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Cablegate: Nicaragua: Opposition Leader Montealegre

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PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #1178/01 2622327
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 182327Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3168
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 001178

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CEN AND DRL
STATE PASS USAID FOR LAC - CARDENAS
NSC FOR FISK/GARCIA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/17/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA: OPPOSITION LEADER MONTEALEGRE
MODERATELY OPTIMISTIC

Classified By: Ambassador Robert J. Callahan for reasons 1.4 (b,d)

1. (C) Summary. In his first meeting with Ambassador
Callahan, Eduardo Montealegre, nominal leader of the Liberal
opposition and candidate for Mayor of Managua under the
Constitutional Liberal Party-Vamos con Eduardo (PLC-VCE)
ticket, expressed optimism for his chances of election.
Montealegre is framing the election as a referendum on Ortega
and believes voters are unhappy with the Government's poor
performance to date. Montealegre cited poll figure showing
high level of intent to vote among residents and showing him
with a lead of between 9 and 15 percent. Montealegre
lamented continued reluctance by the private sector to
support his campaign and the broader election effort. After
the elections, Montealegre believes that Ortega will seek
constitutional changes to perpetuate his hold on office and
suggested that a long-term alliance with the PLC to unite all
Liberals will be necessary to survive. END SUMMARY.

CAMPAIGN FOR MAYOR GAINING MOMENTUM
-----------------------------------

2. (C) Montealegre reported that the campaign for Managua was
going well and that the reaction by average city residents
has been surprisingly positive. Montealegre continues to go
door-to-door in different neighborhoods five days a week.
Usually, most mornings are devoted to meeting with
associations, community groups, or coordination with other
political groups. Based on his visits, Montealegre believes
people are not happy with the Ortega government, high prices
for gasoline and basic foodstuffs, and want better jobs,
health care and schools. The prominent role of the Citizen
Power Councils (CPCs) - First Lady Rosario Murillo's personal
project - have had an overall negative effect in voters,
serving to remind them of what the FSLN did to the country in
the 1980s and the failings in their current efforts to
provide better and cheaper social services. The CPCs "are
not helping to make people happy."

3. (C) According to Montealegre, internal polling conducted
by a Costa Rican-based firm and other polling by the
International Republican Institute point to a growing lead
over FSLN candidate and former boxing champion Alexis
Arguello. Current polls show between a 9 and 15 percent lead
for Montealegre, with more and more independent voters
breaking his way. Montealegre has yet to publicly release
any of the polling, for fear of dampening the sense of
urgency among pro-democratic voters to get out the vote.
Montealegre noted that he is keeping the election focused on
Ortega and Murillo, rather than candidate Arguello. "I don't
even mention his name." He believes this has helped produce
the positive movement in the polls by keeping people focused
on the election as a referendum on Ortega, painting the
mayoral candidate as a pawn of Ortega and Murillo, and
steering clear of Arguello's genuine personal name
recognition and popularity.

4. (C) Montealegre does not believe that the FSLN in the
National Assembly would pursue further the effort to strip
him of his immunity as a National Assembly Deputy over
investigations of his role as Finance Minister in the
issuance of bonds to refloat Nicaragua's troubled banking
sector, the so-called "CENIS cases." He considered the whole
CENIS issue an effort simply to intimidate him into quitting
the mayoral race or into cutting a power-sharing deal
directly with the FSLN, in place of the PLC. He suggested it
would take more than three months to strip him of immunity,
making it a useless tool to prevent his election.
Furthermore, several prominent FSLN members are among the
more than 30 people charged in the CENIS cases, opening up
potential internal political problems for the FSLN should
they pursue the cases ahead of the elections. Montealegre
was less certain about what the FSLN would do should he win
the election. He admitted that they could take many steps to
make governing the city difficult, such as delaying transfers
of funds or disrupting intra-city transportation, among many
other actions.

