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Cablegate: El Salvador: Fmln "Presidenciables" for 2009

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DE RUEHSN #2508/01 2892132
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 162132Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4042
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN SALVADOR 002508

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/15/2016
TAGS: ES PGOV PINR PREL
SUBJECT: EL SALVADOR: FMLN "PRESIDENCIABLES" FOR 2009

REF: A. SAN SALVADOR 712

B. SAN SALVADOR 2008
C. SAN SALVADOR 2056
D. SAN SALVADOR 2204

Classified By: DCM Michael A. Butler, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: With two and a half years to go until the
2009 presidential election, speculation is emerging with
regard to who will be the candidate of the opposition
Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).
Orthodox-hardliner leader Schafik Handal was beaten soundly
in 2004 by ARENA's Tony Saca, leading some to conclude that a
fresh face from outside party circles--and one not associated
with the nation's bloody 12-year armed conflict--might fare
better in 2009. Possible candidates include, in addition to
veterans of the party's highly-disciplined hardliner core, a
leftist television commentator and a former ARENA cabinet
member. The FMLN's orthodox leadership, who since the 2004
election have expelled all moderates and consolidated control
of the party, may have to make a difficult choice between
unquestioning obedience to the party's platform versus
victory at the polls. END SUMMARY

Background
----------

2. (C) In the wake of 2003 national congressional and
municipal elections, prior to the FMLN's selection of its
presidential candidate for 2004, polls showed that a more
moderate candidate such as television commentator Mauricio
Funes could defeat an ARENA candidate by perhaps 10 percent.
Following the FMLN's selection of veteran orthodox-hardline
leader Schafik Handal as the candidate who would oppose
ARENA's Tony Saca, this advantage was quickly lost.
Although mere weeks prior to the March 2004 election a
quarter of the electorate remained undecided, Handal went on
to a stunning defeat in all 14 of El Salvador's departments,
including longtime FMLN bastions Morazan, Chalatenango, and
metropolitan San Salvador, garnering only 36 percent of the
vote to Saca's 58 percent. In recent months, some members of
the FMLN inner circle have discussed whether a candidate from
outside the party might be better able to deliver the Casa
Presidencial in 2009 (reftel B).


Possible 2009 FMLN Presidential Candidates
------------------------------------------

3. (C) Journalist Mauricio Funes began his career as a
television commentator in 1986, during the nation's armed
conflict; his morning show on Channel 12 established a
reputation as a left-of-center forum reserved primarily for
FMLN sympathizers. In 2005, Channel 12's Mexican parent
company Azteca fired Funes without notice, citing
unprofitably low ratings for his show. Many on the left
insisted that Funes's dismissal was due to his political
orientation, and charged that it would exert a chilling
effect on freedom of the press in El Salvador. Other
observers of the political scene opined that Funes had
misused his access to the media to promote his own political
ambitions, and outlined how that tendency, in conjunction
with his often-overbearing and intolerant personality, had
been his undoing at Channel 12. (Note: In April 2003, Funes
openly outlined his willingness to stand as an FMLN
presidential candidate under certain conditions, to which the
FMLN leadership responded that a vice presidential slot was
the best they could offer--and that Funes must first join the
party. End note.) After his departure from Channel 12,
Funes reestablished his media presence with a show on the
Megavision network's Channel 21, and he occasionally serves
as a correspondent for the CNN's Spanish-language version.
Funes is 47 years old; his marriage to childhood actress
Regina Canas (with whom he has two sons) resulted in divorce;
he is often seen publicly with the Brazilian Embassy's
Cultural Affairs Officer Wanda Pignato, and the two will
apparently soon marry.

4. (C) FMLN Coordinator General Medardo Gonzalez better fits
the traditional mold of FMLN presidential candidates.
Gonzalez fought as a Popular Liberation Forces (FPL)
guerrilla under the nom de guerre "Comandante Milton Mendez".
(Note: The FPL was one of the five political-military
organizations that combined to form the FMLN in October 1980.
End note.) An unsuccessful candidate for FMLN Coordinator
General in 1997 among a field of four, Gonzalez finally won
the office in September 2004 by beating out Santa Tecla Mayor
Oscar Ortiz. Gonzalez was closely allied with Handal, whose
orthodox faction still tightly controls the FMLN.

