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Cablegate: Election-Related Violence Erupts On Nicaragua's

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANAGUA 000419

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/04/2018
TAGS: PGOV CASC PHUM KDEM NU
SUBJECT: ELECTION-RELATED VIOLENCE ERUPTS ON NICARAGUA'S
ATLANTIC COAST AS GOVERNMENT SUSPENDS MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS

REF: A. MANAGUA 416
B. MANAGUA 297
C. MANAGUA 105 AND PREVIOUS

Classified By: Ambassador Paul A. Trivelli for reasons 1.4(B,D)

1. (C) SUMMARY. On Friday, April 4 violence erupted in
Nicaragua's North Atlantic Autonomous Region's (RAAN) capital
of Puerto Cabezas between local government-backed opponents
of municipal elections and supporters of elections. Initial
reports that at least two pro-vote supporters died in the
clash proved untrue. However, at least 30 were injured --
several seriously -- including two gunshot victims and there
was sporadic violence throughout Friday. On Friday evening,
the Supreme Electoral Council finally announced it would
delay RAAN local elections by six months (until April 2009),
citing the lack of "technical conditions" to hold the
elections. The CSE decision appeared to be another
manifestation of the "Pacto," the unspoken power-sharing
agreement between Ortega and former President Aleman, with
Aleman loyalists voting for formation of a quorum and then
against the final decision. The situation in the RAAN
remains tense. As of Tuesday morning, upwards of 100 riot
police maintain watch over the airport, mayor's office, and
governor's office. Representatives from both sides have
filed formal judicial complaints and leaders from nearby RAAN
municipalities and the Autonomous South (RAAS) have
criticized the government for suspending elections and
provoking violence. While the opposition and civil society
mobilize to turn the decision around, it is not clear how
effective they will be. END SUMMARY.

Friday, April 4 - Violence Erupts
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (SBU) Early on the morning of April 4, Liberal deputies
Enrique Quinonez, Jose Pallais, and Victor Duarte flew to
Puerto Cabezas to meet with local leaders about the impasse
over the government's pending decision to cancel municipal
elections in the region scheduled for November. Following
their arrival, the deputies were detained at the airport by
500-700 government-backed opponents of elections armed with
rocks, sticks, and some guns. Eyewitnesses report that the
pro-FSLN regional governor and the mayor of Puerto Cabezas
were personally directing the crowd's activities. Assembled
a few miles away, between 200 and 400 pro-election supporters
were gathered in the central park to receive the deputies.
Upon hearing that anti-vote forces were preventing the
deputies from leaving the airport, the pro-vote supporters
marched to the landing strip. At the airport, violence broke
out almost immediately, as anti-vote supporters began
throwing rocks and beating pro-vote supporters with sticks as
they tried to clear a way for the deputies to leave. The
situation escalated and eyewitnesses report that shots were
fired and that least two people were believed dead. (Note:
the two individuals are reported to be gravely wounded and
were transported to hospitals in Managua. One individual is
reported to be on life support and not expected to survive.
End Note.)

3. (C) The deputies were ultimately able to leave the airport
and later met with an interfaith religious commission which
presented them with a letter urging that elections go forward
as originally planned. (COMMENT: The Moravian Church
withdrew from the coalition at the last minute, despite
supporting the letter the evening before, and declared that
the church neither opposed nor supported elections. This
last-minute change was made after Church Superintendent Cora
Antonio departed for the U.S. Other Moravian board members
were caught off guard and the other denominations were
bitterly disappointed. The Moravians pledged to restate
their support upon Antonio's return to Nicaragua. END
COMMENT) Shortly after deputies departed the city,
pro-election supporters attacked both the Town Hall and the
regional governor's offices. They broke into the mayor's
office, where they reportedly ruined several computers and

MANAGUA 00000419 002 OF 004


drove everyone out of the building. Eyewitnesses report that
police and pro-vote supporters exchanged fire for several
minutes around 2pm local time.

4. (C) On Friday afternoon, an estimated 100 riot police
arrived by air from Managua and were immediately dispatched
around the city, including to the governor's office. As of
Monday, April 7, the riot police were still in Puerto Cabezas
guarding the airport, the governor's office, and the mayor's
office. They also reportedly monitored an assembly of
approximately 500 pro-vote supporters who gathered in the
central park on Saturday afternoon. Sources report that the
riot police have not taken any aggressive measures, but are
simply guarding and watching. By Friday evening, and
following the CSE decision, most people had gone home and a
relative calm settled over the city. The situation remains
calm but tense, with small-scale demonstrations but no
violence reported.

CSE Postpones Municipal Elections
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (C) At 8:30 on Friday night, CSE Magistrate Roberto Rivas
announced that municipal elections in three municipalities in
the RAAN, Puerto Cabezas, Prinzapolka, and Waspam, would be
suspended for six months (until April 2009) because of the
absence of "technical conditions." Rivas also cited the
violence as a reason for the CSE to take the decision on an
urgent basis. The vote was 4 to 3, with all FSLN magistrates
plus Rivas voting in favor and all three PLC magistrates
voting against. However, in a move later criticized by many
of their own party leaders, the PLC magistrates voted for a
quorum and to hold a vote on the suspension of elections.
PLC Deputies, including Enrique Quinonez and Maximino
Rodriguez, told us such a decision could not have happened
without the express authorization of Arnoldo Aleman and have
publicly and privately criticized the decision. Aleman
defended the decision of the magistrates to uphold quorum,
calling those who criticized the PLC magistrates as
"innocents" and noting that the FSLN magistrates could have
simply convened their "supplentes" to convene a quorum. In a
move likely to create more tension and political wrangling,
the CSE also announced that it will name interim authorities
to govern the municipalities once the current office holders'
terms have finished.

