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Cablegate: Fmln Convention Goes Stalinist, Looking Ahead To


DE RUEHSN #2972/01 3531957
P 191957Z DEC 06




E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/14/2026


Classified By: Polcouns Carlos Garcia, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: In its December 17 national convention, the
Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) Party (with
the attendance of 526 delegates known as party militants)
overwhelmingly voted into effect new "reforms" whereby open
primaries will be abolished, and incumbent party leaders will
remain in office through 2009. Under the new system,
participants in nationwide consultative meetings of party
activists will yield a slate of possible candidates; final
decisions on candidates will be made by the National Council
(41 voting members) and the Political Commission (19
members). FMLN leaders have strictly forbidden party
activists from any contact with media as the process moves
ahead. At this point, it is still not clear whether the 2009
FMLN presidential ticket will be headed by an outsider or by
an old-line Communist Party stalwart. END SUMMARY.

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2. (C) The FMLN, which long prided itself on its open
primaries, moved away from transparent internal processes
between their 2004 presidential defeat and 2006 municipal and
Legislative Assembly elections. An April 2005 convention
suspended open primaries in favor of hardliner-appointed
special commissions that selected candidates by a process of
"consensus" that lacked transparency. Under the
newly-enacted procedures, the National Council will select
candidates for the presidential ticket and choose Legislative
Assembly candidates (the latter of which was previously the
responsibility of 14 departmental directorates), while the
Political Commission will control the selection of candidates
for municipal and departmental offices, as well as
appointments to internal offices. FMLN Central American
Parliament (PARLACEN) Deputy Nidia Diaz opined that primaries
resulted in "weakness", and that the concentration of greater
power in the party's incumbent leadership would result in
greater "cohesion". Other prominent FMLN leaders asserted
that the new procedures--basically off-limits to the
press--will be less subject to interference and distortion by
the nation's generally-conservative news media. Stripped of
any functions relating to the election of new officers to the
FMLN's key ruling bodies, the purpose of the December 17
convention was simply to ratify the hardliners' "reforms".
With a bizarre logic, the party tried to spin their move with
the press, announcing that "democracy is not elections,
democracy is the people participating in popular governance."

3. (C) In a November 28 conversation with poloff, moderate
FMLN Legislative Assembly Deputy Hugo Martinez lamented his
party's increasingly autocratic tendencies and its
near-obsessive avoidance of public scrutiny of its internal
processes. Martinez related that there remain primarily two
views within the FMLN regarding what type of candidate would
best serve the party's interests in 2009. Many members of
the "Revolutionary Current" hardliner faction formerly
controlled by late party strongman Schafik Handal feel that,
notwithstanding problems she has already experienced in
governing San Salvador (see reftel B), a longtime veteran
such as San Salvador Mayor Violeta Menjivar might fare best,
while a growing number of grassroots activists believe that a
fresh face from outside party ranks--one unassociated with
the nation's bloody 12-year armed conflict--is the likelier
path to the Casa Presidencial. However, Martinez believes
that the Sandinistas' November victory in neighboring
Nicaragua has strengthened the hand of the FMLN's most
hard-core traditionalists. Notwithstanding his youth,
charisma, and good relations with all the FMLN's factions,
Martinez's own fortunes do not appear to be rising (see
reftel A).

4. (C) Moderate and highly-popular Santa Tecla Mayor Oscar
Ortiz, although careful to avoid direct criticism of the new
"reforms", has opined publicly and to poloff that candidates
most acceptable to the FMLN's orthodox leadership are
unlikely to appeal to voters outside the party's traditional
activist base, which remains too small to elect officials to
national office. (Note: The FMLN has lost every postwar
presidential election by margins of 22 to 24 percent. End
note.) Ortiz, whom Schafik Handal defeated in
bitterly-contested 2003 presidential primaries, is already
trying to position himself as a 2009 presidential candidate
(see reftel C), and speaks in measured tones of broad
consultations and alliance-building as the party moves ahead
toward 2009. Longtime FMLN Deputy Salvador Arias was
dismissive of Ortiz's pronouncements, emphasizing that
"strategy is the fundamental element... the (candidate) must
not define the strategy..." Ortiz was present at the
December 17 convention, but left prior to the near unanimous

votes for these changes. Ortiz' absence received significant
press attention, but was overshadowed by the vociferous
opposition to the new changes expressed by Legislative
Deputies Calixto Mejia and Emma Julia Fabian from La Libertad
Department. Mejia, to a chorus of boos at the Convention,
quipped that he had been selected for three years for his
position in party leadership and that he could not remember
anyone mentioning six years as part of the deal.

5. (C) Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR) National
Coordinator Julio Hernandez (a former FMLN Supreme Electoral
Tribunal (TSE) Magistrate) painted a quite different scenario
in a December 14 conversation with poloff. Hernandez
outlined how the FMLN leadership has already settled on
selecting an "outsider" to run for president in 2009, and
that the three finalists under consideration are Arturo
Zablah, Mauricio Funes, and Supreme Court Justice Victoria
"Vicki" de Aviles, with an old-guard party veteran in the
vice presidential slot--likely either Deputy Sigfrido Reyes
or Assembly Delegation Chief Salvador Sanchez Ceren. (See
reftel C.) According to Hernandez, the "reforms" passed by
the orthodox FMLN leadership are meant to ensure lockstep
discipline precisely out of fear that an outside candidate
could establish his or her own power base within the FMLN.
Hernandez reports that in his private meetings with both
Zablah and Funes, both have expressed their distaste at the
idea of serving as mere figureheads and mouthpieces for FMLN
orthodoxy, without being allowed to develop their own agendas
and appoint their own advisors and cabinet members.
Hernandez also reported that the FDR is considering offers of
a 2009 alliance from the FMLN, but that many of his FDR
colleagues' painful 2004-2006 experiences with the FMLN make
them hesitant to accept such overtures.

6. (C) COMMENT: The FMLN has now taken a clear step back
from their semi-democratic Marxist structure to a clear
Stalinist "democratic centralist" model. In addition, the
elimination of primaries will allow the now majority
Communist Party leadership to exert full internal control,
and will likely lead to the next major party purge. Prime
victims in this purge will be Oscar Ortiz, Calixto Mejia, and
most of the La Libertad department delegates. It is not
clear at this point whether the FMLN leadership will use
their monopoly on power to select a hardliner, or seek to
co-opt an outsider as their 2009 presidential candidate.

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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