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Cablegate: Election No Threat to Fol in Manta

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 QUITO 002612

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL EC
SUBJECT: ELECTION NO THREAT TO FOL IN MANTA


This message has been cleared by AmConsul Guayaquil.

1. (SBU) Summary: A pre-electoral visit to the city of
Manta and Manabi provincial capital Portoviejo confirmed that
the incumbent mayor of Manta, who has been largely supportive
of the USG presence at the Forward Operating Location (FOL),
is likely to be re-elected in local elections on October 17.
Regardless, a variety of local and provincial officials, and
other electoral observers confirmed that the USG-maintained
FOL for counter-narcotics operations located on the
Ecuadorian Air Force Base in Manta is not a campaign issue;
the base enjoys broad support at the local level for its
positive economic effects on the region. End Summary.

Background Information
----------------------

2. (U) PolCouns visited Manta and Portoviejo, in Manabi
province, for meetings with local election officials, party
officials, FOL commander, and independent electoral observer
on September 23-24. Manta is the second-largest city and
recently-booming commercial hub of largely rural,
agricultural Manabi province. Manabi has a total of 914,841
eligible voters (11% of the national total) who will visit
3,112 voting stations on October 17 to select a provincial
prefect (U.S. governor-equivalent), and from among 22 mayors
(19 of whom are seeking re-election), six provincial
councilors, 95 municipal councilors and 53 rural councils
representing 185,175 rural voters. Manta is Ecuador's
second-largest Pacific port, after Guayaquil. Manta's
seaside location makes its port operations substantially
cheaper than Guayaquil, causing economic competition and some
recent political strains.

3. (SBU) Manta has experienced an economic boom since the
GoE agreed in 1999 to host the USG-maintained FOL at Manta
airport. The city boasts has 131,166 eligible voters (second
only to provincial capital Portoviejo, located 30 km. inland)
which will be distributed among 465 voting stations.
Political power in Manabi is divided between the Social
Christian Party (PSC), which currently controls three of
seven Congressional seats and 11 of 22 municipal mayors,
including Manta's; the National Action Institutional Renewal
Party (PRIAN), with two Congressional seats; and the
Ecuadorian Roldosista Party (PRE), which currently controls
the provincial prefect and 5 mayors. The Popular Democracy
Party (DP) has 3 mayors and the last of Manabi's seven seats
in the national Congress. PRIAN presidential candidate
Alvaro Noboa swept Manabi (with 375,052 votes to Gutierrez'
180,895) in the second round of the 2002 presidential
election. Gutierrez' ruling Patriotic Society Party (PSP) is
represented in Manabi by Governor Virginia Garcia. Garcia,
who took office in June, is Gutierrez' fourth appointee to
the post; a previous appointee, Cesar Fernandez, is currently
on trial for his alleged involvement in narco-trafficking.
Garcia told PolCouns the PSP has hopes to win the prefect
race and the Portoviejo mayorship.

Electoral Preparation and Other Concerns
----------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Kausman Quinonez, President of the Manabi Provincial
Electoral Tribunal (representing the PSC), told PolCouns on
September 24 that arrangements for the elections were
proceeding smoothly after initial glitches due to low
participation rates by younger prospective poll workers. New
lists of poll workers targeting more stable professionals had
recently been received from the national Supreme Electoral
Tribunal. Most of the newly-named poll workers will receive
training by October 2, he said. (SepTel reports on
nationwide training of poll workers.)

5. (SBU) Jacqueline Terranova de Batallas, provincial
coordinator for electoral watchdog NGO Citizen Participation,
said local elections are traditionally not violent and she
does not expect violence on election day. Voters remain
largely apathetic about the elections. However, she reported
one violent incident which took place in the pre-campaign
period in Portoviejo in August, when a political party worker
was injured in a fight with rivals.