PRIVATE SECTOR STAYING OUT OF THE GAME
--------------------------------------

5. (C) Montealegre lamented that the private sector has not

MANAGUA 00001178 002 OF 003


been forthcoming with needed financial help for the campaign.
"The private sector is intimidated by Ortega," who is using
all means at his disposal, such as customs and tax
inspections, to maintain the pressure. "They are hoping to
stay out of the fight to protect themselves" but don't
recognize that it will only be worse for the private sector
should the democratic forces lose. Montealegre expressed
dismay that younger professionals are already starting to
leave Nicaragua for opportunities elsewhere. While the
numbers were small now, Montealegre noted it was a bad signal
for Nicaragua's future.

CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE AND POSITIONING FOR 2011
--------------------------------------------- -

6. (C) Motealegre commented that "the election is a mandate
-- dictatorship versus democracy." If the opposition can't
win, especially in Managua, Montealegre doubts there will
even be presidential elections in 2011. A strong win by the
FSLN will empower Ortega to press ahead with plans for
constitutional change and secure an "accommodation" with
ex-President and convicted felon Arnoldo Aleman. Ortega and
Aleman "know they can't be re-elected" legitimately by the
Nicaraguan public. The only way they can stay in power is by
giving that power to select a national executive to a small
group -- the National Assembly. Within this group, Ortega
and Aleman wield enormous power and could engineer their
continued hold on office. Aleman and Ortega maintain the
closest of relationships, sharing businesses, property,
investments and a tradition of having only two political
forces in Nicaragua, thus ensuring they will have a common
interest in pursuing constitutional changes.

7. (C) Ortega, in particular, is eager to secure an agreement
that permits re-election of the president or that would
secure his position as prime minister under a
quasi-parliamentary system. Above all, Ortega needs
re-election in order to retain control over the FSLN. He has
no heir apparent, other than Rosario Murillo, who is hated by
both the base of the party and many others in the party
hierarchy. For that same reason (i.e., to eliminate
potential rivals), Murillo has orchestrated the public
attacks of the last several months on potential internal
rivals, such as current Managua Mayor Dionisio "Nicho"
Marenco, as well as on ex-heroes of the revolution, such as
Ernesto Cardenal, Doria Maria Tellez, and Carlos Mejia Godoy.


8. (C) Turning to the "opposition," Montealegre said that
despite strong support from the base and the intermediate
levels of the PLC for Liberal unity, many in the PLC
leadership are not sincere. The majority of the National
Assembly Deputies are not independent and are beholden to
Aleman for personal, financial, or even criminal reasons.
However, Montealegre reported that the Liberal base (and even
independents) care much less about the risks of aligning with
Aleman and are urging a stronger Liberal unity movement to
confront Ortega. Montealegre believes that after the
elections it will be time to finalize a deal with the PLC to
form a new Liberal Party. He would even be willing to
concede leadership of the party to PLC President and National
Assembly Deputy Francisco Aguirre Sacassa in order to secure
an agreement. The growing authoritarian tendencies of
Ortega, he said, and the removal of smaller parties, such as
the Conservative Party (PC) and the Sandinista Renovation
Movement (MRS), leaves his movement with no other option but
to form a longer-term alliance with the PLC.

COMMENT
-------

9. (C) Montealegre expressed more confidence in his chances
of election than he has in previous meetings, probably buoyed
by the improving poll numbers and a growing level of
enthusiasm from the door-to-door campaign. However, the
start of the ovq{QJJ broader effort to shape the elections into a national
referendum on Ortega. The lack of funding for the campaign
continues to hamper Montealegre's efforts as well, driven by

MANAGUA 00001178 003 OF 003


the increasingly skittish private sector's desire to avoid
any appearance of conflict with Ortega. Finally, given the
ongoing manipulation of the mechanics of the electoral
process by the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) and the FSLN's
increasingly prominent public relations campaign across the
city, Montealegre will have to continue to generate
enthusiasm and turn out the votes if he hopes to win in
Managua.
CALLAHAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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