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Cablegate: Fmln Tries to Control Damage From Accusations Of

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSN #0560/01 1341954
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 131954Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9455
INFO RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA PRIORITY 2530
RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN SALVADOR 000560

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/13/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL ES CO PTER PARM
SUBJECT: FMLN TRIES TO CONTROL DAMAGE FROM ACCUSATIONS OF
FARC TIES


Classified By: Charge D'Affaires Deborah Kennedy-Iraheta, Reasons
1.4 (b) and (d)

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) Recent press reports on ties between the Colombian
FARC guerrillas and the Salvadoran opposition Farabundo Marti
Liberation Front (FMLN) party have party leadership
scrambling to explain itself. Documents reportedly seized in
recent Colombian military actions and subsequently published
by the El Pais newspaper in Spain, clearly lay out recent and
extensive communications between the FARC and Jose Luis
Merino Hernandez (a.k.a. Ramiro Vasquez), a senior FMLN party
official. Mauricio Funes, the FMLN presidential candidate,
who up to now has been the golden boy of the party and the
face of the "new" FMLN, quickly denied the charges in their
entirety. Other FMLN party sources have not been so quick to
dismiss the allegations against Merino, and privately give us
the sense that the party knows that if the allegations are
proved true, it will need to act swiftly and decisively to
mitigate the damage. ARENA officials, who have thus far been
circumspect in their comments, must certainly see this as an
electoral gift by the FMLN, which has been favored to win in
early opinion polls. End Summary

---------------------
"Ramiro" and the FARC
---------------------

2. (U) Salvadoran newspaper headlines have been dominated
over the last several days by allegations of ties between the
opposition Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) party and
Colombian FARC guerrillas. The storm of publicity began with
the publication of a story in the Spanish daily newspaper, El
Pais, entitled "The FARC Papers Implicate Chavez" which
referred to links between the FARC and the Venezuelan
President. The documents in question were reportedly found
on FARC-owned computers seized in Colombian military
operations along the Ecuadorian border in March of this year.
The documents discuss at length military and financial ties
between Chavez and the FARC.

3. (C) According to the documents, a Salvadoran man called
"Ramiro" from the FMLN was facilitating contact between the
FARC and Australian arms dealers in order for the FARC to
purchase rifles, grenade launchers, and missiles. "Ramiro"
has been identified as Jose Luis Merino, an FMLN party
official and Deputy in the Central American Parliament.
(Note: Indeed, FMLN contacts commonly refer to Merino as
"Ramiro." End note.) The documents also indicate that, as
part of its campaign to seek international support, the FARC
had offered $10-12 million dollars to support the FMLN in the
2004 elections. The FARC also allegedly offered to help the
FMLN conduct kidnappings in El Salvador.

--------------------------------------
FMLN Denies Everything -- Ramiro who?
--------------------------------------

4. (C) Mauricio Funes, the FMLN Presidential candidate in the
2009 election was quick to reject the accusations against
Merino. He claimed that the press stories had no new
information and that there was no evidence of connections to
Merino. He echoed the vehement denials of FMLN spokesman
Sigfrido Reyes who called the accusations a "typical
Hollywood story." While acknowledging that "Ramiro Vasquez"
is Merino's FMLN nom-du-guerre, Funes added that the
pseudonym "Ramiro" had been used by several other FMLN
militants. Funes has also suggested that the FMLN may pursue
a legal case against the Colombian government for defamation.

----------------------------
ARENA Claims the High Ground
----------------------------

5. (C) While disclaiming any political motive with respect to
the upcoming elections, El Salvador's ARENA government has
been quick to call for investigations. Minister of Public
Security and Justice, Rene Figueroa is quoted as saying that
the issue of arms trafficking is serious and dangerous and
that any investigation "will not be contaminated by
pre-election politics." Figueroa also announced that the
Salvadoran Government will send a team to Colombia to
investigate these specific charges and links between the FMLN
and the FARC. Vice Minister for Public Security Astor
Escalante told PolCouns May 12 that he had not been
personally involved in the GOES follow up to the allegations
made in El Pais and Salvadoran newspapers over the weekend
regarding FARC-FMLN ties. However, he said he knew Figueroa
was actively involved in talks with the Colombians, both with
the Colombian Ambassador in San Salvador and soon, if not
already, in Bogota. Escalante was short on detail, but quite
confident these allegations would be pursued by the GOES and
beneficial to ARENA in 2009 elections.

--------------------------------------------- --
FMLN Worried, Waiting for the Next Shoe to Drop
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (C) FMLN Deputy and Coordinator for Relations with the
U.S. Hugo Martinez sought out PolCouns May 12 in order to
relay a conversation he had earlier that day with FMLN
General Coordinator Medardo Gonzalez. The primary message,
which Martinez repeated twice, was that while there were
contacts with the FARC during the Salvadoran Civil War,
official contacts had not continued. While there was no
doubt and no surprise that some "personal" contacts had been
maintained since then, contacts with the FARC of the sort
alleged in the Salvadoran press were not the policy of the
FMLN. The FMLN had converted itself into a political party
at the end of the Salvadoran Civil War and believed a
"humanitarian solution" to the conflict in Colombia was
appropriate.

7. (C) Martinez acknowledged that ARENA was certain to use
these allegations against Merino in the Salvadoran election
campaigns. Indeed, he felt ARENA was merely warming up at
this point. If the allegations are proved true, he said,
there would be consequences inside the FMLN because of the
damage it could do to the party and its aspirations to win
the Salvadoran presidency in 2009. Martinez speculated that
if the allegations against Merino turn out to be true, they
are likely to be attempts to grab the power and influence
that Merino had developed, especially in the mid-ranks of
party officials. First, though, the party would wait to see
the promised report from INTERPOL expected on May 15.

8. (C) Merino, Martinez said, was not a well known individual
outside of FMLN circles, but was extremely influential. He
characterized Merino as more radical than the FMLN's hard
line (i.e., Medardo Gonzalez and VP Candidate Sanchez Ceren).
Martinez noted the institutional balance that had existed
between Gonzalez and Sanchez Ceren, both with roots in the
Popular Liberation Forces (FPL), a violent offshoot of the
Salvadoran Communist Party (PCS), and Schafik Handal and
Merino, both with roots in the PCS. Those represented by
Merino, he said, were a sector that could not be excluded
from party leadership.

9. (C) As to the possible effects on the FMLN's campaign,
Martinez acknowledged that if the allegations proved true,
there would be damage. Indeed, he lamented FMLN Presidential
Candidate Mauricio Funes' response to the press which
Gonzalez had reportedly described as "stupid". Funes sought
to downplay the validity of allegations made in the press,
suggesting the pseudonym used by the press to identify Merino
(Ramiro) could refer to anyone. Martinez described Funes'
responses as weak. He said Funes must be worried about the
potential fallout. Perhaps grasping for straws, he said the
FMLN could hope that ARENA might try to overplay its hand as
it had with the Suchitoto case and others.

-------
Comment
-------

10. (C) Based on the FMLN's urgency in communicating with us,
relaying a message from the highest levels of the party, and
from the body language of the messenger, it is clear that the
FMLN is concerned at the likely fallout for the 2009
elections. There is also clear concern over Funes' initial
fumble on the issue. It was clear that Martinez, at least
(though perhaps not everyone in the FMLN) was shocked by the
scope of these allegations. It remains to be seen, however,
if allowing Merino's head to roll (as was strongly suggested
by Martinez as a likely outcome) will minimize the damage to
the FMLN's charm offensive for the 2009 elections and to the
Funes campaign.
KENNEDY-IRAHETA

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