5. (C) Although San Salvador Mayor Dr. Violeta Menjivar eked
out a narrow victory--by a 44-vote margin--in the
hotly-contested and controversial March mayoral election
(reftel A), she has since struggled to address the capital
city's daunting problems of violent crime, garbage
collection, and crumbling, inadequate infrastructure (reftel
C). Menjivar's name is perennially floated as a possible
candidate whenever the discussion turns to 2009, but her FMLN
mayoral predecessors (Hector Silva and Carlos Rivas Zamora)
learned that attempting to govern a metropolis with more
problems than resources is less likely to lead to the
presidency than to political exile. The 55-year-old Dr.
Menjivar is a guerrilla veteran; from 1980 until war's end in
1992, she organized and ran medical units that served FMLN
insurgents. After the armed conflict, she served on the
party's powerful Political Commission, and in 1997 was made
FMLN Deputy Coordinator General. Menjivar served three terms
in the Legislative Assembly (1997-2006); in 1999 she declined
an offer to be her party's vice presidential candidate.
After she was hand-picked to run for mayor, FMLN hardliners
dispatched Menjivar to Cuba for political training by the
Communist Party of Cuba. Menjivar hews closely to orthodox
views; at a 2003 human rights conference, she angrily
denounced the United States as the ultimate source of all the
world's human rights abuses.

6. (C) Oscar Ortiz is the popular FMLN mayor of San Salvador
suburb--and La Libertad departmental capital--Santa Tecla
(population 190,000). Although he also lost out to Schafik
Handal in his attempt to become the party's 2004 presidential
candidate, he has already alluded publicly to a possible 2009
presidential bid, though his overtures were very coolly
received at FMLN headquarters (reftel B). Like
Coordinator-General Gonzalez, the 45-year-old Ortiz was an
FPL guerrilla, and went on to become an influential FMLN
military leader after the FPL's 1980 incorporation into the
FMLN. Although never officially charged in the crime, Ortiz
is widely acknowledged to have assassinated President
Cristiani's Minister of the Presidency Jose Antonio Rodriguez
Porth (father-in-law of 1999-2004 President Francisco Flores)
in June 1989. Although his relationship with the FMLN's
powerful hardliner faction is chilly, Ortiz himself is not
especially moderate in his political views. He is dedicated,
hard-working, and ambitious, and is careful in maintaining
cordial and open relations with the Embassy.

7. (C) Arturo Zablah served as Minister of Economy and
Presidential Commissioner for Trade Negotiations under ARENA
President Alfredo Cristiani (1989-1994), and afterwards as
President of the Autonomous Port Executive Commission (CEPA)
under ARENA President Armando Calderon Sol (1994-1999). Late
in Calderon Sol's term, Zablah began to stray from the ARENA
ranks, and after leaving office was publicly critical of the
2001 "dollarization" of El Salvador's economy, and of CAFTA.
(Note: Notwithstanding the positions he has held, Zablah has
no educational background in Economics; he received his
Industrial Engineering degree from Monterrey (Mexico)
Institute of Technology in 1976, followed by an M.S. in
Systems Analysis from Georgia Tech in 1980. End note.) Now
52 years old, Zablah has returned to managing a family
furniture and mattress company, Industrias Capri, where he
worked prior to his political career. In an interview with
Salvadoran online newspaper "El Faro", Zablah criticized the
administration of President Francisco Flores (1999-2004),
whom he blamed for worsening the polarization that
characterizes the nation's political environment. Zablah
repeated his condemnation of dollarization and free trade,
including CAFTA, and outlined how in the past, he had once
held dialogue with the FMLN regarding a possible
vice-presidential candidacy.

8. (C) COMMENT: The FMLN has lost every postwar
presidential election by a margin of 22-24 percent of the
vote. Polling data publicized in September by leading daily
La Prensa Grafica showed Mauricio Funes with the highest
approval rating among all potential FMLN presidential
candidates, followed by Oscar Ortiz and Violeta Menjivar.
With President Saca's approval ratings slipping as
Salvadorans' concerns grow regarding the country's spiraling
violent crime (reftel D), ARENA appears vulnerable for 2009.
Furthermore, no prospective ARENA candidate has emerged as a
frontrunner, nor is Saca grooming one at this time. The FMLN
leadership must ultimately decide whether their
business-as-usual process of naming a battle-hardened
old-guard communist as presidential candidate will serve them
best in 2009, or whether the time has finally come to try a
new approach with fresh faces, with all the risk that entails
to the party's iron-fisted internal discipline.
BARCLAY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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