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Cablegate: Nicaraguan Public Sees Country On Wrong Path With

DE RUEHMU #1750/01 1992153
P 182153Z JUL 07





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Nicaraguan public opinion has continued to
sour on President Daniel Ortega, with his approval rating
taking a 60-point nose-dive from a positive 51 percent job
approval rating in February to a negative 10 percent approval
just four months later, according to the latest CID-Gallup
poll conducted June 5 to 12. Although Ortega swept into
office on a wave of optimism, public euphoria that his
presidency would signal positive change has diminished.
Citing uncertainties on the economic horizon and lack of
jobs, many citizens are worried the country is headed in the
wrong direction. Despite the increased sense of pessimism
overall, Ortega has still held onto respectable approval
ratings in the areas of delivering free education and
healthcare. End Summary

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Negatives Outpacing the Positives
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2. (SBU) A CID-Gallup poll of 1,258 households nationwide
assessed public attitudes toward the Ortega administration
and its impact the future of the country, Ortega's style of
governance and management of the economy, as well as views of
the opposition, foreign relations, and other issues of
national concern. CID-Gallup concluded that the Ortega
government had either lost, or simply failed to capitalize
on, the good will and political capital which the government
had enjoyed upon taking office in January when people held
great expectations for change (Reftel A). The June findings
suggest a high degree of impatience among the public and
desire for immediate, concrete results. Once the initial
euphoria normally associated with a new administration wore
off, people have begun to see they are living with the same
problems they endured under previous governments; thus the
sunny views they may have held four months earlier no longer
fit the reality.

3. (SBU) People saw the glass half-empty rather than
half-full in a number of areas affecting their daily lives.
In February, 57 percent were optimistic and only 17 percent
were pessimistic regarding the direction of the country. By
June, the same pollsters found that 57 percent of Nicaraguans
no longer believed the country was on the right path, with
less than a third (31 percent) still remaining positive. In
addition, 57 percent were pessimistic about President Daniel
Ortega,s ability to deliver on his campaign promises and
rated him as accomplishing "very little" or "nothing."
President Ortega was viewed least favorably by residents of
the capital city Managua, by followers of the two main
Liberal Parties--the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and
the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), and among people with
at least one year of university education. Given a 49
percent approval rating from the Sandinista National
Liberation Front (FSLN), Ortega appears to be facing a tough
audience even within his own party. When polled in February,
87 percent of FSLN sympathizers opined that the future of the
country would be better off with Daniel Ortega as president,
and just 4 percent held the opposite view.

4. (SBU) With a 10 percent negative approval on job
performance, Ortega has received the lowest rating of any
president of the past 16 years, even worse than former
president and convicted criminal Arnoldo Aleman of the PLC
who had a 5 percent disapproval rating at a similar point in
his term. More people held a negative perception of the way
Ortega was handling the presidency (36 percent) than a
positive one (26 percent). Attitudes toward his performance
on the economy was even less favorable. Only 13 percent gave
him a favorable rating for managing the economy, while 39
percent disapproved, and the remainder judged it neither good
nor bad. Public opinion of Ortega's political persona,
however, were actually more favorable that the assessments of
job performance. He received a 43 percent favorable and a 48
percent unfavorable review, with nine percent expressing no

5. (SBU) Public opinion toward First Lady Rosario Murillo has
also slid, with her negatives besting her positives. In
February, when 42 percent approved of the first lady and 21
percent disapproved, by June she slipped to a 33 percent
approval and 48 disapproval rating, matching her husband in
the latter score.

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It's the Economy, Comandante
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6. (SBU) People have grown increasingly disillusioned about
the country's economic outlook and the impact on their
family's ability to make ends meet. Lack of employment, high
cost of living, and a general sense of uncertainty about the
country's future topped the list of chief concerns raised by
respondents. At least 41 percent saw the economic situation
getting worse, an opinion shared by 22 percent of FSLN
sympathizers--compared to 43 percent who judged the situation
as the same as it always has been. Although President Ortega
pledged to generate more jobs on his watch to reduce the
poverty and hunger that affects more than 3 million of the
5.1 million population, he has failed to live up to his
promises. Just one out of every eight households polled
judged President Ortega as managing the economy well. While
41 out of every hundred Nicaraguans believed there were fewer
opportunities since Ortega assumed power, only 14 out of
every hundred believed there were more, and 43 believed there
has been no change. Ortega received positive marks for
managing the economy "well," by only 13 percent of the
population, a majority of which were Sandinista respondents.

7. (SBU) When asked what most concerned them at a personal
or family level, the top three worries were: earnings did not
cover basic necessities (34 percent), the head of household
was out of work (19 percent), and increased neighborhood
crime and violence (13 percent). One fifth of heads of
households interviewed were without permanent employment and
reported feeling under increased pressure to emigrate in
search of better opportunities outside Nicaragua. This sense
of disillusion was shared by 36 percent of FSLN sympathizers,
especially those living in rural areas and with lower levels
of education.

