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Cablegate: Nicaraguan Elections Regional Reporting: Rio San

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #1400/01 1781635
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 271635Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6773
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 0718
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 001400

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/24/2016
TAGS: PGOV KDEM SOCI NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUAN ELECTIONS REGIONAL REPORTING: RIO SAN
JUAN

REF: MANAGUA 1359

Classified By: Ambassador Paul Trivelli for reasons 1.4 (b and d)

1. (SBU) Summary: The Nicaraguan department of Rio San Juan
is largely rural and a majority of the population has voted
Liberal in every election since 1990. The FSLN has, however,
captured a consistently large minority of the vote. Local
political, religious, and community leaders disagree on
whether or not citizens will vote in large numbers for the
new parties that have appeared in opposition to the PLC-FSLN
political pact and the corruption and anti-democratic
practices that the pact has perpetuated. There is a
widespread consensus, however, that the national and local
electoral authorities are working to support the FSLN.
Contacts reported numerous irregularities during the recent
electoral verification campaign. End Summary.

2. (U) The remote southern department of Rio San Juan (est.
pop. 96,000) is divided into six municipalities: San Carlos
(FSLN); Morrito (PLC); San Miguelito (PLC); El Almendro
(APRE); El Castillo (PLC); and San Juan del Norte (FSLN).
Farming, ranching, fishing, and limited tourism provide
income to its mostly rural and impoverished residents.
Economic development is limited by poor transportation links
and infrastructure. Poloff and Political Specialist met with
political party, NGO, and labor representatives, Catholic
Church leaders, and local community activists to discuss the
upcoming national elections, economic and social conditions
(septel). We spent a total of two days in the departmental
capital San Carlos and the Solentiname archipelago in Lake
Nicaragua.

IS THE ALN THE NEW LIBERAL FORCE IN RIO SAN JUAN?
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3. (C) We first met with the departmental chief for the
Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and ALN departmental deputy
candidate Sergio Romero. Romero joined the PLC in 1995 but
defected to the ALN out of disgust with the PLC-FSLN pact and
the fact that the local PLC structure would not permit any
"new faces" to rise to leadership positions. He claimed that
the ALN maintains a strong party structure in Rio San Juan,
with directorships in each municipality and developing
organizations in smaller towns and rural areas. When asked
about coordination with ALN alliance members, Romero stated
that he had formed a departmental committee last week to
direct ALN activities, which includes representatives from
the Conservative Party (PC), the Resistance (PRN), the
Alliance for the Republic (APRE) and the Christian Social
Party (PSC). The PRN in particular is strong in the
department, as many ex-contras were resettled there after the
1980s civil war, he noted. When queried about the allegiance
of the Conservative mayor of El Almendro, Ulfredo Arguello,
Romero commented that Arguello is a close personal friend of
PLC vice presidential candidate Jose Antonio Alvarado, but
has nevertheless indicated his support for the ALN to Romero.


4. (C) Aldrisk Bedford, the head of APRE in Rio San Juan,
reported that APRE members in the department support the ALN
and Eduardo Montealegre, despite the former popularity of
ex-APRE presidential candidate Jose Antonio Alvarado, who
defected to the PLC. Bedford commented that the PLC and FSLN
are currently the strongest parties in the region, but was
positive about the ALN's potential in the department, noting
the presence of young and energetic leaders such as Sergio
Romero, ALN National Assembly deputy Bladimir Pineda, and
party activist Luis Downs. He admitted, however, that Romero
"lacks political experience." When asked if the deputy
candidate nominations had caused defections within the
Liberal ranks, Bedford replied affirmatively, but said the
flow of membership was largely from the PLC to the ALN. He
thought that Ulfredo Arguello would support the ALN because
he would disapprove of Alvarado's alliance with the PLC.

5. (C) Arguello later told us that he does not think
Montealegre has any support in Rio San Juan and that many
Liberal dissidents in the department had followed Alvarado
back to the PLC. He personally does not like Montealegre,
although out of some residual sense of loyalty to APRE, he
invited ALN vice presidential candidate Fabricio Cajina to
meet with ranchers in the department. According to Arguello,
Cajina was unable to convince the ranchers that the ALN
represents a viable alternative to the PLC. Arguello
mentioned the ALN's recent press release reminding the public

that "PC" was officially dropped from the Alliance's name.
He claimed that this was the work of Liberal ALN deputy
Jamileth Bonilla, who is "driving the Conservative Party away
from the ALN" and destroying the Alliance.

6. (C) In a later meeting, PLC departmental director Benjamin
Gross mentioned that the ALN changed its departmental deputy
alternate candidate from Liberal Rafael Martinez (who won
second place in the ALN primaries) to Conservative Aldo
Padilla without informing Martinez or anyone else in the
local ALN leadership. Gross claimed that Martinez, a
personal friend of his, was upset about the "betrayal" of his
party and was considering returning to the PLC with his
followers. (Note: Neither Romero nor Bedford were
immediately aware of the change. End Note.)

