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Cablegate: Nicaraguan Elections -- So Transparent You Can See

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PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #1220/01 2771516
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 031516Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3223
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 001220

SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/03/2018
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL KDEM NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUAN ELECTIONS -- SO TRANSPARENT YOU CAN SEE
RIGHT THROUGH THEM

REF: MANAGUA 1195

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

1. (C) Summary. On September 25, German Ambassador Betina
Kern convened a meeting of the Elections Group (an informal
group to monitor election-related issues chaired by the
German Ambassador and comprising EU member states plus Japan,
Canada and the U.S.) with Roberto Rivas, President of the
Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), to express joint concern on
a range of elections-related issues, including the
elimination of political parties, mounting violence, and a
lack of transparency. Ambassador Kern emphasized that the
international community expected Nicaragua to hold free, fair
and transparent elections observed by independent and
credible observers. Rivas responded that Nicaragua had the
"most transparent elections" in Latin America and therefore
there is no need for international observation of the
municipal elections. Further, he reported that domestic
observers would be accredited "if they complied with the
requirements" but refused to indicate when accreditation
would be given. Rivas also asserted that the few problems
with the electoral system were the result of the failure of
the international community to provide financial assistance.
Finally, Rivas asserted that the CSE needed to ensure that
the electoral law was fully implemented and was evasive when
questioned whether civil society and opposition parties would
have full freedom to hold rallies and demonstrations during
the electoral period. Participants in the event privately
expressed dismay at Rivas' attitude and expected the CSE's
behavior to worsen as the elections approach. End Summary.

ELECTIONS GROUP EXPRESSES CONCERN
---------------------------------

2. (C) In response to the GON's continued failure to restore
the legal status of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS)
and Conservative Party (PC), recent incidents of
elections-related violence, and mounting reports of
Nicaraguans being denied voter cards (cedulas) or being
stricken from voters lists in closely contested
municipalities, the Elections Group convened a meeting with
CSE President Roberto Rivas. Rivas was accompanied by CSE
Vice President and Ortega loyalist Emmet Lang and chief of
staff Roberto Barreto. In attendance from the Elections
Group were Ambassadors or representatives from Germany, the
European Commission, France, Norway, Switzerland, Canada,
Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Finland, and the U.S. (represented by
the Ambassador and polcouns).

3. (C) Ambassador Kern, speaking on behalf of all the members
of the Elections Group, expressed the international
community's continued concern regarding the elimination of
the MRS and PC and the negative impact it and other CSE
actions had on the ability of Nicaraguans to express
themselves through elections. Kern expressed the hope that
the CSE would hold free, fair and transparent elections
observed by independent and credible observers, placing
particular emphasis on the need to accredit the two main
independent domestic observers, IPADE and Etica y
Transparencia. Kern also questioned Rivas about impediments
to voter participation, including the persistent lack of
voter cards (cedulas) and the absence of a CSE campaign to
inform voters on where and how to vote. Kern and others also
pressed Rivas on his recent claims that, with the official
start of the election season on September 25, only the CSE
could authorize public marches and demonstrations and what
steps the CSE planned to take to avoid violent confrontations
such as those recently seen in Leon (reftel).

OBSERVATION NOT NEEDED
----------------------

4. (C) Rivas restated his standard talking points that
accrediting international observers depended upon receiving a
request from international groups, the issuance of an
official request from the CSE to the Executive branch, and
then the Executive branch issuing an official invitation.
Rivas recalled that Nicaragua has had international observers
for all the elections in the past 15 years and that in all
these instances, only a few minor cases of concern were
discovered. International observers would not improve the

MANAGUA 00001220 002 OF 003


electoral process and therefore there is no need to invite
them.

5. (C) The political parties, Rivas asserted, will be able to
fully monitor the electoral process and defend their votes.
Representatives of political parties make up the president,
and first and second members of the electoral commissions at
the local voting center (JRV), the municipal electoral
commissions (CEM and departmental electoral commissions
(CED). The president and first member seats go to the first
and second place parties from the 2006 national elections -
the FSLN and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN)
respectively. Rivas declared the ALN is comprised of members
of the Liberal party, despite whatever differences they had
with Eduardo Montealegre and his Liberal movement. (Note:
earlier this year, the CSE stripped the presidency of the ALN
from Eduardo Montealegre, forcing him to forge an alliance
with the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) and turning the
party over to Eliseo Nunez, who is widely reported to be
receiving political direction from President Daniel Ortega.
End Note)

6. (C) Contrary to his previous statements that international
observation was unnecessary, Rivas confirmed that the Latin
American Council of Election Experts (CEELA) had been
approved to observe the elections. Rivas dismissed
assertions that CEELA is a "Chavez-backed" organization or
"comprised only of the left." CEELA was a "professional" and
respected association of magistrates from across Latin
America and their observation of the municipal elections was
fully welcomed by the CSE. (Note: CEELA officials have been
making regular monthly visits to Nicaragua, have endorsed the
CSE decision to ban the MRS and PC, and are receiving a
stipend, administrative support, and offices from the CSE.
End Note.)

