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Cablegate: Moment of Truth for the Plc

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 001921

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SOUTHCOM FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/08/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL KCOR KDEM NU
SUBJECT: MOMENT OF TRUTH FOR THE PLC

REF: MANAGUA 1880

Classified By: Amb. Paul Trivelli, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

Summary
-------

1. (C) Nicaragua's Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) stands
at a pivotal juncture. An upcoming vote (date TBD) on the
issue of Citizens' Councils in the National Assembly will
auger whether former President and convicted felon Arnoldo
Aleman's power over the party is waning. At stake too are
the prospects for a strategic alliance between the liberal
parties in Nicaragua. Post believes that Aleman continues to
hold sway over PLC fortunes, and if the PLC backs down on the
issue of the Citizens' Councils, this fear will be confirmed.
We also discount rumors that a new leader will emerge in the
PLC to take Aleman's place and worry that none of the mooted
PLC challengers has what it takes to be a capable and honest
leader. End Summary.

Which PLC Thug do You Prefer?
-----------------------------

2. (C) The hottest political question in Nicaragua at the
moment is whether the two major liberal parties -- the PLC
and Nicaragua's Liberal Alliance (ALN) -- can work together
in opposition to thwart President Daniel Ortega's efforts to
consolidate his power. The main objective of this strategic
alliance would be to win the November 2008 Municipal
elections. Most political commentators agree that only a
united liberal opposition can defeat the Sandinista National
Liberation Front (FSLN) and claim a majority of the country's
mayors' offices.

3. (C) Of course, behind all the talk about opposition
liberal cohesion is the big question: just how much control
does Arnoldo Aleman continue to exert over the PLC? Eduardo
Montealegre and other ALN leaders have made clear to us that
they won't work with Aleman or a PLC that is intent on
perpetuating the Aleman-Ortega power-sharing and corruption
Pacto. "The ALN is founded on opposition to the Pacto,"
argues ALN Chief Financial Officer and strategist Kitty
Monterrey, and ALN's supporters would not countenance an
alliance with Aleman.

4. (C) Rumors of leadership challenges and internal splits
within the PLC abound, and pundits tout Enrique Quinonez, PLC
bancada leader Maximino Rodriguez, and Wilfredo Navarez as
the strongest candidates for new PLC leadership. All three
have been quick to publicly dismiss these conjectures;
however, in private, Quinonez has gone so far as to ask for
U.S. support in developing his own power base. "Don't worry
about Aleman," Quinonez told us, "because his power will fade
with time." In private conversations with poloffs, Rodriguez
and Navarez have been more cautious, but all three evidently
are intent on maintaining and improving their positions
within the PLC.

Citizens' Councils are Central Issue
------------------------------------

5. (C) The coming weeks of legislative maneuvering in the
National Assembly will be indicative as to the future
direction of the PLC, Aleman's continued sway, and the
prospects for a strategic alliance between the PLC and ALN.
Especially telling will be the effort underway in the
National Assembly to amend the statutory basis for the
creation of Citizens' Councils. The Citizens' Councils
(CPCs; Consejos del Poder Ciudadano) are widely acknowledged
as a tool by which Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo plan
to strengthen their personal control over the FSLN and usurp
the power of official state institutions at every level of
government (septel).

6. (C) Anger over the CPCs has been an internal rallying
point for those PLC members who feel that their
anti-Sandinista identity has been undermined by the
Ortega-Aleman Pacto. PLC mayors in particular have been
vocal in their opposition to the CPCs, which they believe
will directly threaten their authority and budgets. The July
2007 PLC Party Congress was very clear in its final
conclusion document that opposing the CPCs was a central

MANAGUA 00001921 002 OF 003


objective of the party.

