Cablegate: Boaquenos Talk Elections with Ambassador, Fear


DE RUEHMU #1571/01 1992206
P 182206Z JUL 06

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 001571




E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/18/2016


Classified By: Charge d'Affaires a.i. Peter Brennan. Reasons 1.4 (B,D).

1. (C) SUMMARY: During Ambassador's recent trip to Boaco,
interlocutors fretted that Sandinista (FSLN) leader Daniel
Ortega may win the November election by excluding large
numbers of potential voters and committing fraud on Election
Day. While Boaco is a predominately Liberal department, the
FSLN made inroads here when "Boaquenos" elected an apolitical
mayor running on the FSLN ticket. After visiting a USAID
model school, Ambassador met with local leaders of Eduardo
Montealegre's Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN); Edmundo
Jarquin's Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS); Movimiento por
Nicaragua (MpN) and Etica y Transparencia (ET); the six
mayors of Boaco department; the PLC-dominated Ranchers'
Association; and, Vicar Juan Moreira. The Ambassador was
also interviewed by center-right Radio Oxigeno and met with
local Peace Corps volunteers. Ambassador reiterated our
commitment to helping Nicaraguans hold clean, fair,
inclusive, and credible elections and our view that
Nicaraguans stand at a crossroads where they can choose the
path of progress, including the benefits of CAFTA and the
Millennium Challenge Compact (MCC). END SUMMARY.

2. (C) During Ambassador's July 13 trip to Boaco department
(population 150,500), most interlocutors fretted that FSLN
leader Daniel Ortega may win the November election by
excluding large numbers of potential voters and through
electoral fraud the day of the polls. While Boaco is a
predominately Liberal department, the FSLN made inroads when
in 2004 "Boaquenos" elected an apolitical mayor running on
the FSLN ticket. After visiting and delivering curricular
materials to USAID's model "Excellence" Juanita Sovalbarro
Suarez Elementary School, Ambassador met with local leaders
of Eduardo Montealegre's ALN; Edmundo Jarquin's MRS; NGOs MpN
and ET; Boaco department mayors; the PLC-dominated Ranchers'
Association; and, father Juan Moreira, Vicar of Boaco's
Diocese. The Ambassador was also interviewed by center-right
Radio Oxigeno and met with local Peace Corps volunteers.

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3. (C) Leaders of Eduardo Montealegre's diverse alliance in
Boaco -- including members of "Vamos con Eduardo" and the
ALN, as well as representatives from the Conservative (PC),
Resistance (PRN), Alliance for the Republic (APRE), and
Independent Liberal (PLI) parties, presented a united front.
Group leader Hugo Barquero (ALN) underscored the importance
of uniting under a common cause: winning the November
elections and ending the corruption of FSLN-PLC pact.
According to Barquero, about 70% of Boaco voters are
Liberals, and while ALN support is strong in the city of
Boaco, the PLC continues to dominate in most of the
department's rural areas. The fact that Montealegre's
running mate is from San Jose de los Remates is an advantage
the ALN must exploit, he said. He noted that ALN party poll
monitors (fiscales) were present in all voting centers during
the recent voter registry verification process. IRI training
in late July-early August will further prepare the fiscales,
said Barquero.

4. (C) Despite these advantages, the ALN campaign is off to
"a soft start" because the lack of logistical support -
including vehicles, fuel, party banners, and funds for radio
spots -- is hampering efforts to woo voters, warned Barquero.
For example, the ALN needs banners and other campaign
materials to use during the Boaco festivities starting July
21. While acknowledging that the PLC presents formidable
competition in Boaco's rural areas, Emigdio Alvarado (PLI)
explained that the FSLN is the real enemy to beat. However,
as an adversary, the PLC is also a challenge. U.S. pressure
on Aleman and his inner circle could help loosen the PLC's
popularity, suggested Barquero. The Ambassador clarified
that our problem with the PLC is Aleman and his cohorts, not
Rizo and that our efforts in isolating Aleman have been
robust -- including visa revocations.

