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Cablegate: Friends of Mauricio Report Harassment, Fear

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSN #1038/01 2421858
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 291858Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0021
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN SALVADOR 001038

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/26/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL ASEC ES
SUBJECT: FRIENDS OF MAURICIO REPORT HARASSMENT, FEAR
VIOLENCE

Classified By: The Ambassador, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: Representatives of the Friends of Mauricio
group supporting (left-wing) FMLN presidential candidate
Mauricio Funes alleged to Pol and Econ Counselors August 27
they were experiencing harassment and feared it would
intensify as the March election approaches. They claimed
they could not rule out the possibility of violence against
themselves or even the FMLN candidate. They expressed hope
that because both the FMLN and (center-right, pro-U.S.) ARENA
were orienting their campaign message to the political
center, the real winner of 2009 elections would be El
Salvador, regardless of which candidate is victorious.
Embassy is in listening mode, not yet having seen any
confirmed incident of election-related violence. End Summary.

2. (C) Funes Economic Advisor Alex Segovia requested a
meeting with Pol and Econ Counselors August 27 to meet with
leadership of the Friends of Mauricio movement. Segovia was
accompanied by Gerardo Caceres, Director of Puntual, S.A., a
debt collection agency that is working with Ex-Im Bank;
Miguel Menendez, owner of a variety of businesses including
coffee farms, car parts importation, and a private security
firm; and, Col. (retired) David Munguia Payes, retired
Salvadoran Armed Forces (ESAF) Colonel believed to be in line
as Defense Minister in a Funes government.

3. (C) The group argued that they had expected elements of
ARENA to be concerned by Funes' strong support and for the
campaign to be dirty, but were concerned by the increasing
threats they suffered. They claimed their phones are tapped.
They also alleged they and their families are being followed
by groups of armed men they believe to be associated with
Salvadoran police forces. When they call 911 for assistance,
they say police officers answer the phone but take no action.
They report that several of their businesses have been
subjected to serial inspections by a number of GOES agencies,
including Social Security, the Health Ministry, Labor
Ministry, and tax authorities. They expressed fears that
these groups might step up their pressure and even make an
attempt on Funes' life. The group said they planned to make
these allegations public but wanted to alert us because of
the U.S. close ties with El Salvador and our interest in free
and fair elections. Segovia said the group was also
considering airing their concerns with the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights.

4. (C) The three added that they had received what they
believed to be credible information from a variety of sources
that groups inside ARENA ) they were careful not to accuse
the entire party ) were reactivating the death squads that
existed during the Salvadoran Civil War.

5. (C) All three men described their motivation for
supporting Funes. Munguia Payes said that in the ESAF he had
fought against the FMLN for twelve years. Payes said he
viewed a potential Funes government as a "democratic
transition," beginning the alternation of power that was
inevitable in a democracy. Menendez had suffered at the
hands of the FMLN during the war, including the destruction
of two entire coffee harvests. He said all Salvadorans had
paid the costs of the armed conflict, but the time had come
to look forward, not back. Caceres said a Funes win with
strong support from elements outside the FMLN would empower
Funes to govern without being beholden to hard-line forces in
the party. At the same time, if Funes loses with strong
support outside the party, he would become the de facto
leader of El Salvador's opposition. A Funes loss with only
the support of FMLN hard-liners, though, would perpetuate the
polarization that has characterized El Salvador since the
1992 peace accords. In that case, the next FMLN candidate
would be a hard-liner, representing a step backwards for the
party and democracy, according to Caceres.

6. (C) Munguia Payes gave us a copy of a letter apparently
signed by ARENA candidate Rodrigo Avila addressed to current
and retired members of the ESAF. He said the letter falsely
accuses the FMLN of hating the ESAF and planning to abolish
it, and of showing disrespect to the survivors of those ESAF
members killed during the Salvadoran Civil War. Munguia
Payes said these allegations are false and that ARENA and
Avila know they are false. He commented that they are an
attempt to undermine one of El Salvador's most respected
post-war democratic institutions with the ultimate aim of
having the ESAF prevent the FMLN from taking power if Funes
wins the election. He added that the ESAF is becoming
increasingly disenchanted with the ruling government because
of its failure to provide adequate uniforms, boots, gasoline
and other supplies.

7. (C) Despite these concerns, Munguia Payes expressed hope
that the current campaign would not be excessively polarized.
He noted that Funes was seeking votes from the political
center in the same way Avila was orienting ARENA more towards
the center. If these trends can survive the campaign, he
said, the real winner will be El Salvador.

8. (C) Election-related violence or harassment is a serious
allegation, and we would want to respond to it if and when we
are presented confirmed evidence that it is really taking
place. For now we are in listening mode, and recognize that
the very polarization described by this group of visitors
makes it hard to distill facts from charges and
counter-charges. Regardless of our views regarding Avila's
or Funes' proposals and their effects on U.S. interests, we
and other senior USG officials have expressed to all
Salvadoran audiences the high value that we place on free,
fair, and peaceful elections. We will continue to do that.
BLAU

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