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Cablegate: Wha/Cen Director Feeley Visit to El Salvador

VZCZCXYZ0012
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSN #0321/01 0741958
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 141958Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9182
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO 6688

C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN SALVADOR 000321

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN JOHN FEELEY AND HILLARY THOMPSON
DEPT FOR WHA/MEX

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/16/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL ES KDEM MX
SUBJECT: WHA/CEN DIRECTOR FEELEY VISIT TO EL SALVADOR

Classified By: Ambassador Charles L. Glazer, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (U) SUMMARY: From March 4-7, WHA/CEN Director John Feeley
visited El Salvador as part of a regional visit focused on
the Merida Initiative. During the visit, Feeley attended the
Ambassador's speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in El
Salvador, discussed the Merida Initiative with Deputy Foreign
Minister Calix, and discussed Salvadoran electoral politics
with prominent figures across the political spectrum. End
Summary.

2. (U) WHA/CEN Director John Feeley visited El Salvador March
4-7 as part of a regional visit to discuss progress on the
Merida initiative in Washington. Feeley kicked off his visit
by attending Ambassador Glazer's speech to the American
Chamber of Commerce of El Salvador which focused on the need
for the Salvadoran private sector to become more involved in
working towards a solution to El Salvador's public security
problems.

3. (C) Feeley and PolCouns met with Deputy Foreign Minister
Eduardo Calix on March 5. Calix was accompanied by Nelson
Amaya, Deputy Director General for Foreign Policy. Calix, in
his capacity as President Pro Tempore of SICA, welcomed
Feeley's visit in order to clarify confusion that had emerged
among several Central American countries about Plan Merida.
Calix said the Central American countries had the impression
that the regional security plan they had been developing in
response to President Bush's request in March 2007 was
somehow a different exercise than Plan Merida, which appeared
to have a Central American component grafted on to a
Mexico-centric proposal. Feeley explained that in practice,
the regional security plan and Plan Merida were - and had to
be - the same thing, since there was no other mechanism on
the horizon to respond to the Central American needs.
Ironically, he said, Mexico feels like their initiative has
been hijacked by the Central American countries, and vice
versa.

4. (C) Later on March 5, Feeley and Poloff met with Roberto
Rubio-Fabian, director of the Fundacion Nacional para el
Desarollo (FUNDE), a left-of-center research and development
think-tank. Rubio, an FMLN spokesman during the 1980's
describes his current relationship with the FMLN as one "from
a distance." He said that he was worried about ARENA since
there were really no good candidates left in the running.
What remained was to choose "the best of a bad group." Rubio
claimed that Rodrigo Avila, the former Director of the
National Civilian Police and presumptive front-runner for the
ARENA nomination, was not a good candidate and would be an
even worse President. An Avila candidacy "would be fatal" to
ARENA. The Salvadoran electorate is looking for change,
Rubio added, and if an ARENA candidate merely offers "more of
the same," he cannot win.

5. (C) Rubio said Luis Mario Rodriguez would be a better
candidate and referred to him as the "Obama" of the ARENA
candidates saying that he offered the most tangible
opportunity for change within the party. Unlike the other
candidates, Rodriguez would not be divisive. He added that
Rodriguez was gaining the support of the large business
interests which wield very significant power in Salvadoran
politics. That said, he added that Saca was, in his opinion,
the most powerful Salvadoran president in recent times, and
that Avila was Saca's candidate.

6. (C) The FMLN, according to Rubio, has begun the long
process of change, for the better, in both its discourse and
its beliefs. He said that what remained to be seen about the
Funes candidacy was whether Funes would shape the Frente or
if the Frente would shape Funes. How Funes would ultimately
manage to connect with the FMLN is still very uncertain as is
what the process will cost Funes in terms of his autonomy.
Though Funes is a strong candidate, he still has significant
hurdles to overcome including funding for his candidacy (the
Venezuela factor) and how to gain the support of the upper
class. Rubio concluded the meeting by saying that ARENA
could still wi if it managed to "get itself together" and
avoi the temptation to resort to electoral fraud. He aded
that corruption in President Saca's inner cirle could also
damage the party.

7. (C) Feeleyand EconCouns met March 5 with Alexander
Segovia the economic advisor to FMLN presidential candidae
Mauricio Funes. Segovia is an Oxford-educated economist who
has worked for USAID, IDB, UNDP andseveral other IOs and
NGOs. Segovia is a member of an organization called "Friends
of Mauricio" which aspires to be a "third way" in Salvadoran
politics. The group includes former ARENA party members,
students, entrepreneurs, people who had never voted before
and anyone interested in supporting Funes. The group intends
to build, what Segovia describes as significant support from
Salvadorans at home and abroad into a social movement to act
as a counterweight to both ARENA and, if needed, the old
guard of the FMLN.

8. (C) The death of Schafik Handal in 2006 was a turning
point for the FMLN, according to Segovia. He said that it
brought the party closer together and that there is now a
good, collegial relationship within the party. The FMLN has
given Funes plenty of autonomy. Neither Segovia nor Funes is
a member of the FMLN, but to satisfy Salvadoran
Constitutional election requirements, the latter will have to
join before the election. When asked which of the ARENA
pre-candidates the FMLN feared most, Segovia replied "none of
them." He thought that Avila had received the "dedazo" from
Saca, but would not completely rule out Mario Luis Rodriguez
because "he too is one of Saca's guys." He thought that Vice
President de Escobar had no chance whatsoever to gain the nod
from ARENA on March 15. Segovia said that according to their
polls Avila had the better name recognition, but none of the
ARENA pre-candidates polled particularly well. The one
candidate that he would have feared was Roberto Murray Meza,
because in Segovia's opinion Murray Meza was the one person
who could have united all of the capital power of ARENA.
Segovia said he realizes that ARENA will fight a very hard
campaign, no matter who becomes their candidate.

9. (C) Segovia said that in the recent past Gerson Martinez
authored the FMLN's economic policy. He described Martinez
as a moderate and that the two of them got along well. This
time, it is Segovia who is the chief drafter of the economic
policy, but he will be working closely with Martinez. They
expect to have the economic plan completed by the end of
April. Dollarization, he said, is here to stay. One of
their other basic principles will be to keep CAFTA and strong
relations with the USG, because of the strong trade,
bilateral and familial relations between the two countries.
He expects to expand FTAs to other countries as well and
noted that the private sector plays a crucial role in the
economy.

10. (C) Segovia said they have met and will continue to meet
with the private sector (he mentioned Roberto Kriete by name)
and assured that there would be no nationalization and no
expropriations under a Funes government. Segovia said what
they wanted was for everyone to be treated equally and to
address the income disparity in the country. He believes
that the government has been used by a privileged few to
protect their interests and keep the majority of wealth
concentrated in a handful of powerful interests. One of the
things they will seek to accomplish early on in a Funes
presidency is fiscal reform. Segovia said he was aware of
(and may have worked on) some of the fiscal reform programs
that USAID had supported in Guatemala, and he would look to
do something similar in El Salvador.

11. (C) Finally, Feeley and PolCouns met with Salvador
Samayoa, peace accords negotiator and member of the National
Development Commission. Samayoa reported on ongoing efforts
between FDR, CD and PDC to form a coalition to back a single
presidential candidate (Arturo Zablah) and a combined list
for the national Assembly. Samayoa said that in the ongoing
ARENA contest, Rodrigo Avila had President Saca's support,
but that Luis Mario Rodriguez could eventually come out on
top if disgruntled business interests in ARENA managed to
derail Avila's candidacy, something Samayoa saw as unlikely.
GLAZER

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