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Cablegate: Citizen Power Councils - the Tip of the Spear

VZCZCXRO4451
PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #0350/01 0852302
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 252302Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2324
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 000350

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NSC FOR V ALVARADO
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/19/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ECON KDEM NU
SUBJECT: CITIZEN POWER COUNCILS - THE TIP OF THE SPEAR

REF: MANAGUA 130 AND PREVIOUS

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

1. (C) SUMMARY: President Ortega's Citizen Power Councils
are the "tip of the spear," helping Ortega and First Lady
Rosario Murillo to further centralize and consolidate their
personal power. CPCs have been most "successful" in
municipalities with town halls controlled by the Sandinista
National Liberation Front (FSLN), where they act as an
extension of the local and central governments, but have made
headway in Liberal cities as well. Taking the
institutionalization of the CPCs at the municipal level one
step further, at Murillo's insistance, all FSLN candidates
for the November municipal elections were required to sign an
agreement to subordinate their authority to the CPCs. In
Managua, the CPCs have been placed in charge of a USD 2.2
million road improvement program, bypassing municipal
authorities. There is growing evidence that CPCs are acting
as "gatekeepers," controlling access to public services and
possibly public employment. Further reaching into the
private lives of Nicaraguan citizens, the CPCs have
reportedly organized neighborhood watches and even interfered
with an IRI polling effort in the city of Leon. Sources
insist that CPCs are also behind the growing number of land
invasions. Without a strong sustained public campaign
denouncing the government's abuses through the CPCs,
opposition political leaders, hopeful of winning a large
number of municipalities in November, may find their
potential supporters cowering behind locked doors, fearful of
CPC reprisal. END SUMMARY.

Further Centralization of Control
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (C) Elias Chevez, the general coordinator of the CPCs and
the Embassy's primary formal CPC contact, is apparently no
longer authorized to speak with us. Chevez canceled three
previously confirmed meetings with Embassy staff and
commented after the final cancellation that we must address
any questions or requests regarding the CPCs directly to
First Lady Rosario Murillo. While it was always difficult to
contact Chevez, in previous meetings he acknowledged the
importance of maintaining contact with the Embassy and had
repeatedly offered to provide CPC contacts for our reporting
trips outside of Managua. (COMMENT: This abrupt change in
course likely indicates that the Sandinista government -- as
the CPCs have become more and more entrenched -- no longer
sees any value in pretending to accommodate the U.S. Embassy
on this issue. END COMMENT)

CPC Power Linked to Municipal Control
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

3. (C) Despite their steady expansion, the CPCs appear to
thrive mostly in "friendly" environments and shy away from
direct confrontation with non-Sandinista authorities at the
municipal level. Based on meetings with numerous mayors from
various political parties over the past couple of months, it
is clear that CPCs have taken hold and exercise power most
visibly in municipalities with FSLN mayors. One FSLN mayor
referred to the CPCs as his "right arm." This CPC ascendency
also appears to be the case in municipalities with weak
Liberal mayors, those unwilling to push back. In contrast,
the CPCs are kept in check and enjoy little public presence
in cities with strong Liberal mayors. This low profile,
however, does not imply that CPCs are not active in those
towns; they remain engaged with local branches of central
government institution, especially with the Ministries of
Education, Health, and Family.

"Gatekeeper" Role Increases
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

4. (C) There is a growing body of evidence to indicate that
CPCs are increasingly functioning as "gatekeepers,"
controlling access to public services and possibly public
sector employment. There are widespread complaints that CPCs
are charging parents for public school registration forms.
Contacts in Chinandega reported that public school teachers
now require a CPC "aval" (guarantee) to keep their jobs;
there have been sporadic reports of similar demands from
teachers and other public servants over the past few months
in other parts of the country. Also in Chinandega, a student
was reportedly denied a university scholarship because he did
not have a CPC aval. According to the out-going director of
the National Grain Board (ENABAS), Roger Ali Romero, the CPCs
maintain sole responsibility for selecting neighborhood
vendors for the government's grain distribution program
(reftel). According to Romero, the CPC's "gatekeeper" role
is about to increase as ENABAS moves forward with a pilot
project in which the CPCs would also control local grain
warehouses.

Eyes and Ears
- - - - - - -

5. (C) When the CPCs were first announced in early 2007,
they were immediately compared with the dreaded Sandinista
Defense Committees (CDS) of the first Ortega Administration.
As the eyes and ears of the Sandinistas, they kept tabs on
all neighborhood activities. The second Ortega
Administration has invented the mantra that the CPCs
represent "Direct Democracy" and are only here to ensure the
government -- at all levels -- is doing its job. However,
old habits die hard. Country Director for the International
Republican Institute (IRI), Sergio Garcia, recently reported
that the CPCs interfered in an IRI polling exercise in the
town of Leon. As IRI pollsters were traveling house to
house, CPC representatives were several homes ahead of the
polling team, telling residents not to participate. Contacts
in Esteli and Matagalpa have reported that the CPCs "are
watching people," but did not provide further detail.