7. (C) Most of the labor and community activists we met with
were reserved regarding their political preferences, but not
all. Martin Aguilar Bendana, the president of the Rio San
Juan Fisherman's Union, arrived at our meeting sporting a
"Eduardo Presidente 2006" shirt. He claimed that Montealegre
is a "good candidate" and that the ALN has "surpassed the
PLC" in the department. Aguilar believes that the FSLN also
has "solid support" within the department, but the MRS
leaders are "working hard" to attract Sandinista votes for
Herty Lewites.

ALVARADO CANDIDACY A BENEFIT, BUT ALEMAN WILL COST PLC VOTES
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8. (C) Benjamin Gustavo Gross, the PLC director for Rio San
Juan for over two years, joined the PLC at its inception.
During his meeting with us, Gross insisted that only the PLC
and FSLN have any real support in the department. He
commented that the Camino Cristiano (CCN) party had shown
some strength in the 2004 municipal elections, but claimed
that the CCN's followers now largely support the PLC. Gross
is very enthusiastic about the PLC presidential/vice
presidential formula, noting that Alvarado "did a lot for Rio
San Juan" while he was director of the GON's social
investment fund (FISE). Gross did admit, however, that he is
"disappointed" with the selection of Carlos Oliva as the
PLC's departmental deputy candidate since he had hoped to win
the position for himself, and concurred that the PLC's opaque
methods of naming the deputy candidates would cost the party
support, both in Rio San Juan and nationally. Furthermore,
Liberals in Rio San Juan are unhappy with the PLC national
leadership because the department was promised a national
deputy nomination, but the party did not deliver.

9. (C) In a separate meeting, PLC mayor of San Miguelito
Carlos Domingo Fletes asserted that Rio San Juan is a Liberal
department and will support the PLC. He claimed that the
FSLN is the dominant force in the larger towns, but the PLC
dominates in the countryside. When asked about the effect of
Arnoldo Aleman's leadership of the party and pact with the
FSLN, Fletes responded that PLC supporters are backing the
Rizo/Alvarado ticket, not Aleman, and Jose Rizo will take
control of party once he wins the presidency. (Note: Most
non-PLC contacts commented that the PLC has lost considerable
support in Rio San Juan because of Aleman's pact and the
party's general lack of effective leadership. One insisted
that "Liberals know that Rizo is a tool of Aleman -- they
will not be fooled." End Note.)

FSLN IS SECOND FORCE IN RIO SAN JUAN, DOMINATES SOLENTINAME
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10. (SBU) Virtually all contacts agreed that the FSLN is the
second strongest force in Rio San Juan after the Liberals,
especially in the larger towns. Sergio Romero noted the
FSLN's considerable support in the municipalities of San
Miguelito, San Carlos and Morrito. One contact confidently
stated that "Daniel will get 30 percent" of the vote in Rio
San Juan.

11. (SBU) Although not a major electoral force, the 1,000 or
so residents of the Solentiname archipelago are solidly
Sandinista. Community leaders speak reverently of priest,
poet and FSLN activist Ernesto Cardenal, who came to the
islands in 1975 and encouraged the inhabitants to create art
inspired by their pristine tropical surroundings. The
"primitivist" painting style created by the islanders has
become famous and generates considerable income for the most
talented artists. Cardenal also initiated a literacy
campaign and brought formal education, transportation links,

and environmental consciousness to the islands. While still
poor and remote, the poverty of Solentiname is now more
gentile than grinding, and the natives credit Cardenal and
the Sandinistas with this transformation.

IS MRS "READY FOR THE CAMPAIGN"?
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12. (C) Domingo Mercado, departmental deputy candidate for
the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) in Rio San Juan
informed us that the MRS is "ready for the campaign" with a
structure and trained party poll watchers (fiscales) in every
municipality. Mercado claimed that he had never been active
in politics before and commented that MRS supporters include
many Liberals, Conservatives and independents, though most
are Sandinistas unhappy with Daniel Ortega's leadership of
the FSLN. Ex-FSLN activist Freddy Vasquez noted that many
Sandinistas may "cross vote" in November as Mercado is a
popular candidate locally, but many voters do not recognize
MRS presidential candidate Herty Lewites. To correct this
lack of recognition, Lewites may open his official campaign
in Rio San Juan, Mercado reported. Regarding the other
parties, Mercado and Vasquez admitted that the PLC and FSLN
have considerable strength. The ALN has "considerable
sympathy," they said, but lacks experienced activists who can
turn this sentiment into votes.

LOCAL CLERGY: CARDINAL OBANDO IS NOT THE OFFICIAL VOICE OF
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
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- - - - - - - - -

13. (C) During a meeting with local Catholic Church
officials, parochial coordinator Frank Teran commented that
there is not yet a lot of enthusiasm for the campaign,
although most residents will ultimately vote for the party
that they have associated with historically, which will hurt
the ALN and MRS. Father Pablo Alexis disagreed, noting that
many young people will vote for the "candidates of change,"
although ALN and MRS leaders need to work harder to inform
the population about their plans for government. Father Luis
Zavala predicted a number of "crossed votes" as citizens
would support popular local candidates, but back traditional
parties nationally.