7. (C) Three opposition parties -- the PLC, the ALN and the
Movimiento Revolutionario Sandinista (MRS) -- have tabled
legislative amendments that would remove from the Ley 290 the
enabling language for the CPCs and would clearly define
ministerial responsibilities with respect to advisory citizen
groups. National Assembly Deputy Carlos Noguera, drafter of
the PLC's Ley 290 amendment, explained to us on August 8 that
the various amendments would be reconciled by the Assembly's
Judicial Committee. He also assured us that, because the PLC
and ALN have a majority of the votes on the Committee, the
Committee will endorse legislative changes to remove the word
"consejos" from the statute book.

Is "El Gordo's" Grip Weakening?
-------------------------------

8. (C) Various PLC leaders -- including Rodriguez and
Noguera -- have told us in separate meetings over the past
few weeks that there was no way that the PLC could back down
on the CPC issue. They argue that, when the issue returns to
the full Assembly (sometime this fall, unless Pacto
legislative shenanigans stop it), no PLC Deputy would dare to
anger the PLC political base by siding with the Sandinistas
on CPCs. "It would be political suicide," Rodriguez opined.

9. (C) But other PLC leaders are hedging. Both Quinonez and
Navarez argue that there is no guarantee as to how Aleman's
marionettes will vote. Since, according to Quinonez and
Navarez, Aleman can directly pull the strings of 7 or 8
Deputies, the final vote tally may be very close. To many
observers, therefore, the CPC issue presents the PLC with a
moment of truth, a critical juncture in which the party will
show whether Aleman remains the PLC's decisive voice.

10. (C) The CPC issue is also important as a possible lever
to promote wider collaboration between the Nicaragua's
opposition parties. As recently as August 6, Nicaragua's
Liberal Alliance (ALN) party leader Eduardo Montealegre told
the Ambassador (reftel) that working with the PLC on stopping
the CPCs was the best chance for promoting down-stream
cooperation. Even though Montealegre doubted the sincerity
of prominent PLC members' statements in favor of a common
legislative agenda, he indicated to us his belief that
fighting the CPCs was an issue around which the liberal
parties could unite.

Comment
-------

11. (C) We agree with those, including Montealegre, who see
the CPC issue as an obvious focus for liberal unity. Any PLC
backtracking on its stated intention to fight the CPCs will
demonstrate that Aleman continues to be firmly in charge of
the party and will deal a serious blow to those Nicaraguans
who hope to promote a strategic alliance between the ALN and
PLC. PLC supporters express a genuine desire to fight the
Sandinistas over the CPCs. However, we discount the
suggestions that Aleman's grip on the PLC is weakening; he
will use all the resources at his disposal to protect his
Pacto with the FSLN, even if this means quashing the PLC's
rank-and-file wishes on the CPCs. After all, Aleman's
strength is not rooted in the party base any longer. His
power stems from his control of Supreme Court Judges,
Electoral Council Magistrates, the Comptroller General and
the Prosecutor General, i.e., an array of government offices
that can make the lives of any political opponent miserable
indeed. Aleman's grip on these levers is not about to loosen
any time soon.

12. (C) For this reason, we believe that if there is a vote
in the National Assembly on the Ley 290, this vote will prove
to be an existential moment for the PLC. If PLC politicians
can't break away from Aleman to fight the creation of the
CPCs -- new FSLN-controlled bodies that are likely to
directly threaten the authority of democratic institutions --
how will they muster the gumption to break with Aleman and
forge a strategic alliance with the ALN?

13. (C) This Embassy will continue to promote the
development of democratic institutions in Nicaragua and
encourage the evolution towards a political system devoid of

MANAGUA 00001921 003 OF 003


corruption. However, we discount rumors over internal PLC
splits, and various leader-in-waiting scenarios, as little
more than dubious conjecture and chatter from within the
political class. Perhaps even more distressing is the fact
that, even if Aleman's power is waning, we see few promising
candidates for effective and honest leadership in the current
crop of PLC hopefuls, who look more like actors from central
casting for the Sopranos than future national leaders. End
Comment.
TRIVELLI

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