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Cablegate: Nicaragua: Atlantic Coast Elections Outlook

VZCZCXRO6275
PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #1367/01 3122300
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 072300Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3358
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL//J2/J3/J5// PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAGUA 001367

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN KRAAIMOORE
DEPT FOR USOAS
DEPT FOR DRL AND INR/IAA
STATE PASS USAID
USAID FOR CARDENA, KITE, BATALLE
NSC FOR GARCIA
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/29/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA: ATLANTIC COAST ELECTIONS OUTLOOK

REF: A. MANAGUA 1329
B. MANAGUA 520
C. MANAGUA 419

Classified By: Amb. Robert J. Callahan for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

.1. (C) SUMMARY: On October 23, 24 and 25, EmbOff met with
candidates and political contacts from Nicaragua,s North
Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) and South Atlantic
Autonomous Region (RAAS) to assess the conditions for
municipal elections scheduled for November 9, 2008 and
January 18, 2009 (See REF B and C). The Sandinista (FSLN)
campaigns are generally well organized and financed, while
opposition political parties lack financial resources and
have fought with each other. However, as the Election Day
approaches, there is a growing movement to unite
pro-democracy forces around one candidate in order to defeat
FSLN candidates. END SUMMARY

Churches Try to Be Neutral in the RAAN
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (C) On October 23, EmbOff traveled to Puerto Cabezas and
met political, religious, NGO and community leaders to assess
the conditions for the January 18, 2009 municipal elections.
(The elections in the RAAN were postponed until January,
nominally because of reconstruction difficulties arising from
last September's hurricane damage, but actually because of
Sandinista political maneuvering.) Although the campaign had
not started officially, our contacts told us that the
candidates were already campaigning. In private meetings with
the influential Moravian and Catholic churches, leaders
expressed their neutrality in the elections, but also their
fears that the probability for fraud is high, especially in
the absence of outside election observation. They also
believe that unless there is an alliance between democratic
parties, the FSLN will win in Puerto Cabezas, Waspam and
Prinzapolka in spite of the corrupt practices and general
loss of confidence that have plagued current administrations
(see REF A).

RAAN Election Tricks by the FSLN
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

3. (C) A poll conducted on October 20 by the Central American
University (UCA) found that the Puerto Cabezas municipal
votes for mayor would be as follows: 40% to FSLN; 8% to
Yatama; 27% ALN; and 19% to PLC. The poll predicted that the
FSLN would win even though the people are upset with the
government and current FSLN mayor (see REF A). Candidates
explained that the FSLN was ahead in the polls because it was
buying votes and because the democratic candidates were
fighting among themselves. One candidate confirmed that he
witnessed Citizen Power Councils (CPC) members buying votes
for the FSLN, offering leading citizens amounts up to
C$10,000 ($500 USD) from purported Venezuelan sources.
Another election trick by the FSLN and Yatama was to invite
people to large dinners to buy their loyalty. Candidates
also revealed that Yatama-FSLN National Assembly Deputy
Brooklyn Rivera has tried to manipulate the Moravian church
vote by holding meetings with pastors and asking them to pray
for President Ortega to have "15 more years."

Potential Alliances in the RAAN
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

4. (C) The PLC candidate for mayor in Puerto Cabezas, Osornio
"Blas" Coleman, runs his own radio station and is respected
for his service as a Contra in the 1980s against the
Sandinistas. However, many of our contacts said that Blas is
"not a politician" and has had trouble gathering support for
his candidacy. Others explained that the ALN candidate for
mayor was ahead among democratic parties because the ALN was
still incorrectly associated with Eduardo Montealegre. (NOTE:
In the 2006 presidential race the ALN candidate Montealegre
routed all other candidates in Puerto Cabezas and is still a
popular figure in the region. END NOTE) The ALN candidate
also has more personal resources to run his campaign (he
owns a successful fishing business) and the ALN campaign

MANAGUA 00001367 002 OF 002


headquarters are centrally located in Bilwi. Dr. Kenneth
Serapia of indigenous party PAMUK said that the party lacks
resources to mount an effective campaign, but needed to
participate in this election to preserve the party. The PRN
candidate expressed his willingness to renounce to form a
unity ticket with the PLC, but the ALN and PLC candidates had
not agreed upon who would lead the alliance. In Waspam,
there was a unity alliance between the PAMUK, PLC and ALN
candidates and it was ahead in the polls over the FSLN
candidates. In Prinzapolka, there was no movement to form a
unity alliance and the FSLN was ahead of other parties.
Close Embassy contacts told us that after the November 9
municipal elections in the rest of the country, there would
be more pressure on the opposition to form a unity alliance
in Puerto Cabezas and Prinzapolka.

Moving to Unity in RAAS
- - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (C) On October 24, EmbOff traveled to Bluefields, the
regional government center of the RAAS (where elections will
be held on November 9, with the rest of Nicaragua minus the
RAAN) and a traditional stronghold for the PLC. EmbOff met
with Bluefields Mayor Luis Gutierrez, RAAS Governor Yadira
Flores, RAAS Regional President Lourdes Aguilar (all three
are members of the PLC), as well as Bluefields mayoral
candidates Dr. Howard Bacon from the PLC, and Dane Hodgson
from ALN. Polls claim that the vote was split evenly between
the FSLN candidate and the PLC and ALN candidates. Dr. Bacon
is a member of the Vamos con Eduardo movement (VCE) and
joined the PLC with Montealegre. Dr. Bacon explained that six
of the VCE candidates that were slated for strategic
positions in the city council had been replaced on the ballot
by PLC members loyal to ex-president Aleman, which means that
if he wins, he would not have the full support from council
members. The ALN candidate, who is from Corn Island, told us
that he had not received any financial support from the
central party and financed his campaign through a loan
against his home. He was willing to renounce his candidacy
and support the PLC candidate if they would retire the debt
against his home. On November 6, the Corn Island ALN mayoral
candidate announced that he would renounce and support the
PLC candidate in order to unify the democratic vote and
defeat the FSLN candidate.

COMMENT
- - - -

6. (C) The municipal elections are widely seen as a
referendum on President Ortega and the Sandinista party.
This is also true in Nicaragua,s Atlantic coast; however,
the democratic vote is fractured between PLC, ALN and
regional parties. Without unity in several key races, the
FSLN could capture the vote, perhaps even expand its control
in the RAAS, which has historically been under Liberal
governance.
CALLAHAN

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