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Cablegate: Legislative Reforms Would Give Fsln "Absolute

DE RUEHMU #2646/01 3392330
P 052330Z DEC 06





E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/05/2016

Classified By: CDA Peter Brennan for reasons 1.4 (b and d)

1. (SBU) Summary: National Assembly deputies began approving
the articles of a law on December 5 that would give the
Sandinista Front (FSLN) caucus in the 2007-2012 Assembly
greatly expanded powers, reduce legislative transparency,
expand the Assembly's overall authority, and increase routes
for a possible amnesty of convicted Liberal Constitutional
Party (PLC) leader Arnoldo Aleman. The reforms to the
"Organic Law" that governs the National Assembly have been
widely condemned by the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and
constitutional experts. President Bolanos will likely delay
implementation of the reforms until the new Assembly and FSLN
administration take office in January. In our upcoming
meeting with FSLN International Affairs Secretary Samuel
Santos, Charge will raise our consternation over this latest
turn of events. Specifically, we will remind him that any
support for an Aleman amnesty will have negative
consequences. End Summary.

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2. (U) The FSLN and PLC took advantage of the absence of
ALN-affiliated National Assembly president Eduardo Gomez to
table a series of reforms to the Assembly's Organic Law that
strengthens the FSLN, while easing barriers to an amnesty for
PLC leader Arnoldo Aleman. A modified version of the
reforms, which were approved by the Assembly "in general"
last February, was tabled by PLC deputy Maria Auxiliadora
Aleman on November 23. Some PLC deputies balked at the
revisions, but were quickly brought into line by Aleman, who
announced on December 4 that the PLC caucus would support the
changes. ALN caucus chief Maria Eugenia Sequiera told poloff
on December 5 that the reforms would give the FSLN "absolute
power" in exchange for Aleman's freedom. Several ALN
officials and a constitutional expert agreed that the changes
demonstrate a deepening of the PLC-FSLN political pact.

Procedural Changes Strengthen FSLN, Reduce Transparency
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3. (U) The proposed reforms to the Organic Law regard
procedural changes and modifications that grant more powers
to the legislature. The following is a summary of the
procedural changes.

-- Lower number required for quorum: The proposed reforms
would allow one-third of the deputies (33) to convoke a
plenary session of the National Assembly instead of a simple
majority (47). Moreover, the Executive Board may establish a
quorum with four members (instead of six) out of seven -- the
president would cast two votes in case of a tie.

-- Minority may modify agenda: In addition, the reforms would
allow a one-third minority to reform the daily legislative
agenda. Currently, only the president of the Executive Board
may create/modify the agenda with the approval of a majority
of Executive Board members.

-- Executive Board/Commissions formed for 2 1/2 years:
Currently, Assembly deputies vote to reconstitute the
Executive Board and Commissions annually. The proposed
reforms would establish a 2 1/2-year period for the Executive
Board and Commissions -- in other words, the composition of
the legislative bodies would only change once during the
five-year legislative cycle. (Note: Some PLC deputies have
proposed reconstituting Assembly bodies every two years for
the first four years and again for the last year of the
cycle. End Note.)

-- Only caucus chiefs may propose Executive Board candidates:
According to the new regulations, only the heads of caucuses
may propose members for the Executive Board, instead of
allowing any deputy to run. (Note: Political
parties/alliances must have four members to constitute a
caucus. End Note.)

-- Secret Votes: According to the proposed reforms, the
Executive Board may agree to conduct secret votes. In
addition, the Assembly president may convoke a private
session "if necessary."

Assembly Increases Authority, Reduces Barriers to Aleman
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4. (U) The following proposals would grant the National
Assembly additional powers in a range of areas:

-- Power to summon: Under the proposed regulations, Assembly
Commissions would have the authority to issue legal summons
to anyone in Nicaragua (not only public servants) and
possibly denounce that person before the Public Ministry.
The Commission would not be required to reveal sources.