8. (SBU) People generally did not find themselves better
off than they were before Ortega took office, with a majority
(71 percent) asserting that the cost of living has risen "a
great deal" in the last four months. While just under half
(49 percent) perceive their family,s economic situation to
be the same or stable compared to the previous year, 34
percent perceived it as worse and only 16 percent perceived
it is better. Reaction to the government,s increase in the
minimum wage was less than enthusiastic, with 68 percent
finding the 18 percent raise in the urban and rural sectors
of the economy insufficient, in contrast to 27 percent which
found it to be adequate for now. Curiously, more people (34
percent) remained optimistic that their family's economic
situation would improve in the coming year than feared it
would get worse (27 percent). This relative sense of
optimism toward the family's economic prospects, however,
decreased from February when 41 percent believed their
situation would improve, while only 11 percent worried it
would worsen.

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Feeling Less Free, Less Safe
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9. (SBU) The strength of Nicaragua,s democracy and freedom
of expression has moved to shakier ground, in the view of
most respondents. More than half (54 percent) were concerned
that they were not free to express their political opinion
without suffering some form of recrimination, in contrast to
February when a less dramatic 39 percent held this similar
concern. Close to the same number (51 percent) opined that
President Ortega had failed to act democratically. A number
of respondents lamented the continued wave of government
employment firings. While six out of ten respondents
rejected changing the constitution to allow for consecutive
presidential election, three out of ten were in favor of it,
but these supporters were primarily from the FSLN party.
More than three-fourths polled wanted municipal elections
held in 2008 and were opposed to their postponement.

10. (SBU) While President Ortega and his party won on
campaign promises of peace and reconciliation, zero hunger
and zero unemployment, and being the people's president, an
increased number of the population no longer view these
promises as credible. Most respondents believed the
government either "never" or "almost never" acts on behalf of
the people. These findings reveal a sharp contrast to the
image people held in February, when 45 percent were confident
that the Ortega government would be democratic and only 12
percent predicted he would follow a communist ideology and
take the country back to the 1980s.

11. (SBU) Attitudes toward crime also reflect growing alarm
about the country's security. More than half the public (55
percent) perceived that crime had worsened, and 22 percent
reported that they or a member of their household had been a
victim of assault or robbery in the past fourth months.
Nevertheless, growing concern about crime did not translate
into loss of confidence in law enforcement authorities, with
more than half polled (56 percent) agreeing that the number
of police directly involved with criminal elements was
slight, and another 20 percent asserting there was no police
involvement in crime at all. Meanwhile, National Police
Commissioner Aminta Granera sustained her stellar standing
with an overwhelming 80 percent approval.

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But All Is Not Lost
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12. (SBU) An interesting, if perhaps contradictory finding,
is that despite the acceleration in negatives toward the
president as a person and his ability to govern, a majority
of 54 percent were still optimistic about the return of the
Ortega government, possibly signaling that most people were
not willing to give up their aspirations for the changes the
new administration was supposed to deliver. Although concern
about corruption was ranked second in overall problems facing
the country (after unemployment), the survey found that the
majority of the public believes that the level of corruption
in seven key institutions (the judicial system, the
presidency, customs, ministries, internal revenue service,
public registry, and public health system) had either
stabilized or diminished.

13. (U) Although most regarded Ortega as falling short on
his campaign promises, he received credit for accomplishing
results on two issues people identified as priorities for his
government when it first took office: free education and
healthcare. Nearly 90 percent of parents with children of
school age had a good or very good view of the quality of
education. Half of parents with children in public school
indicated they were paying less for education since President
Ortega had decreed that public education would be free, and
81 percent of those polled overall agreed that more children
would be enrolled in primary and secondary school as a result
of this government policy.

14. (U) The free healthcare policy garnered similar high
marks, with 72 percent reporting they were relieved from
having to pay for medical attention in state hospitals since
the Sandinista declared it free of charge. More people rated
the quality of healthcare in hospitals and clinics as good
(45 percent) than as poor (23 percent).

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Political Affiliation
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15. (SBU) More people pledged allegiance to the two main
Liberal opposition parties than in February, but the FSLN
still held onto the greatest share overall with 36 percent.
The number of those identifying themselves as Liberal (a
combined 30 percent) was on par with those declaring no party
loyalty at all (31 percent). In June, the Liberal opposition
was divided between 16 percent identifying with the PLC and
14 percent with the ALN. Only 3 percent claimed belonging to
other parties, such as the Sandinista Renovation Movement
(MRS), Camino Cristiano, and the Conservative Party (PC). In
February, 39 percent professed belonging to the FSLN, with
Liberals split between the PLC with 11 percent, and ALN with
7 percent. Six percent allied with MRS, Camino Cristiano,
PC, and other parties, while 37 percent claimed no party

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Foreign Friends: U.S. in Third Place
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16. (SBU) When asked to choose which countries they
considered to be Nicaragua's closest friend and ally from a
list of ten "friendly" countries, Cuba (63 percent) and
Venezuela (62 percent) came out on top, followed by the
United States (56 percent) in third place. North Korea and
Iran ranked in ninth and tenth place, at 29 percent and 26
percent, respectively. Other countries listed were Taiwan
(47 percent), Mexico (44 percent), El Salvador (43 percent),
Costa Rica (39 percent), and Honduras (37 percent). (Note:
The survey results did not break down responses by party
affiliation, but it is highly likely that the comparatively
warmer views toward Cuba and Venezuela are due to FSLN
respondents. Further, in contrast to the February poll,
Bolivia was not on the June list. End Note)

