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Cablegate: Martinez Cuenca Worried About an Ortega Win

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INFO RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0774
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C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 002077

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DEPT FOR WHA/CEN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/12/2016
TAGS: KDEM NU PGOV SOCI
SUBJECT: MARTINEZ CUENCA WORRIED ABOUT AN ORTEGA WIN


Classified By: AMBASSADOR PAUL TRIVELLI FOR REASONS 1.4 (B AND D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: During a meeting with Polcouns and
emboffs on 11 September, Sandinista National Liberation
Front (FSLN) dissident Alejandro Martinez Cuenca voiced his
concern that savvy Sandinista campaigning and a weak and
distracted center-right have strengthened Daniel Ortega's
campaign. The FSLN remains focused on espousing its social
agenda and avoiding conflict with the other parties while
opponents, particularly the Liberal Constitutional Party
(PLC) and Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN), bicker with
each other. Cuenca also commented that the lackluster
organizational capacities of the ALN and MRS pose
significant obstacles to competing with the larger and more
established parties. Although a committed Sandinista,
Cuenca made clear his concerns that an Ortega victory would
have a detrimental impact on Nicaragua's democracy, noting
he is considering publicly calling on similar-minded
Sandinistas to "cancel" their votes in November. He
estimates about 20% of FSLN supporters would consider not
voting for Ortega. Cuenca made clear that despite his
distaste for Ortega, he would not back other candidates and
does not consider the MRS a viable leftist alternative --
maintaining that the FSLN should remain the dominant
leftist party. Cuenca suggested that the United States can
play a positive role in the political situation, but would
do better to issue tough anti-Ortega messages in Washington
rather than in Nicaragua, which would carry more weight,
while diminishing accusations of foreign interference. END
SUMMARY.

Ortega Running Strong; Opponents Divided and Weak
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2. (C) Polcouns and emboffs met on 11 September with FSLN
dissident/reformer Alejandro Martinez Cuenca to sound out
his views on the presidential race, and gauge his attitude
toward Daniel Ortega's candidacy and management of his
party. According to Cuenca, the best hope for defeating
Ortega is by unifying the PLC and ALN, but entrenched
interests on both sides make this unlikely to happen.
Moreover, commented Cuenca, the PLC and ALN are distracted
by sniping at each other's campaigns, giving Ortega the
opportunity to take the high-road. Ortega's decision to
run a campaign focusing on the party's social agenda rather
than attacking opponents has kept him on-message and above
the political fray. Cuenca also stated that lack of strong
party resources and organization make the ALN and Edmundo
Jarquin's Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS) unlikely to win
the presidency. Cuenca opined that these parties do not
possess the infrastructure necessary to challenge the
dominant parties in a sustained national race. Cuenca
predicted that Ortega will exploit his party's clout in
six departments (Matagalpa, Esteli, Jinotega, Ocotal, Rio
San Juan, and Somoto) to manipulate the results. He also
asserted that, even if victorious, Montealegre will not
secure enough deputies to have much influence in the
National Assembly. A Montealegre administration thusly
handicapped would essentially make for a repeat of the
Bolanos administration.


Nicaragua's Democracy Too Frail to Withstand Ortega
Radicalism
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-