Next Steps
- - - - - -

6. (C) According to Javier Williams, a prominent Atlantic
Coast opposition politician, and several contacts in Puerto
Cabezas, the police have begun systematically passing through
the city to confiscate video recordings and erase digital
pictures of the airport violence that demonstrate that
Rivera's armed supporters opened fire on pro-vote supporters.
They report that efforts are being made to keep people away
from the media for fear they might further implicate Rivera,
the governor, and the mayor. In addition, contacts report
that the police are making every effort to maintain the
peace, even promising material assistance in exchange for
cooperation.

7. (C) In addition to ongoing media campaigns, both anti- and
pro-vote forces are reaching out to allies in other
municipalities in the RAAN and the RAAS looking for support.
The South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS) Regional Council,
together with the mayor of Bluefields, the capital of the
RAAS, and other civil society groups has finalized a
statement condemning the election delay and blaming Rivera,
Yatama, and the FSLN for the violence. Liberal leaders from
the Mining Triangle cities of Rosita, Siuna, Bonanza, and
Mulukuku, in the interior of the RAAN, traveled to Managua on
Monday -- along with National Assembly deputy Victor Duarte
-- to meet with both the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC)
and Vamos Con Eduardo (VCE) deputies to gain their support
against election delays. Several leading deputies, including

MANAGUA 00000419 003 OF 004


Justice Committee Chair and PLC member Jose Pallais, have
said the Assembly will take a number of steps, including
legislation demanding that the CSE respect the original
election date, filing injunctions against the CSE decision,
and continuing to hold legislation the Ortega Administration
wants hostage.

8. (SBU) Civil society is also increasing its vocal
opposition to the decision. Movimento por Nicaragua is
planning demonstrations in front of the CSE's Managua
headquarters and reaching out to other NGOs to encourage them
to participate as well. Mayoral candidate and anti-FSLN
Yatama leader Osorno "Blas" Coleman and Williams are trying
to mobilize the participation of several hundred Miskito
Indians from the RAAN living in Managua. In addition, they
are trying to coordinate simultaneous protests in Bluefields,
Puerto Cabezas, Waspam, Prinzapolka, Rosita, Siuna, and
Bonanza.

Comment
- - - -

9. (C) Friday's violence in Puerto Cabezas and the decision
by the CSE to cancel elections on flimsy political and legal
grounds has raised the stakes in Nicaragua's struggle for
democracy. The rapid and violent response of pro-election
advocates in the RAAN appears to have shocked FSLN leaders,
but not stopped them from pressing forward with what was
clearly a previously planned decision to suspend the
elections.

10. (C) Ortega and other senior members of the administration
have publicly advocated suspension of the elections for weeks
under a wide range of weak excuses. In addition to claiming
ongoing damage from Hurricane Felix, Ortega has suggested
that there "might be more hurricanes in the future." Other
government supporters suggest that the current electoral
system does not give proper respect to indigenous rights.
Regardless, the clear motivation behind the suspension is
two-fold: 1) the FSLN and their Yatama affiliates would
likely lose the three municipalities due to deep resentment
among voters over the failed hurricane response and every
municipal victory will count in what is expected to be a
referendum on Ortega in the November municipal elections; and
2) as noted in ref A, there are personal financial
motivations at stake among senior FSLN leadership from timber
and property concessions that would be jeopardized should
they lose control over the municipalities. These dual
motivations drove the CSE to act, and the outbreak of
violence, whether orchestrated or not, delivered them the
pretext to act sooner rather than later.

11. (C) While the events have stirred civil society and
political opposition, it remains to be seen whether the
election suspension will generate further cooperation and
solidification within civil society and the opposition
movement at a national level. Individually, many of their
leaders have told us that the suspension of the elections
represents a grave threat to democracy and the rule of law.
If the CSE can take these decisions, in defiance of electoral
law, the Constitution and the National Assembly, they
suggested, there would be little to stop them from doing the
same or worse in other municipalities. However, it is not
clear whether civil society and the opposition will be able
to sustain their effort or overturn the CSE's decision.
Moreover, if Aleman was prepared to have his CSE magistrates
support the FSLN in the decision to suspend the elections, he
will be unlikely to allow PLC deputies or other judges to go
too far in their efforts to overturn the decision.

12. (C) We also believe that the election suspension is just
the FSLN's first step in re-drawing the political map of the
RAAN and dismantling representative democracy in that
poverty-stricken region. During an April 3 dinner in honor
of visiting Finnish Trade and Cooperation Minister Paavo
Vayrynen, Vice Foreign Minister Valdrack Jaentschke suggested

MANAGUA 00000419 004 OF 004


that the elections should be suspended due to: a) the damaged
psyche of the RAAN peoples; b) the need to not let the
elections intrude when reconstruction falls into full swing
later this year; and c) the need to reconsider the importance
of indigenous participation in the electoral structure.
Jaentschke observed that timber in the RAAN and RAAS should
eventually be a USD 200 million a year business and hearkened
back to the Coast's "glory days" in the late 19th century
when timber, gold and other extractive industries were king.
He further suggested that the current municipalities'
geographic size "is too big to manage." Other FSLN leaders
on the Coast describe elections and private property as
"merely Western constructs." We believe the FSLN's long-term
vision for the RAAN is clear -- more smaller towns separated
by giant swatches of indigenous communal lands whose
resources are controlled by tribal and community leaders --
and exploited by FSLN-linked firms.
TRIVELLI

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