17. (SBU) A majority of respondents (53 percent) expressed
skepticism toward the oil deal offered by President Hugo
Chavez and found it doubtful or highly doubtful that
Venezuela would ultimately forgive Nicaragua the debt it had
incurred as a result of buying oil on credit. Views toward
President Chavez's other trademark project, the Bolivian
Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), remained positive, with
70 percent of those who were aware of it (21 percent of those
polled) believing it would bring benefits to the country.
The findings also suggested a slight decline in confidence
toward ALBA since February when 84 percent of the segment
aware of ALBA (18 percent) believed it would bring benefits
to Nicaragua.

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Views of Other Political Figures
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18. (SBU) Views of the opposition remained similar to the
February poll. ALN deputy and former presidential candidate
Eduardo Montealegre has emerged as the strongest
counterweight to President Ortega and the Sandinista
government, a view that did not change significantly from the
February poll. His personal approval ratings, however, were
higher with 54 percent holding a favorable view. According
to CID-Gallup, the June survey results indicate that
Montealegre has consolidated his image as leader of the
opposition and of those who identify themselves as Liberals,
with 51 percent reporting the he should be the leader of an
eventual unification of the Liberals. More than half (53
percent) believed there should be a reunification of Liberal
forces this year, without the participation of Arnoldo
Aleman, while 38 percent believed the contrary. More people
regarded Aleman as a "caudillo" (62 percent) than as a
democratic leader (28 percent). In terms of views of his
personal character, Aleman received a 20 percent approval and
a 70 percent disapproval, with the remaining 10 percent

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Mayor of Managua Losing Some Ground, Still Comes Out Ahead
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19. (SBU) The CID-Gallup poll also revealed public
disenchantment with other elected officials. Dionisio
Marenco, the Sandinista mayor of Managua and potential future
presidential contender, was rated more favorably on job
performance than Ortega, with 41 percent of capital residents
polled agreeing that he was doing "well" or "very well," but
he lost 18 points since the February poll when he enjoyed a
59 percent positive rating. Poll analysts asserted that just
as Marenco received an image boost with the Sandinistas,
winning the national elections, he was now feeling the
effects of the negative opinions of the President. More
people agreed that certain conditions and services in
Managua--namely trash collection and level of
cleanliness--had improved (42 percent) or stayed the same (39
percent), rather than worsened (14 percent).

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Government Dismisses Poll Results
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20. (U) Reacting to the release of the poll, Foreign
Minister Samuel Santos publicly downplayed the negative
findings, explaining that it was too early for people to
expect rapid results from a government that was trying to
overcome "setbacks" it had inherited from previous
governments. FM Santos asserted that the decline in
President Ortega,s approval numbers was due to
dissatisfaction over the energy crisis. (Note: It is worth
noting, however, that even though power outages and rolling
black-outs have become a fact of life in Nicaragua, only 8
percent cited lack of electricity as the principal problem
facing the country. Lack of electricity ranked six on the
top-ten list of the most serious problems on a national
level, after unemployment, corruption, crime and violence,
high cost of living, and lack of moral values, but of higher
concern than lack of hospitals and medicine, potable water,
narcotics trafficking, and environmental damage. End Note.)
Even though the energy problem was the result of the
cumulative effect of "previous government errors," FM Santos
explained, the people were inclined to hold the faces of the
current government responsible. The Foreign Minister also
rejected claims that the negative perceptions were linked to
the alleged secrecy of the Ortega government, the use of the
FSLN Party Secretariat as the Presidential office, or other
controversial decisions such as the destruction of a public
fountain and the firings of governmental officials. He was
not concerned about the negative results because, as he put
it, "this government if working very hard, clearly to benefit
the vast majority."

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21. (SBU) Comment: Although the CID-Gallup survey data did
not break down all responses by party affiliation, a
comparison of the more positive February results with the
negative results of June, combined with the results of the
April M&R poll (Reftel B), indicates that FSLN voters have
grown disillusioned and divided in their attitudes toward
their own leaders. The so-called "euphoria" over Ortega,s
return to office in January was largely due to the vote of
confidence from the Sandinista faithful. While the lower
marks from Liberal ranks was not surprising, the honeymoon
Ortega enjoyed with his own party was shorter than expected.
Some opposition commentators have opined that the lower
ratings from the Sandinista ranks indicates that FSLN voters
are feeling "deceived." Another explanation for the drop in
favorable ratings is that now that the FSLN is the government
there is less unconditional support for its leaders than when
it was the opposition party. As one recent visitor to the
Embassy explained to Poloff: "The Sandinistas were more
comfortable as the opposition, but were unprepared to govern;
while the Liberals, who were more comfortable being the
government, were unprepared to be the opposition.


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