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Cablegate: Israel Lewites Optimistic of Mrs Chances

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DE RUEHMU #2136/01 2702050
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 272050Z SEP 06
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7701
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 0780
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 002136

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/19/2026
TAGS: KDEM NU PGOV PINR PREL
SUBJECT: ISRAEL LEWITES OPTIMISTIC OF MRS CHANCES

(C) Summary: Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) spokesman
Israel
Lewites is convinced that both the FSLN
and the ALN have reached the peak of their support and that
their poll numbers may decline, a phenomenon that would
provide the MRS with an opportunity to gain ground on, and
potentially surpass, Montealegre. He speculated that
Montealegre's numbers could fall due to problems
articulating his message and the CENIS smear campaign
orchestrated by his opponents. Lewites also noted that
the divide between the center right is likely to remain
protracted because polls have undercounted the rural vote,
thus PLC numbers are likely to increase in the runup to the
elections. Lewites speculated that Ortega's numbers will
decline somewhat because some stated Sandinista National
Liberation
Front (FSLN) supporters may only be
professing their allegiance to avoid antagonizing local
party members. In the meantime, Jarquin's
strong speaking skills, straight-forward message, and
dedicated campaign team could be sufficient to propel
Jarquin forward in the polls. The MRS is working especially
hard to
increase its support in urban areas and among students.
End summary.


Lewites: MRS Gaining Traction
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2. (C) Emboffs met on 19 September with Israel Lewites --
nephew of Herty Lewites -- to discuss his views on his
Sandinista Renovation Movement's (MRS) campaign and the
election in general. Lewites noted that the campaign
remains highly focused on its goals and charged with a
positive attitude. While fundraising remains an uphill
battle, Lewites asserted that Edmundo Jarquin's strong
performance in last week's CNN debate has prompted several
small and medium-sized donors to come forward with
contributions between $20,000 to $30,000. That said, the
party has yet to receive any significant support from
Nicaragua's "big capital" private sector financiers.
Instead, the campaign is concentrating on the
small-medium donors, as part of its house-to-house
campaign. He noted that although the MRS probably enjoys
only
one quarter the resources of Eduardo Montealegre's
campaign, a poll commissioned by the party with Greenberg
and Associates showed that the MRS has managed to reach 85%
of its target audience, compared to 95% for the ALN. He
said that the poll, which he later shared with
the Embassy, places Daniel Ortega in the lead with 32%,
followed by Montealegre (28%), Jarquin (20%), and Jose Rizo
(18%).

3. (C) Lewites believes that both the Sandinista National
Liberation Front (FSLN) and the ALN have reached the peak
of their support and that their poll numbers may even
decline -- providing the MRS with an opportunity
to gain ground on, and potentially surpass, Montealegre. He
speculated that Montealegre's numbers could fall due to
problems articulating his message and the CENIS smear
campaign his opponents have orchestrated against him.
Lewites also claimed that the gap between Rizo's Liberal
Constitutionalist Party (PLC) and Montealegre's Nicaraguan
Liberal Alliance (ALN) is likely to diminish with time
because of PLC efforts to mobilize their rural support
base. He predicted that PLC numbers are likely to surge in
the
run-up to the elections as polls have undercounted the
party's rural support. A more evenly divided center-right
would provide Jarquin with an opportunity to move ahead by
presenting himself as the one true candidate offering a
different path.

4. (C) Moreover, continued Lewites, Montealegre
faces some stiff challenges ahead that could deflate some
of his strength at the polls. Lewites opined that
Montealegre has not done enough to defend himself on the
Negotiable
Indemnization Certificates (CENI) financial scandal, and
that people have the impression that he has something to
hide (Comment: Embassy officers have heard similar claims
from other contacts who do not have ties to the MRS. They
say that Montealegre's failure to take a sufficiently
strong stand against the allegations makes him appear
guilty. We suspect that these accusations could become
more damaging over time because the PLC and FSLN will
almost certainly use their influence in the legislative and
judicial branches to intensify such efforts closer to the
elections -- when it will have maximum political impact.
End Comment.).

The MRS is a United Front With A Strong Message
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5. (C) When asked if he was concerned by speculation that
the FSLN has infiltrated the MRS, or be able to pry away
members (such as happened with to the ALN with
Salvador Talavera's recent defection), Lewites thought it
unlikely. He expressed his confidence in the loyalty of
party members
and deputy candidates. He noted that the majority of party
members joined the campaign for ideological reasons to which
they remain committed and that they are unlikely to be
lured away, as they have known from the beginning that
they joined a party with limited financial resources and so
have no expectations for personal gain. Lewites commented
that Talavera's turncoat decision hurts not only the ALN,
but further tarnishes the image of the entire Nicaraguan
political scene. Calling the move an act of political
prostitution, he felt that it further undermines popular
faith in Nicaraguan politics.

