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Cablegate: Liberal Deputies Optimistic On Election,

VZCZCXRO6878
PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #0418/01 0992200
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 082200Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2398
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 000418

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CEN AND DRL
STATE PASS USAID FOR BONICELLI/CARDENAS
NSC FOR FISK/ALVARADO

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/07/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM NU
SUBJECT: LIBERAL DEPUTIES OPTIMISTIC ON ELECTION,
PESSIMISTIC ON ORTEGA GOVERNMENT

Classified By: Ambassador Paul Trivelli, Reasons 1.4 (b and d)

SUMMARY
-------
1. (C) National Assembly Deputies from the Constitutional
Liberal Party (PLC) are concerned about the direction of the
Ortega government. In particular, they are worried that the
Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) decision to suspend elections
in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) would provoke
another political and constitutional crisis, represent an
over reach of the authority of the CSE, and set a dangerous
precedent that the government might use to cancel other
elections where they feel politically threatened. Deputies
characterized the government as a "failure," and believe
Ortega and First Lady Rosario Murillo are using the Citizen
Power Councils (CPCs) to establish a parallel FSLN structure
to consolidate their hold over the country. At the same
time, the Deputies are optimistic about their chances to gain
additional seats in the upcoming municipal elections and
spoke positively of Managua mayoral candidate Eduardo
Montealegre and their alliance with Montealegre's movement,
Vamos Con Eduardo. Left unsaid was the potential role
ex-President and PLC leader Arnoldo Aleman could play in
stifling Montealegre's chances in Managua or in collaborating
with the FSLN to further erode democratic space in Nicaragua.
End Summary.

2. (U) On March 28, as part of an outreach effort to party
leaders of the four main parties in the National Assembly,
Ambassador hosted a lunch with four senior Deputies from the
Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC). Participants included:
Francisco Aguirre Sacasa (PLC party secretary, former Foreign
Minister and Ambassador to the U.S. and current chair of the
Production, Economic and Budget Committee); Jose Pallais
(former Vice-Minister of Government and Foreign Affairs and
current chair of the Justice Committee); Maximino Rodriguez
(former Contra leader, chief of the PLC party (bancada) in
the National Assembly and member of the Justice Committee and
the Peace, Defense and Human Rights Committee); and Carlos
Noguera Pastora (President of the Tourism Committee).

Postponement of Elections in the RAAN
-------------------------------------

3. (C) The Deputies expressed serious concern over reports
that the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) is likely to
announce the suspension of municipal elections in three
municipalities in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region
(RAAN). Rodriguez argued that the CSE does not have the
authority to suspend the elections (Note: The CSE issued a
decision to suspend the election late in the evening of April
4. End Note). "They can't assume authority that the law
doesn't give them." Noguera commented that the actions of
the CSE were likely to blow elections in the RAAN out of
proportion to both their population and economic importance
and create another national crisis. At a minimum, in
Pallais' view, it would create another crisis in the National
Assembly, and he noted that the PLC and deputies of Vamos Con
Eduardo (VCE) blocked further legislative work on March 27 in
protest of FSLN and President Ortega's support for suspension
of the elections. Rodriguez echoed the concerns of the
others that the suspension in the RAAN on specious, and
constantly changing, grounds would set a bad precedent for
elections in the rest of the country. "If they can do it
there, they can do it in any municipality at any time. What
would stop them from canceling elections in Managua?"

4. (C) Pallais believes that the postponement is designed to
secure FSLN Deputy Brooklyn Rivera's continued hold over the
region and prevent devastating losses in the elections.
President Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, support
Rivera because he is another proponent of "direct democracy,"
similar to what Ortega-Murillo have engineered through the
Citizen Power Councils (CPCs) in the rest of the country.
Rivera, in the past, has denounced traditional elections as
"an invention of the Spanish" and relies on local indigenous
councils as his base of support and power. If he fails,
Pallais commented, it would be a blow to Ortega's national
effort at "direct democracy."