-- New routes for amnesty: According to the new rules,
virtually any NGO or family member of a convicted person
(such as Arnoldo Aleman) could introduce an act of pardon for
that person to the National Assembly's Commission for Human
Rights. The Commission will have the authority to grant
amnesty without requiring a majority vote in the Assembly for
a range of crimes, which include Aleman's convictions.

-- Power to formulate national budget: Under current
regulations, the executive branch formulates the national
budget before passing it to the legislature for approval.
The new rules would transfer this authority to the Assembly.

Constitutional Law Expert Criticizes Proposal
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5. (C) On December 4, constitutional law expert Gabriel
Alvarez publicly criticized the proposal, unequivocally
dubbing it "unconstitutional" for allowing a minority in the
National Assembly to convene the plenary. (Comment: Any
legal challenge to the reforms based on constitutionality
will not likely bear fruit in the corrupt, pact-controlled
court system. End Comment.) Alvarez called the reforms
"evidence of the strengthening of the PLC-FSLN pact," and
noted that the changes appear to principally benefit the FSLN
caucus, which is the only group capable of mustering 33 votes
without the support of another caucus.

6. (U) Alvarez also criticized the proposal limiting
Executive Board nominations to the heads of the caucuses. He
indicated that this change will give the caucus chiefs even
more influence over their members and fortify the system of
political solidarity (versus conscience voting).

ALN Denounces Reforms
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7. (U) ALN head Eduardo Montealegre and ALN deputies Maria
Eugenia Sequiera, Delia Arellano, and Jorge Matamoros
strongly denounced the proposed reforms for strengthening the
PLC-FSLN pact. Montealegre publicly denounced that the PLC
would deliver more power to the FSLN in exchange for an
amnesty for Aleman. Matamoros added that the FSLN is looking
for a mechanism to free Aleman without paying a political

8. (C) Sequiera, currently the head of the ALN caucus,
accused the PLC and FSLN of plotting to shut out the other
political parties with an agreement to swap control of the
Assembly. During a conversation with poloff, she commented
that allowing one-third of the deputies to convene the
plenary would give too much power to the FSLN and "create
political chaos and instability." Sequeira also labeled
"dangerous" the Assembly's new power to summon private
citizens without revealing witnesses and strip deputies of
the right to run for Executive Board positions individually.
When asked why ALN deputy and current Assembly president
Eduardo Gomez did not block the vote, she responded that
Gomez is currently on a trip to Japan and will not return
until the end of the week.

9. (C) Arellano confirmed to poloff that the FSLN and PLC
took advantage of Gomez' absence to bring to the floor a
"flawed" law that serves to facilitate an Aleman amnesty.
She commented that ALN representatives will speak to
President Bolanos to ask him not to sign the law to delay its
implementation. (Note: Bolanos has the power to delay
implementation until the next administration takes over in
January. End Note.)

FSLN: Reforms are Necessary to Modernize Assembly
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10. (U) FSLN Deputy Walmaro Gutierrez, a member of the
Modernization Commission and a key author of the reforms,
stated publicly that the reforms are necessary to improve the
functioning of the National Assembly by streamlining basic
procedures. Gutierrez supported the lengthening of the
Executive Board and Commission terms by claiming that longer
terms would provide greater stability and continuity. In
addition, he said that the reforms would "more effectively
link voters with the Assembly."

Comment: The Pact Continues
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11. (C) Despite Gutierrez' justifications, many of the
reforms to the Organic Law are a clear indication of a
deepening pact -- the FSLN and PLC continue to run the
country for the benefit of their parties. The changes make
the Assembly less democratic and more opaque by giving a
minority caucus more power at the expense of consensus,
allowing for secret votes, and restricting the rights of
individual members to operate outside of the party leadership
structures. The reforms regarding the amnesty provisions
blatantly favor Aleman. We will continue to track the
progress of this legislation. In our upcoming meeting with
FSLN International Affairs Secretary Samuel Santos on
December 7, Charge will raise our consternation over this
latest turn of events, and if the law passes, urge Ortega to
veto the articles allowing for easy amnesty and the provision
allowing secret voting. Specifically, we will remind the
FSLN that any support for an Aleman amnesty will have
negative consequences.

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