6. (C) Lewites put great stock in the strength of the MRS
campaign platform, noting that the other candidates have
not been as clear, or as honest, as Jarquin. Jarquin and
his party are tackling difficult issues that face many
Nicaraguans. For example, he said that the MRS has been
unique in its recognition of domestic violence as a
critical social problem -- the
number one cause of death for women in the country. The party
has incorporated this theme into the campaign by criticizing
existing
laws and procedures. For example, Lewites pointed out that
when
investigating cases of spousal abuse, authorities require
that the victim
(often an abused wife) confront her abuser (often her
husband) during a mediation/arbitration session.
Obviously, said Lewites, a victim of crime and intimidation
is unlikely to be able to summon the courage to do this,
and thus many abusers go free. Lewites also played up his
party's commitment to depoliticizing public institutions,
cutting wasteful expenditures, and combating corruption.

MRS Shooting For 30 Assembly Deputies
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7. (C) Lewites commented that the MRS aims to win 30
deputy positions in the National Assembly, but said
realistically that this would be hard to achieve; he would
be happy to secure 20-25 seats. Their goals in the Assembly
include
a reduction in the number of deputies and their
salaries, prohibiting presidential re-election (which the
MRS sees as critical to undermining the PLC-FSLN pacto and
undermining Ortega's hold over his party), cutting the
salaries of the President and Vice President, and reducing
the number of Supreme Court justices from 16 to 7. He
noted that these cost-saving measures would enable the
government to increase teacher salaries by 50%, which in
turn would help alleviate some of the country's pressing
social problems. The MRS also proposes to overhaul the tax
code.

8. (C) Lewites remarked that there are too many tax
exemptions
for the rich, putting an undue burden on the poorest
segment of the population. He noted that this platform
item is a holdover from Herty's influence;
when Mayor of Managua, Herty cracked down on tax evasion.
For example, when Herty first took office Carlos Pellas was
paying only about $400 a year in taxes; when Herty left
office that had increased to $120,000. Lewites clarified
that the point is not to target businesses with excessive
taxation or seek political bribes, but to hold businesses
and the wealthy accountable to what the law says they
should pay by reducing the number of legal loopholes.

FSLN Using Scare Tactics and Corruption, But Weaker Than
Polls Suggest
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9. (C) Lewites asserted that Ortega's campaign has been
based
on fear and bribery, and that the Sandinistas may actually
be slightly weaker than polls would indicate. He thinks
that as much as 4-5% of professed Ortega supporters could
decide to vote for someone else on election day. Lewites
postulated that many people professing support for the
Sandinistas are doing so because they are scared that
demonstrating support for other candidates could provoke
the ire of local Sandinista officials or thugs. Instead,
he thinks that come election day, many will instead vote
for the MRS. By way of example, he reported that while
recently campaigning in Esteli, he came upon a family
holding pro-Sandinista placards. When he approached and
questioned one family member as to why they were planning
to vote for Ortega, she responded that they were
demonstrating in favor of Ortega in order to avoid becoming
a target for criticism. She said, however,
that on election day they would cast their ballots for the
MRS.

10. (C) Lewites asserted that the FSLN is using dirty
tactics
to strengthen themselves ahead of the elections. For
instance, he said that while in Somoto, he heard that one
local judge had threatened a local MRS candidate with
losing his house if he did not support Ortega. Lewites
also mentioned that he had overheard the girlfriend of one
of Ortega's sons say that Ortega's family has been holding
weekend family gatherings with the family of Supreme
Electoral Council (CSE) President Roberto Rivas. The
girlfriend also insinuated that Ortega's links to Rivas and
influence over the CSE make victory almost certain.


11. (C) Lewites also warned that FSLN influence on the
committees responsible for overseeing the results of local
polling places could be enough to tilt the election in
their favor. He pointed out that of the three seats in
each JRV (voting center), the FSLN and PLC will obtain two,
leaving a third spot to be doled out to smaller parties.
He noted that the Alternative for Change (AC) could be able
to fill up to 53% of the remaining spots, thus granting
the tiny party undue representation -- he half jokingly
pointed out that
the AC may have more fiscales in the JRVs than it will
votes on election day. He said that the high number of AC
members would stack the odds in favor of the Sandinistas as
the two parties are closely linked. Holding a very low
opinion of the AC, Lewites claimed the party is likely to
back
Ortega during the elections. He said that Herty had at one
time considered running under an AC banner, but that he had
been persuaded not to because of concerns that AC leader
Orlando Tardencilla would eventually sell out to the
Sandinistas.
Shortly after Herty decided to run with the MRS,
Tardencilla announced his decision to support Ortega,
prompting the AC to split.

