Movimiento por Nicaragua (Movement for Nicaragua--MpN)
Year established: 2004
Staff size and/or members: Permanent staff of 16. In 2005,
MpN worked with a network of a 37 member organizations, but
an unknown number of them are still active.
Political tendency: Started off as center-right, but MpN now
also draws support from members of the Sandinista Renovation
Movement (MRS) Alliance.
Coverage: National, with seven departmental chapters.
Main Issues: Strengthen democratic institutions, legal
analysis, citizen participation and rights, and voter
education; provide training in democratic values, and
facilitate civil registry and issuance of national
identification cards (cedulas) to marginalized groups.

B. Hagamos Democracia (Let's Make Democracy Happen)
Year established: 1995
Staff size and/or members: Permanent staff of 7, with
approximately 150 volunteers, mainly active during election
season and/or for certain projects.

MANAGUA 00000349 004 OF 005

Political tendency: Center-right
Coverage: National
Main Issues: Serve as National Assembly watchdog; promote
citizen participation, transparency, civic and democratic
culture; and strengthen civil society.

C. Etica y Transparencia (Ethics and Transparency--EyT)
Year established: 1996
Staff size and/or members: Permanent staff includes 174
coordinators (153 municipal, 17 departmental, 4 in the
Managua district), plus an extensive network of volunteers
throughout the country. For the 2006 elections, EyT
mobilized approximately 10,000 volunteer observers, and is
seeking to mobilize at least 5,000 for the municipal
elections in November 2008.
Political tendency: Center-right leaning but board members
and coordinators cover the political spectrum.
Coverage: National
Main Issues: Conduct electoral observation, and promote
transparency and anti-corruption.

D. Movimiento Autonomo de Mujeres (Women's Autonomous
Year established: Formally established in 2006, but began to
organize in the late 1980s
Staff size and/or membership: Permanent staff of five, plus
84 women leader who serve as members at the departmental
level. Another 22 women and youth organizations are also
members of MAM.
Political tendency: Left-leaning largely affiliated with the
Coverage: National
Main Issues: Social and political movement to promote gender
equality and women's rights; oppose patriarchal
authoritarianism in political, economic, and social sectors;
and defend the rule of law.

E. Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia (Women's Network
Against Violence)
Year established: 1993
Staff size and/or membership: Ten permanent representatives
with network of over 190 individuals and organizations.
Political tendency: Center-left, but members come from broad
Coverage: National
Main Issues: Raise awareness of gender-based violence and
women's rights; strengthen prevention of violence against
women, assist victims and provide legal advocacy, conduct
workshops, and provide shelters and protection for battered
and abused women.

F. Coordinadora Civil (Civil Coordinator)
Year established: 1993
Number of members: Umbrella organization of 20 NGOs and
networks nationwide
Political tendency: Left-leaning, originally aligned with the
FSLN, but now openly critical of the government.
Coverage: National
Main Issues: Coordinate and build consensus among NGOs;
promote sustainable development, defend citizen rights, and
strengthen civil society participation in public policy.

G. Federacion de ONGs (Federation of NGOs)
Year founded: 1989
Staff size and/or membership: Permanent staff of 8, plus 2
non permanent contractors, 6 volunteers, and 32 member
Political tendency: Non-political, but leans left.
Coverage: National
Main Issues: Coordinate actions among different NGOs to
promote and strengthen Nicaragua's social and economic
development, and ensure the needs of the people are

MANAGUA 00000349 005 OF 005

incorporated into the planning and implementation of
development decisions. Help member organizations gain access
to financial resources.

H. Juventud por la Democracia de Nicaragua (Youth for the
Democracy of Nicaragua--JUDENIC)
Year established: 2004
Staff size and/or membership: Permanent staff of 3, with 700
volunteers and members that are active during election
Political tendency: Centrist
Coverage: National, presence in 6 departments
Main Issues: To promote democratic principles among youth,
encourage youth citizen participation, support efforts to
provide citizen identification cards (cedula).

I. Comision Permanente de Derechos Humanos (Permanent
Commission for Human Rights--CPDH)
Year established: 1977
Staff size and/or membership: Permanent staff of 44, plus 168
other members and volunteers
Political tendency: Independent, but leans right-of-center.
Coverage: National
Main Issues: To defend the rule of law; promote, protect,
and defend human rights; serve as human rights watch dog.

J. Centro Nicaraguense de Derechos Humanos (Nicaraguan
Center for Human Rights--CENIDH)
Year established: 1990
Staff size and/or membership: Permanent staff of 38, plus 71
commissions with over 1200 volunteers who serve as human
rights promoters.
Political tendency: Independent, but leans left and is
critical of current government.
Coverage: National
Main Issues: Promote, protect, and defend human rights,
advise on human rights issues in legislation, provide
training and awareness on human rights issues, and serve as
human rights watch dog.

K. Consejo de Mujeres del Occidente (Western Women's Council)
Year established: 2005
Number of members: Over 220 women are registered members of
the organization, headed by one director and one technical

Polticial tendency: Independent
Coverage: North-Western Departments (Leon and Chinandega)
Main Issues: Promote women's economic empowerment, increase
women's economic participation and role in development.

L. Centro para la Educacion y Prevencion del SIDA (Center
for AIDS Education and Prevention--CEPRESI)
Year established: 1993
Staff size or membership: Approximately 80
Polticial tendency: Centrist, independent
Coverage: Active in six departments
Main Issues: Conduct HIV/AIDS education and prevention;
promote human rights, raise political awareness of HIV/AIDs,
sexual health, and sexual and reproductive rights.


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