3. (C) Cuenca, who has been a longtime proponent for
internal FSLN reform, is unhappy with the way Ortega is
running the party. A former Minister of Foreign Trade
(1979-87) and Minister of Economic Planning and Budget
(1988-90) during the Sandinista era, Cuenca first
challenged Ortega in 2000 when he discouraged Ortega from
running in the 2001 presidential elections and called for
internal party primaries. He has since been kept on the
outskirts, but remains committed to the
party. During the meeting, he likened Ortega to a
dictator, commenting that Ortega has told him "I am the
party," that he will never relinquish his hold on the FSLN,
and that he would run a fifth and sixth time if not elected
in November. Cuenca noted that Ortega's driving goal is to
obtain power, and expressed frustration that Ortega's
continued adherence to outdated radical ideology (i.e.
Marxism, Stalinism) have no place in Nicaragua. He warned
that Nicaragua's democracy is not strong enough to sustain
an Ortega presidency and that, if elected, Ortega will win
enough votes to enact constitutional reforms to strengthen
his hold on power within six months. Cuenca is considering
conducting a campaign to call on like-minded Sandinistas to
turn in blank ballots or deface them in November to
demonstrate their discontent with Ortega's radical bent.
Cuenca estimates that about 20% of Sandinistas would
consider not voting for Ortega. He mentioned that he would
need to be careful about which media outlets he
reaches out to in order to avoid the perception of endorsing
some other political movement. Cuenca was emphatic that
any announcement by him must not be construed as an
endorsement for any other political movement. Polcouns
suggested that he grant interviews to other foreign media
sources, including in Europe, to convey a more neutral
position.

MRS Not Fit To Be 'New Left'
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4. (C) While Cuenca holds a moderate leftist ideology, he
remains committed to the FSLN and is not likely to support
other movements or encourage others to do so. Cuenca
believes that Nicaragua needs a moderate left that respects
core democratic principles, such as freedom of thought and
expression, and sees a role for the FSLN in this process.
He has previously told journalists that he thinks the FSLN
should contribute to the development of institutions and
democracy in Nicaragua. Cuenca does not see the MRS as
having the organizational capacity to mount a successful
presidential campaign, much less the clout or historical
recognition to vie with the FSLN for dominance as the
leading leftist party. He told poloffs that while he
considers advocating that Sandinistas abstain in November,
he would not recommend they support someone else. He made
it clear that voting for another party would be a betrayal
of the FSLN.

What Can the United States Do?
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5. (C) Cuenca pointed out that the United States can play
a helpful role in preventing an Ortega victory, but stated
that the U.S. would have to walk a fine line to avoid
efforts that could set off domestic sensitivities. He
first recommended that the U.S. cease issuing direct
attacks against Ortega. These comments carry the most
weight when issued by domestic sources (i.e. the other
candidates), and that Ortega is good at spinning in his
favor such messages from U.S. officials. That said, strong
anti-Ortega remarks from the United States would be
helpful. He noted that one possibility for influence is
prompting the Nicaraguan expatriate community in the United
States
to warn their family members still in Nicaragua that an
Ortega win could jeopardize the flow of remittances. He
noted that pursuing the case of Zoilamerica could in fact
backfire because in the public's mind it has become
politicized, although he acknowledged that Ortega's
censureship of the Univision interview with her had drawn
strong criticsm and attention to her case. Cuenca pointed
out that the issue of sexual abuse does not necessarily
strike a nerve with most Nicaraguans. According to Cuenca,
local culture tends to favor working these sorts of crimes
out within a family rather than involving
the authorities. Thinking aloud, Cuenca also mentioned the
possibility of catching Ortega's wife and campaign manager
Rosario Murillo off guard. He noted that she is extremely
superstitious, and may be provoked by comments or actions.

6. (SBU) Bio information: Rosario Murillo was educated in
France and speaks French and English. Cuenca noted that
she is extremely bright, well-read, and articulate. He
also said that she is very superstitious. He claims she
once stopped a meeting until a priest could be summoned to
consecrate the office it was being held in.

7. (C) Comment: Cuenca's assessment of how damaging the
PLC-ALN bickering has been is right on the mark. Not only
does it distract both parties from striking out at Ortega
and presenting their own agendas, but it grants Ortega the
ability to espouse his platform virtually unchallenged.
This, combined with his skillful handling of a
socially-focused campaign could grant him an edge over his
competitors in the long run. Cuenca's estimation
that 20% of Sandinistas might consider not voting for
Ortega may be exaggerated. Cuenca has overestimated
resistance within the party to Ortega in the past. He told
the Embassy in 2001, for example, that Ortega could be
induced to step down as his party's candidate for the 2001
election. Ortega in fact overrode opposition to his
candidacy by marginalizing challengers, including Cuenca.
End Comment.
TRIVELLI

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