7. (C) On domestic observers, Rivas said that "observation
will not resolve anything." However, he confirmed that the
two credible domestic observer networks, Etica y
Transparencia (EyT) and Institute for the Development of
Democracy (IPADE), among others, had applied for
accreditation to observe the elections. Rivas said he could
not promise credentialling, as he "needed to count the votes
of all the members of the CSE" but promised that any
organization that had complied with the "requirements" would
be authorized to observe. He did not elaborate on what those
"requirements" are.

DEMONSTRATIONS AND CIVIC PARTICIPATION
--------------------------------------

8. (C) Regarding the removal of the PC and the MRS, Rivas
emphasized the party line that all Nicaraguans must comply
with the law, including the CSE and the political parties.
The PC fell 100 candidates short of the minimum number
required to compete in the elections and therefore failed to
comply with the law. The CSE had no choice but to remove
their legal status as required by law. Similarly, the MRS
did not properly present lists forming their party at the
national and municipal levels and therefore "auto-dissolved"
itself. Again, the CSE had no choice but to comply with the
law and ban the party. Both cases, he noted, are now with
the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) and he hoped that the
parties would receive a "favorable" decision after the
elections (hinting that their parties' legal status might
later be restored).

9. (C) Rivas complained that problems involving civic
participation, including public awareness, incorrect voter
lists, and access to cedulas, could have been resolved had
the international community provided more financing. He
claimed that he asked for funds from the donor community.
"But, the countries waste their money on organizations that
are trying to destroy the institutions of the state."
Because donor groups will not provide more funding or
training, the CSE has had to reduce its training and public
relations budgets. Despite their lack of funds, Rivas
lamented, Nicaragua has "the most transparent elections" but
continues to be criticized for supposed shortcomings. The
real problems, Rivas asserted, with the electoral process are
not issues of political interference but rather a poor civil
registry and voter list (padron). "We can only fix them with

MANAGUA 00001220 003 OF 003


your help."

10. (C) Rivas confirmed that the electoral law provides the
CSE with authority to approve all marches and public
demonstrations during the electoral period, which started
September 25. The CSE also has the authority to coordinate
with the police to ensure proper public order. Rivas
asserted that in this electoral period, political parties
have the clear priority over other civil society groups in
the right to hold public demonstrations. "We won't put up
obstacles," Rivas lamely claimed. "We will let the parties
do their marches and make sure there are no conflicts." The
parties will have to ask for permission, but the CSE will do
"everything it can" to issue that permission. "This is not a
mechanism for repression."

11. (C) When pressed about how the CSE would avoid conflicts
like those that occurred previously in Leon, Lang launched
into a partisan-laced diatribe against pro-democratic NGOs.
"They are the same groups -- those MRS -- that attacked my
house several months ago." No one complained when they
attacked him, Lang complained, but the international
community rushes to defend "bandits" when they march in Leon,
even though the FSLN was holding its own demonstrations in
the city. Lang said he "understood" why the police did not
get involved in Leon and that the actions of the civil
society demonstrators were "incorrect." The CSE, he
continued, would assert its jurisdiction now over marches and
ensure that the laws are complied with. When pressed by
Danish Ambassador Vohtz about the presence of Citizen Power
Council (CPC) members in all of Managua's rotundas on a
seemingly permanent basis and whether these constituted
approved marches, Rivas responded vaguely "we will have to
see." Rivas added the CSE needed to be cautions about
religious events. (Note: the CPC events in the rotundas have
billed themselves as semi-religious events under the slogan
of "praying against hate." End Note.)

ELECTORAL GROUP MISSIONS NOT CONVINCED
--------------------------------------

12. (C) Following the meeting, Electoral Group
representatives expressed dismay at Rivas' disingenuousness,
artificial reliance on "the law," and continued intransigence
on the status of the political parties. All expressed
serious doubts about the fairness and transparency of the
upcoming elections. German Ambassador Kern commented that
Rivas was not truthful and appeared to be orchestrating the
elections to guarantee and FSLN victory. "The votes are
already counted." Danish Ambassador Vohtz expressed
continued concern about the ability of democratic political
parties and civil society groups to be able to exercise their
rights to assemble and march and believed that Rivas'
comments indicated the CSE would be an even greater obstacle
to peaceful demonstrations. Nearly all missions remained
concerned that the CSE would not accredit domestic observers,
or would delay accreditation to make it irrelevant, and
suggested that such a move would have serious negative
repercussions for their assistance.

13. (C) COMMENT. Rivas' public and private comments reaffirm
our view that the CSE is anything but an impartial
administrator of the elections. Rivas is correct in claiming
that Nicaragua's elections are transparent -- their political
goal is obvious. While hiding behind "the law," the CSE is
working at every level to engineer a resounding FSLN victory
and ensure that neither opposition parties nor civil society
are in a position to challenge the results. We remain
particularly concerned by the CSE's attitude towards
demonstrations and that any effort of theirs to stifle
opposition rallies may lead to even more political violence
and more excuses by the GON to reign in civil society.

CALLAHAN

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