Ortega Win Could Spark "Chaos"
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12. (C) Lewites recognized that Ortega's loyal support base
and potential for fraudulently swaying the vote could hand
him a first-round victory. However, given widespread
anti-Ortega sentiment, Lewites speculated that popular unrest
could erupt if Ortega were to win. He pointed out
that many former Contras have already expressed interest in
opposing such a government. When asked to identify
potential key figures in a Sandinista government, Lewites
cited the usual names (i.e. Lenin Cerna, Bayardo Arce), but
also pointed out that vice presidential candidate Jaime
Morales Carazo would probably wield significant clout on
economic matters. He noted that the government rosters
would become bloated, however, because of Ortega's promises
to dole out jobs to supporters. Under Ortega, Lewites said
foreign investment would decline almost
immediately, and that Nicaragua would become part of the
Chavez-Castro axis. Ortega would then pit Nicaragua
against the United States on many international issues, to
the further detriment of the country (i.e. capital flight,
decline in remittances). Saying "imagine how strong Ortega
is now when he is not in power," Lewites fears Ortega would
further entrench his hold on key institutions, including
the military.

Edmundo Jarquin "A Nice Guy", Not a "Political Animal"
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13. (C) Asked to describe Jarquin, Lewites noted that the
MRS candidate is very likeable and that he possesses a good
sense of humor. He related an anecdote of when a foreign
journalist approached Jarquin saying, "I know that 'El Feo'
is your campaign slogan, but you really are ugly." While
Lewites cringed at the approach, Jarquin responded by
bursting out laughing and embraced the journalist.
Nevertheless, Lewites described Jarquin as extremely
competent, someone with a methodical personality who
feels compelled to put things in order. Jarquin is a
perfectionist and a workaholic, who Lewites estimates gets
only about four hours of sleep a night. He often stays up
late at night reviewing the days accomplishments and
planning for the next, including the study of upcoming
speeches. Despite the demands of the campaign, Jarquin is
energetic and physically able, known for walking many
kilometers in a day while campaigning around the country.

14. (C) Lewites noted, however, that Jarquin is not a
natural
politician, which can be refreshing, but has also landed
him in trouble. Lewites joked that unlike career
politicians, Jarquin is not sufficiently hypocritical and
often says what he thinks. It was this directness that
prompted him
to take a clear position in favor of therapeutic abortion
(defined in Nicaragua as abortion in cases where the life
of the mother is at risk), which subsequently provoked
widespread criticism from other candidates and religious
groups. In addition, although personable, Jarquin is not
press savvy. Lewites recalled one time when journalists
had come by to interview MRS campaign members and saw
Jarquin walking by in the background. Lewites called to
Jarquin, but the candidate did not come over. Lewites
later asked Jarquin why he had not stopped to talk to the
reporters, and Jarquin looked surprised, apologized, and
said that he had simply not been paying attention and had
been pondering other campaign details. Lewites contrasted
this style with that of Herty's, who had a sixth sense when
it came to dealing with press. Unlike Herty, Jarquin does
not always realize the importance of cultivating friendly
press relations.

15. (C) Although Jarquin stays very involved in campaign
strategizing, his staff works to ensure that he does not
become bogged down with the day-to-day details of the
campaign. Lewites reported that the candidate is surrounded
by
a core group of supporters who hold regular strategy
sessions. In addition to Jarquin, the group includes his
wife (who Lewites says carries a great deal of influence on
her husband), campaign manager Luis Carrion, President of
the MRS Dora Maria Tellez, Victor Hugo Tinoco (who brings
to the table a wide network of contacts, political
expertise, and diplomatic skill), Alberto Cortes, members
of the Greenberg consulting firm, and Lewites himself.
Lewites characterized the team as having somewhat of a
collegial quality rather than a vertical hierarchy of
authority. He said, for example, that while Carrion is
campaign manager and oversees the budget, he does not
micromanage affairs and thus the entire team provides input
into
discussions. MRS meetings are frequently free-flowing
affairs, conducted informally, and to which members of the
press are occasionally invited. Lewites noted that this
stands in stark contrast to the campaigns of other
candidates, which he said often meet in confined locations
and restrict press access.