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5. (C) The Ambassador met privately with Boaco Mayor Vivian
Orozco, an apolitical, wealthy rancher who won on the
Sandinista ticket. Orozco was receptive to the Ambassador's
concerns that non-FSLN supporters have difficulty obtaining
national/voter IDs (cedulas). However, he justified his

non-involvement in the issue because the Supreme Electoral
Council's (CSE) independence must be respected. Ambassador
urged him to reconsider -- noting that it is incumbent upon
all public officials to ensure their constituents can
exercise their right to vote. (NOTE: Other interlocutors
offered nothing but praise for Orozco's fine work, lauding
his non-partisan treatment of Boaquenos and his efforts to
improve infrastructure, including building roads.)

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6. (C) The Ambassador met briefly with Santa Lucia Mayor
Elba Maria Salinas before his general meeting with PLC and
APRE mayors. A disgruntled and disillusioned Salinas
informed the Ambassador of her plans to leave the PLC and
join Eduardo Montealegre's ALN. She explained that the PLC
has virtually ostracized her because she refused to hire
municipal employees in accordance to their loyalty to the
PLC. Instead, she has hired people who were most qualified
for the positions. According to Salinas the Liberal vote in
her district is evenly split between Montealegre and Rizo.
She feared that a split Liberal vote will advantage Ortega,
although she also claimed that Sandinista mayor Vivian Orozco
privately supports Montealegre, not Ortega.

. .
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7. (C) In the Ambassador's joint meeting with four PLC
mayors (Elba Maria Salinas, Rolando Ruiz, Leonel Leonidas,
and William Hernandez), a PLC councilman (Juan Obando), and
one APRE mayor (Carlos Cajina), problems with cedula issuance
and fears that the CSE will forbid Nicaraguans from voting in
their area of residence dominated the conversation. While
Ruiz acknowledged that Montealegre enjoys considerable
popularity in Boaco, he predicted that most Liberals will
mark PLC box number 1 on the ballot, as they always have.
Cajina opined that the fact that his brother Fabricio is
Montealegre's running mate will give Montealegre an advantage
in Boaco. He added, however, that the most crucial goal is
to ensure Ortega does not win the election; issues regarding
Montealegre versus Rizo are secondary. Obando focused on the
high unemployment among the department's youth, explaining
that only five out of 100 high school graduates continue on
to university, and very few university graduates can find
gainful employment in Boaco. Thus, many young professionals
migrate to the United States to find work.

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8. (C) The three representatives of Boaco's Ranchers
Association -- Luis Ortega Urbina, Miguel Somoza, and Gil
Salvador Granja -- are unabashed Arnoldistas, claiming that
Rizo will draw the lion's share of the department's rural
votes. They acknowledged, however, that Montealegre could
attract enough votes, but mainly from elites and
Conservatives, to allow Ortega to win the election.
According to these die-hard PLC ranchers, the U.S. efforts to
end caudillo rule in Nicaragua are misplaced and have
encouraged the Liberal division. Caudillo leadership remains
the norm in Nicaraguan communities, argued Somoza, who added
that change in Nicaragua's political culture must be gradual.

9. (C) The Ambassador remarked that the two caudillos have
divided power at the expense of, and detriment to, the
country. Aleman has gradually handed over control to Ortega,
and Nicaragua is suffering the consequences, including
allowing a presidential candidate to win with 35% of the
votes. Ortega Urbina countered that President Bolanos must
share the blame for the continuation of the FSLN-PLC pact.
By isolating Aleman, Bolanos divided the National Assembly's
Liberal votes, preventing the Liberals from reforming the
Constitution and "oxygenizing" the FSLN. The ranchers also
complained of foreign assistance to Sandinista NGOS, but they
were at a loss for words when the Ambassador suggested the
PLC form more civil society groups. (COMMENT: Aleman
empowered Ortega long before Bolanos' election. The PLC
often complains of Sandinista dominance over civil society
groups, but appears unwilling to establish its own NGOs.)