14. (C) Poloff inquired about the seemingly discordant
messages from Catholic Church leaders in Nicaragua regarding
the elections -- formal head, Archbishop of Managua Leopoldo
Brenes states that the Church should be apolitical, but
retired Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo claims that priests
and bishops should opine on the campaign. Zavala replied
that the Church should promote voting and provide general
information about the elections, although Church leaders can
also express their personal opinions. Zavala commented that
they were awaiting official instructions from the Episcopal
Conference related to the electoral campaign. The
Conference, not Cardinal Obando, is the official voice of the
Church, he stated.

NO CONFIDENCE IN ELECTORAL AUTHORITIES
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15. (C) All contacts expressed a considerable lack of
confidence in the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) and its
local branch, the Departmental Electoral Council (CED), which
is led by an FSLN activist. Aldrisk Bedford labeled the CED
a "mafia" in the hands of the FSLN, and Sergio Romero claimed
that CED members were telling Liberals that "they would have
to pay" to participate in the recent verification process
(reftel). Romero also accused the CED of providing
registration forms to FSLN party members so they could allow
their supporters to "verify" without having to travel to the
voting centers. Carlos Fletes commented that the CED did not
provide enough change of address forms in the voting centers
(only 40 per table) and said that the PLC will organize trips
to the CED in San Carlos for those who were unable to
complete the verification process.

16. (C) Domingo Mercado reported that MRS fiscales detected
numerous irregularities during the verification process. MRS
will file a report to the CSE and NGOs involved in
observation claiming that 1,133 people were allowed to
register in two different voter registries (padrones). The
report will also note that the CSE provided insufficient
change of address forms, and no forms at all for the fiscales
to register complaints. MRS fielded fiscales at 95 percent

of the voting centers in Rio San Juan -- the party did not
have sufficient funds to send fiscales to Solentiname or the
remote border areas. When poloff asked Mercado about the
CSE's claims that many voters were returning from a temporary
move to the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN
and RAAS) where they registered to influence the March
regional elections, he responded that those voters
registering a change of address had come from different
departments and Costa Rica, not the RAAN and RAAS.

17. (C) At the CED, we were originally scheduled to meet with
FSLN-affiliated CED president Nidia Vallecillo Sevilla, but
she was absent at the time of the appointment. Instead, we
saw PLC-affiliated First Member Sandra Parrales. Parrales
claimed that the CSE opened 79 voting centers in Rio San Juan
for the verification, 65 rural and 14 urban. The final
results demonstrated that 43.13 percent of eligible voters
participated in the verification. Parrales commented that
the CSE provided "excellent" training for the verification
officials, although some abandoned their posts complaining
that the per diem was too low. She explained that the CED
has 4,000 undistributed cedulas, but will be sending them out
to the municipal electoral offices (CEMs) and IFES-sponsored
kiosks for easier access. Several people who solicited a
cedula have since passed away or used their proof of
solicitation to obtain a passport and then emigrated to Costa
Rica, she observed.

18. (C) Parrales was initially reluctant to criticize the CSE
to us, but ultimately admitted that the organization "isn't
perfect." She agreed that the CSE failed to provide
sufficient change of address forms and does not believe that
the migration is fraud-related. Parrales noted that the
CED's Second Member position was allocated to the CCN after
the 2004 elections, but through some "strange circumstances"
was passed to the Alternativa por el Cambio (AC) party, whose
representative often votes with the FSLN president and
against her. (Note: Benjamin Gross was more explicit in his
accusations against the CSE, claiming that FSLN magistrate
Emmet Lang personally selected the AC representative to sit
on the CED, who is really a loyal agent of the FSLN. End
Note.)

RIO SAN JUAN: DEMOGRAPHICS AND VOTING PROFILE
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19. (U) Total Population (2005 est.): 95,546
Total Urban Population: 23,050
Total Rural Population: 72,496

Votes Received by Party, 2004 Municipal Elections
PLC: 11,571
FSLN: 10,073
APRE: 2,546
CCN: 209
PRN: 1,322
PLI: 656
Others: 310

COMMENT: OPPORTUNITY FOR ALN
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20. (C) As we noticed in other departments, the ALN leaders
in Rio San Juan seem to have more energy and conviction than
the PLC representatives, who are clearly unhappy with Aleman
using the "dedazo" (finger) to select many deputy candidates.
Many independents, especially young people, also appear
ready to vote for change. The ALN, however, seems to be slow
to take advantage of this discontentment. The local
structures of the Alliance members have only recently begun
to cooperate, and the mysterious swapping of candidates makes
the party seem more like the PLC than an open, democratic
organization. The ALN will have to be more consistent in its
leadership style to prove to the public that it is different
from the PLC and worthy of support.
TRIVELLI

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