6. (SBU) Terranova was more concerned about misuse of public
funds for campaign purposes. She provided photographic
evidence (Manta municipal vehicles and earth-moving machines
sporting campaign material and bumper-stickers in favor of
the mayor's candidacy) and her public declarations and formal
complaints against it. She dismissed as unfounded
accusations from a rival politician against Zambrano for
using municipal resources to work on his personal property.
She put a recent challenge from a rival candidate about
Zambrano's Mexican university credential in the same
category. Press reported on September 24 that PRE
Congressional deputy Mario Coello, alleged (without
presenting proof) that several municipal councilors in Manta
are implicated in drug trafficking. According to Terranova,
most candidates have been reluctant to reveal their sources
and amounts of financing. Citizens Participation will field
90 observers throughout the province on election day.

Incumbents Hopeful, but not Secure
----------------------------------

7. (SBU) Congressional deputy Simon Bustamante (PSC) said he
was perplexed why the PRIAN was so weak in Manabi after
Alvaro Noboa's strong local showing in the second round of
the presidential race in 2002. The reason, he believed, was
a combination of neglect and tactical errors by the PRIAN
since then. Noboa was expected to campaign in Portoviejo on
September 26, but, according to Bustamante, had largely
abandoned the province to the PSC and PRE. Meanwhile, the
PSC is confident it may pick up two more mayorships in
upcoming elections, bringing its total to 13 of 22. Manta
mayor Jorge Zambrano is certain to be re-elected, he said.
(Most people PolCouns consulted, including in informal street
polling, said the same.) Zambrano, seeking a third term, is
credited with initiating (but not completing) major public
works projects, including a new highway from the airport to
the port and a major waterfront facelift.

8. (SBU) Terranova, however, cited a recent media poll
showing Jose (Tucho) Velasquez of the Popular Democracy Party
(DP), leading the race, followed by PRE candidate Ricardo
Bowin, with Zambrano trailing in third. She claimed that
criticism of Zambrano for misuse of public funds was having
an effect.

9. (SBU) Provincial prefect Humberto Guillen (PRE) is also
expected by many to gain re-election. Bustamante and
Quinonez, however, boosted the chances of PSC challenger
Mariano Zambrano (no relation to the Manta mayor), claiming
recent private polls revealed Zambrano taking a lead of two
points and Guillen falling dramatically. Governor Garcia
claimed the PSP candidate, Patricia Briones de Poggi, has a
real chance of winning the prefecture. Others predicted that
the PSP would not win one elected position in the province.

FOL Not An Issue
----------------

10. (SBU) All individuals consulted by PolCouns concurred
that, to their knowledge, the issue of a U.S. presence at the
FOL is neither unpopular nor a live political issue locally.
Critics of the FOL at the national level are motivated by
ideological concerns, they said; those critics are largely
absent at the local level.

11. (SBU) Bustamante credited the USG presence with Manta's
recent commercial development. The new highway linking the
airport with the maritime port will further strengthen Manta
as a regional rival to Guayaquil. The expanded runway and
facilities at the airport have also raised hopes for
international designation. The FOL Commander confirmed that
FOL fire-fighting capability will soon allow the airport to
meet ICAO standards for an international airport.

12. (SBU) Quinonez said the FOL was not an electoral issue
in Manabi and suggested that the current air of mystery
surrounding the FOL works in USG interests. Local people do
not have direct access to the FOL, and assume that FOL
personnel and vehicles may be monitoring local
narco-activity. This uncertainty acts as a brake on criminal
activity in the area, he suggested. For that reason,
Quinonez recommended that the FOL not take actions to
demystify its presence by opening the FOL to public events.

Comment
-------

13. (SBU) It was encouraging to hear the strong level of
support among local officials and others for the FOL presence
and its positive spin-off effects on the region, although the
FOL remains a live national political issue which we will
review SepTel. Given this situation, prospects are good for
continued cooperation and local support for the FOL. More
generally, the situation in Manabi will test PSC strength in
its coastal heartland.
KENNEY

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