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10. (C) Local MRS leaders -- including National Assembly
candidates Francisco Gutierrez Espinoza, and Noelia Guerrero;
legal representative Frank Gutierrez; and, local party
coordinators William Cuadra Lopez and Freddy Coronado -- were
understandably still affected by Herty Lewites' recent death.
However, they were determined to carry on with his legacy
and confident that their party will attract a sizable number
of both traditionally FSLN and undecided voters. After all,
argued Cuadra, the MRS is not only Herty. Its project offers
to combat corruption and poverty within a democratic,
tolerant, and pragmatic framework. Gutierrez added that
Carlos Mejia Godoy's candidacy will likely attract more
Sandinista voters. The MRS leaders were confident that they
have enough party poll watchers (fiscales) to defend the vote
on November 5 and appreciated IRI's training of their
fiscales. Further many MRS fiscales were previously FSLN
poll watchers, who know the "tricks." The lack of campaign
funds was the MRS's
greatest concern, ventured Gutierrez Espinoza. And, like
their ALN and PLC counterparts, MRS leaders complained that
the CSE facilitates cedula applications of citizens
affiliated with the FSLN, while it stalls on the applications
of others.

11. (C) To the Ambassador's observation that many
center-right Nicaraguans claim the MRS is the FSLN's "Trojan
Horse" to ensure an Ortega victory and their concerns that
many of Lewites' inner circle are Sandinista "comandantes,"
Gutierrez Espinoza replied that the MRS holds different views
from the FSLN vis a vis relations with the United States and
economic policy. While the MRS seeks positive relations with
the United States and is committed to an open economy, Ortega
prefers a confrontational relationship with the U.S. and a
closed economy, explained Espinoza, who added that most
Nicaraguans seek "social pragmatism," not outmoded ideology.
Gutierrez asserted that the FSLN is not democratic because it
rejects change. Guerrero noted that many MRS supporters,
herself included, had broken with the FSLN some time ago.
Rather, Herty articulated the desires of many anti-Ortega
Sandinistas. The MRS is attracting former PLC militants, and
other non-Sandinistas, as it is a change-oriented movement
that appeals to the poor, small producers, youth, and women,
asserted Gutierrez Espinoza.

12. (C) The Ambassador reiterated Assistant Secretary
Shannon's recent statement encouraging Nicaraguans to move
beyond the traditional caudillo-style political party
leadership and replace it with truly democratic parties. He
assured the MRS leaders that the United States can work with
right or left-leaning governments so long as they govern
under democratic practices, establish reasonable economic
policies, and cooperate with the United States to combat
trafficking and terrorism. Eager to distance himself from
the FSLN, Espinoza asserted that MRS break with Ortega is
permanent and that "democracy is not the patrimony of
anyone." "To rescue Sandinismo and end the pact, we must
finish with Daniel Ortega," asserted Cuadra.

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13. (C) Movimiento por Nicaragua (MpN) local representative
Javier de Jesus Alonso and Etica y Transparencia (ET)
coordinator Alejandro Perez Cerda concurred that the
FSLN-dominated CSE is manipulating cedula issuance to its
benefit and voiced concern that Nicaraguans who did not
verify their presence on the voter roster (padron) may not be
able to vote. ALN, MRS, PLC, and NGO contacts also
complained over the FSLN's "hold" over cedula issuance.
Montealegre supporter Emigdio Alvarado (PLI) claimed that of
the ALN's 17,000 affiliates in Boaco, 30% do not possess a
cedula and attributed this fact to instructions from the
FSLN-controlled CSE in Managua to block cedula issuance to
all but FSLN supporters. When ALN supporters apply at the
local CSE office, they are confronted with all sorts of
obstacles that impinge on their ability to obtain the prized
document, e.g., applicants are told that their photo is of
poor quality, that their birth certificates are fraudulent.
Nicaraguan youth are especially disadvantaged, and the youth
vote could determine the outcome of the November election,
argued Barquero. The Ambassador urged all interlocutors to
document these irregularities and present them to the OAS,
the EU, and the Carter Center and to draw on civil society
and the media to pressure the CSE.