MRS Counting on Voter Indecision, "Bohemian" Urbanites, and
Students
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16. (C) Lewites opined that both the PLC and FSLN retain
their groups of diehard supporters, but that most
Nicaraguans are ready for change and hold to no particular
ideology. He estimated that about 65-70% of the population
hold non-dogmatic views and would be open to shifting their
vote right up until the last days of the campaign. Lewites
says he has noticed during his campaign travels that many
Nicaraguans are initially apathetic towards the elections,
and that they can be malleable early on. He

pointed to several conversations he has had in which voters
have initially expressed a pro-FSLN or PLC disposition, but
when confronted with those parties' history of
mismanagement and corruption, the voters quickly come
around to voicing their support for the newer movements,
such as the MRS. Lewites said that the most committed
anti-PLC or FSLN vote comes from the educated urban sector,
which has become the primary battleground for the ALN and
MRS. Among this group, Lewites says the MRS counts on the
support of academics, artists, and other "bohemians," while
Montealegre enjoys the support of much of the business
community.

17. (C) Although the FSLN lays claim to the most vocal of
student groups (the student body unions), Lewites argued that
the vast majority of students do not support the
FSLN. He pointed out that pro-FSLN student leaders,
such as Jasser Martinez, are professional
protestors/paid henchmen and do not reflect the
sentiments of the average student. Indeed, the union's
strident activism for their biggest cause -- ensuring that
the universities receive the constitutionally-mandated 6%
of the budget -- is largely motivated by self interest.
Much of the 6% in reality goes to support these groups,
which are essentially protest arms of the FSLN.
Lewites, who maintains personal and professional ties to the
universities said that he has heard from student contacts
that following a prolonged student protest, Martinez was
rewarded by the FSLN with a trip to Argentina for his role
in instigating unrest. Other student leaders receive
personal credit cards and hold large parties with their
funds.

18. (C) Lewites speculated that about 60% of students in
public universities support the MRS, while Montealegre
enjoys about the same amount of support from students in
private institutions. Montealegre's stiff image has hurt
him with some students, according to Lewites. He mentioned
that the marketing program at the Central American
University (UCA) conducted an internal poll in which
Montealegre received around 60% of the vote, followed by a
substantial number of undecided, with Jarquin trailing
behind. The program then invited the MRS and ALN to speak
to the students. Dressed casually, Lewites showed up on
behalf of the MRS and presented the party's platform in an
informal discussion with the students. A subsequent poll
revealed that Jarquin had surpassed Montealegre.
Montealegre and his campaign arrived at a later date at UCA
dressed in suits, surrounded by body guards, and seemingly
aloof. Montealegre delivered a very formal
presentation, and while Lewites was originally concerned
that Montealegre's appearance may have swayed the students
back his way, a third poll revealed that following
Montealegre's presentation, even more of the student body
supported the MRS.

The Religious Vote
- - - - - - - - - -

19. (C) Jarquin has faced sharp criticism from fellow
candidates, the Catholic church, and the evangelical
community for his comments in favor of therapeutic
abortion. Lewites noted that, in typical Jarquin fashion,
Jarquin responded to journalists questions about his
position on the delicate subject with a direct answer.
While other candidates either outrightly oppose therapeutic
abortion, others tiptoe around the subject with vague
answers. In contrast, Jarquin has been the only candidate
to state firmly his support for the measure. Lewites
admitted that upon hearing this, he took Jarquin aside and
said "You have made it that much harder to win." Since
then, however, several things have changed his opinion.
First, according to the Greenberg poll, about 70% of the
population favors therapeutic abortion. Moreover,
employment is the number one priority to most voters, while
abortion ranks last (again Lewites cited the Greenberg
poll).

20. (C) Comment: Despite his newness to the
political arena, Jarquin has demonstrated strong
communication skills, particularly during the recent CNN
debate, and he appears to be quickly assuming the trappings
of a more seasoned politician. During the debate,
he came across as a strong speaker, articulate, and with a
clearly defined platform.
Many local pundits say he gave the strongest performance.
Jarquin's public speaking skills and forthright image have
helped to
sustain the momentum of the MRS in the wake of Herty's
death. In public Jarquin comes across as principled and
someone who is willing to speak his mind. For example, he
has several times in recent weeks publicly challenged
Ortega to a debate -- Jarquin says Ortega can pick the
time, place, and rules for the event. These
characteristics suggest that Jarquin may well be able to
remain a key factor in the elections through November.
Nevertheless, the MRS will also face an uphill battle,
particularly if they continue to struggle to accumulate
significant funding. We also suspect that Jarquin will
face a pacto-inspired smear campaign closer to election
day. End Comment.
TRIVELLI

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