Optimistic About Municipal Elections and Liberal Alliance
--------------------------------------------- ------------

MANAGUA 00000418 002 OF 003

5. (C) The Deputies were optimistic about their chances to
hold their current number of municipalities and make gains in
the upcoming elections. Noguera expressed the view that the
PLC-VCE alliance would win "no less than 80 municipalities"
-- and could win a few more than that (out of 153). All
agreed the priority is to win Managua, dismissing media
reports that the PLC is working to undermine VCE candidate
Eduardo Montealegre. Noguera noted that the elections will
be a challenge, especially in Managua and will "cost a lot."
Aguirre Sacasa, reflecting on previous elections cycles,
commented that if the PLC-VCE alliance can win Managua, they
win the country. In 2004, the Liberals lost badly, but
Aguirre Sacasa believes the 2008 elections will be different
-- Ortega and the FSLN are now in power and have managed the
country poorly. The elections are turning into a referendum
on Ortega and the VCE-PLC alliance helps "polarize" the
choice facing the electorate.

6. (C) Rodriguez noted that the actual electoral process will
be a challenge. They will need to work hard to get the vote
out. More importantly, the alliance will need between 10,000
and 15,000 party poll watchers, in part to make up for the
fact that the FSLN will, in effect, control all the municipal
and departmental electoral commissions. The problem, in
Rodriguez's view, is that the VCE-PLC alliance does not yet
have those people identified and lacks the financial
resources to organize and train them. Getting the vote out
on election day will similarly be critical and will present a
logistical and financial challenge.

7. (C) Aguirre Sacasa expressed concern that the private
sector would not contribute to the alliance, making the task
all the more difficult. In particular, he is concerned that
the Conservative Party (PC) had put forward its own
candidate, prominent businessman Mauricio Mendieta, and has
not joined the alliance. He believes the PC's decision not
to join was Montealegre's fault, but acknowledged that the
PLC (by implication Aleman) had been meeting with PC
separately to form their own alliance. The private sector
could use Mendieta's candidacy as an excuse not to provide
financial support, claiming the democratic forces remained
divided and drawing off the "country club" financial backers.
Moreover, the PC's running its own candidate and
Montealegre's former party, the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance
(ALN) also running their own candidate, could serve to draw
key percentages of votes away from the alliance, especially
in Managua, due to simple voter confusion. Aguirre Sacasa
believes the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) will not
hurt the alliance's chances, but would rather continue to
draw votes away from the FSLN, particularly in light of
dissatisfaction among Sandinista's with Ortega's
administration.

ORTEGA GOVERNMENT "A FAILURE"
----------------------------

8. (C) Not surprisingly, the Deputies characterized the
Ortega administration as "a failure." Aguirre Sacasa
commented that Ortega has failed in every key program - the
CPCs, Zero Hunger, Zero Usury, etc. While the people see
this, even those from the FSLN base, this hasn't stopped
Ortega. In Noguera's view, Ortega-Murillo are working to
stay in power as long as possible and are concentrating more
power in their hands. The CPCs are key to this effort and
Pallais revealed that the FSLN is looking to change the law
on civic participation to further concentrate power into the
hands of the CPCs and Ortega. According to Pallais, the CPCs
are a parallel structure of the FSLN for the express purpose
of ensuring Ortega family control over all aspects of party
and government. While the CPCs failed as a bottom-up
movement from the base, they are now a well-paid professional
parallel structure. "What we have is a Marxist-Leninist
family-based authoritarian government." Both Aguirre Sacasa
and Pallais believe that the funds for the CPCs are coming
directly from Venezuela and would remain outside of the
national budget so as to prevent the National Assembly from
exercising oversight.

COMMENT
-------


MANAGUA 00000418 003 OF 003


9. (C) The PLC Deputies were upbeat on the elections and,
surprisingly, refrained from their usual criticism of
Montealegre and others of the VCE. While their remarks were
likely tailored for the USG audience, they did express a
greater sense that the Liberals (PLC and VCE) and the broader
pro-democratic movement faced a common threat in the
anti-democratic tendencies of the Ortega government and that
the municipal elections are critical to facing that threat.
The unspoken elephant in the room remains ex-president and
convicted felon Arnoldo Aleman and the role he continues to
play in the PLC and nationally through the "Pacto" with the
FSLN. Only a passing reference to Aleman was made by
Rodriguez, more in reference to "errors" in U.S. policy in
previous elections. All four deputies have made public and
private criticisms of Aleman and would like to position
themselves to be the leader of the Liberals when he passes
from the political scene. However, none have demonstrated a
willingness to directly challenge Aleman's continue
leadership of the party or make a move that would hasten his
departure. Aleman's continued control over the party,
especially through the CSE and CSJ, continue to raise
concerns about how long the VCE-PLC alliance, and
Montealegre's candidacy in particular, will last and whether
any of the concerns the PLC Deputies raised will be addressed
in the coming months.


TRIVELLI

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