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14. (C) To Ambassador's query regarding his engagement in
Nicaragua, Montealegre supporters opined that the Ambassador
should be even stronger in his support for Nicaragua's
democracy. Barquero (ALN) argued that Venezuelan President
Chavez, who openly endorses Ortega, is the true meddler in
Nicaragua's domestic affairs. Alvarado (PLI) opined that the
USG's association with Montealegre helps more than hurts the
campaign, as most Liberal Nicaraguans, especially rural
voters, are interested in the U.S. perspective. PLC mayor
Rolando Ruiz remarked that the U.S. Embassy role is important
and can foster democracy in Nicaragua and differentiated
between helpful suggestions and unhelpful impositions. PLC
ranchers opined that U.S. support for democracy is welcome,
while favoring a particular party is not. MRS leader
Espinoza believed that the current level of U.S. engagement
is appropriate, adding that too much U.S. aggression could
work in Ortega's favor. In meetings the Ambassador clarified
that the USG does not finance particular parties or
candidates; rather, we are contributing over USD 12 million
towards civic education, cedula issuance, and fiscal and
observer support and training.

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15. (C) Invariably, interlocutors cited the department's
substantial reliance on remittances to keep the local economy
minimally afloat. And, while most were enthused about the
opportunities CAFTA offers, they cited the lack of
infrastructure, particularly roads and electricity, as
limitations to competing in CAFTA. For Boaquenos, the area's
lack of roads is the "Achilles heel" of Cafta because it
limits the ability of producers to transport their products
to market before they spoil (Boaco produces meat, dairy
products, and fruit and vegetables, including some coffee.)
Some opined that if the roads are fixed, CAFTA-related
investment will pour in, and with it unemployment will drop.
Other concerns included the lack of access to health care,
housing, and job training.

16. (C) To the Ambassador's suggestion that local taxes be
used to build roads, PLC Mayor Ruiz replied that property
taxes could be used but since there are no taxes on dairy,
beef, and chicken production, the revenues are limited.
However, he acknowledged that some local producers could be
persuaded to contribute to road construction to supplement
Ministry of Transport and Development Fund (FISE) monies. He
mentioned that the Mayor of Boaco is currently engaged in
this type of cooperative effort, combining local
contributions with national funds to build roads. Ruiz added
that tolls could be charged to cover maintenance costs. PLC
Mayor Cajina remarked that if Nicaraguans were not always
campaigning for one election or another, they would have more
time to resolve development issues.

17. (C) The Ambassador noted that since CAFTA
implementation, Nicaraguan exports to the United States have
increased 30%. He highlighted the basic recipe for CAFTA
success: rule of law, human capital, and infrastructure, and
encouraged Boaquenos to take advantage of U.S. assistance
programs in the department -- including dairy and coffee
production assistance, education, health care, road
rehabilitation, and judicial sector strengthening -- to help
Boaco compete. Ruiz noted that his district, Camoapa, has
benefited greatly from USAID assistance in the dairy
industry. According to many of the interlocutors, including
the Mayor of Boaco and PLC Councilman Obando, the area is
ripe for a free trade zone, as it is close to Managua and is
situated between Managua and the southern area of the
Atlantic Coast. A free trade zone might provide these
professionals with a reason to stay, suggested Obando. The
Ambassador suggested that Boaquenos approach Pro Nicaragua
for help with the tax free zone initiative.

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18. (C) Vicar Juan Moreira shared the concerns of other
interlocutors over the difficulties non-FSLN supporters face
in obtaining cedulas and the fears that the FSLN is prepared
to win the election at all costs. He noted that Archbishop

Brenes will release a Church communique calling for free,
fair, and credible elections. However, he was optimistic
because this election presents new choices and opportunities
that he hopes Boaquenos will support in November.

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