CPCs Leading Land Invasions
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6. (C) There is evidence that the CPCs are becoming more
active in the confiscation of private property. In
mid-February, a U.S. citizen reported that local CPC leaders
were organizing squatters to invade her land and take over
the property. According to Nicaraguan lawyers who work
closely with the Embassy's property office, CPCs are mounting
a concerted effort to seize land on the Pacific coastline in
the department of Rivas where Ortega's agrarian reform
efforts of the 1980s (expropriating beach front property to
give to agrarian cooperatives) created a number of land
ownership disputes. These lawyers report that the CPCs are
taking advantage of unclear land titles, launching a
"well-orchestrated strategy to take control of the most
valuable ocean front property." The CPCs are organizing
groups of landless peasants, identifying land with high
investment potential and no clear title, and sending in the
people, often, they insisted, using women and children as
shields against police called in by the owners to stop the
invaders. Afterward, the CPCs push for land titles and then
pressure the new "landowners" to sell to Sandinista-linked
individuals or companies.

CPCs Used to Mount Proxy War on Managua Mayor
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7. (C) In early March, "residents" of Managua's largest
garbage dump, who make a living extracting recyclable
materials from Managua's garbage, went on "strike,"
preventing garbage trucks from entering the site. These
residents claimed that city garbage collectors were
extracting the valuable materials before entering the dump,
impacting their livelihood. Mayor Dionisio "Nicho" Marenco
told us that he believed local CPC members instigated the
strike. Despite the city's having reached an agreement with
garbage collectors to limit such activity, the strike
continues. Garbage dump residents have complained that they
are no longer involved in the tiff and that they are being
used as a political tool. They insist that people are being
bused in to continue the struggle.

Institutionalizing CPC Power
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

8. (C) Coinciding with candidate inscription for November's
municipal elections, the central government launched a new
program called "Calles para el Pueblo" (Streets for the
People), a national street paving campaign supposedly
financed through the "Bolivarian Alliance for Latin America"
(ALBA) using Venezuelan oil revenues. Set to begin in
Managua, the 44 million cordoba (USD 2.2 million) first phase
investment will reportedly be managed by the CPCs in
coordination with the Emergency Social Investment Fund (FISE)
without the involvement of the mayor or the municipal
government. CPC-instigated protests were also instrumental
in blocking a municipal plan to build an overpass to relieve
traffic congestion. (COMMENT: The CPCs are now running
television spots praising their direct involvement in the
street paving campaign. END COMMENT)

9. (C) At the FSLN's party conference in early March,
national CPC head Rosario Murillo delivered what amounted to
a policy speech regarding the CPCs. She announced that after
November's elections, all mayors and city councils would be
subordinated to the CPCs. The first phase of her new policy
was carried out last week during the inscription process for
November's municipal election candidates, when all FSLN
candidates were required to sign an agreement to work with
the CPCs. We understand the agreement requires the FSLN
candidates, if elected, to be "subordinate" to the will of
the CPCs and that the CPCs have the right to remove
uncooperative mayors. (COMMENT: It is doubtful that there
is any legal basis for this agreement, but if the CPCs
continue to gain control over government programs and
services, FSLN mayors could be held captive by the CPCs,
reducing them to little more than figureheads. END COMMENT)

Comment - "Tip of the Spear"
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10. (C) Ortega and Murillo continue to spin the CPCs as the
voice and will of the people, a mechanism designed to check
the performance of the government. In reality, as numerous
examples continue to show, the CPCs perform the opposite
role. They are the "tip of the spear," an army of
Ortega/Murillo loyalists who use intimidation,
government-facilitated control over services, and any other
form of leverage they can to help Ortega and Murillo
centralize and consolidate power. As we saw late last year
when CPC members attacked an office of the Spanish
electricity distributor Union Fenosa -- and recently repeated
in the case of the garbage dump and the protests over
street-paving in Managua -- Ortega is able to effectively use
the CPCs to attack enemies in the guise of "citizen power."
Such attacks send a clear message that "resistance is
futile," sparking greater fear and capitulation towards other
CPC demands. This intimidation enables the CPCs to then
muscle their way into -- and gain greater control of -- more
aspects of people's private lives such as employment and
enrolling children in school.

11. (C) Faced with this growing menace, political opposition
parties and civil society organizations have remained largely
silent. Granted, opposition parties have been concentrating
on building alliances to defeat the FSLN in as many
municipalities as possible in November. However, the CPCs
continue to lock down control neighborhood by neighborhood by
promising jobs and access to services or through fear and
intimidation. Without a strong sustained public campaign
denouncing the government's abuses through the CPCs,
opposition hopefuls may find their potential supporters
cowering behind locked doors come November.
TRIVELLI

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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