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Cablegate: Real Opposition, or an End to Checks and Balances?

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RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
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RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 002246

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/02/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM NU
SUBJECT: REAL OPPOSITION, OR AN END TO CHECKS AND BALANCES?

REF: MANAGUA 2185

Classified By: Ambassador Paul Trivelli, reason 1.4 (b) and (d)

Summary
- - - -

1. (C) Some members of the Liberal Constitutional Party
(PLC) appear to be on the verge of joining forces with the
pro-democracy Liberal Alliance of Nicaragua (ALN) party,
headed by Eduardo Montealegre, despite that fact that under
its leader, former President and convicted felon Arnoldo
Aleman, the PLC provides support to the Ortega government.
We have obtained a draft copy of a "Manifesto" that senior
members of both parties plan to release at a press conference
on October 4, announcing the creation of a new "National
Unity Alliance." At the same time, Aleman has empowered a
group of his loyal PLC supporters to negotiate with the
Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) a plan for
constitutional reform that would convert Nicaragua's
presidential system into a parliamentary democracy. The
intent of this new "Pacto" between Aleman and Ortega is to
find a way to neutralize the current, at least theoretical,
checks and balances on presidential power and keep Ortega in
charge after his term of office expires in 2011. Post
believes that the October 4 release of the democratic
"Manifesto" is an important and positive step towards a
brighter democratic future in Nicaragua, but the opposing
forces of caudillismo, led by Ortega and Aleman, will do
their utmost to stymie this development. End summary.

National Unity at the Cost of PLC Division?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (C) An up-beat Eduardo Montealegre told the Ambassador on
September 26 that the process of "unity" talks with members
of the PLC was progressing well. In addition to a number of
the smaller Nicaraguan opposition parties, Montealegre named
several prominent PLC members who were participating in the
talks, including: former Vice-President and Presidential
candidate Jose Rizo, former PLC Party Chairman Jose Antonio
Alvarado, Chairman of the National Assembly Defense Committee
Enrique Quinonez, and Chief PLC Whip Maximino Rodriguez.
These talks appear to have been reasonably successful, and we
have obtained a copy of the document the group plans to
release on October 4, entitled a "Manifesto to the Nation -
Unity for Nicaragua."

3. (C) The "Manifesto" includes broad language about
overcoming personal and sectarian interests to protect
democratic principles. It specifically cites as a threat the
attempts to perpetuate the current Ortega regime. The
document also notes the irresponsible actions of President
Ortega in his speeches and in his goal of allying Nicaragua
with undemocratic regimes. To combat these dangers and keep
Nicaragua on a democratic path, the "Manifesto" promises to
establish a "National Unity Alliance." One of the stated
objectives of this "Unity Alliance" would be to establish
procedures to identify candidates for the November 2008
municipal elections.

4. (C) However, the leading PLC members who are negotiating
with the ALN are not representing their party. Rodriguez
made clear to us on October 1 that he and his party
colleagues were engaged in these discussions with the ALN on
an individual basis, because of personal conviction, not as
representatives of the PLC. In fact, in response to public
disclosure of Rizo's and Alvarado's involvement in these
discussions, Aleman publicly denounced Rizo on October 1.
According to Aleman, the PLC is not kicking Rizo and Alvarado
out of the party; rather they are "automatically
self-excluding" themselves. Aleman also told the press that
the PLC is not threatened with divisions.

What We Need is a Prime Minister?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (C) Montealegre's greatest preoccupation when he met with
the Ambassador was not the personal attacks against him over
the CENI issue, nor the internal arguments among the ALN's
fractious group of Deputies (reftel). Montealegre's main
concern was the news that Aleman was negotiating with Ortega
on proposed constitutional reforms. In the September 23
edition of the weekly journal "Confidential," Supreme
Electoral Council Magistrate Rene Herrera, a close confidant
of Aleman who played an important part in negotiating
previous Aleman-Ortega deals, leaked to the press that there
were ongoing negotiations focused on converting Nicaragua
into a parliamentary democracy.

6. (C) The main intent of these reforms appears to be the
creation of a Prime Minister position. Montealegre told the
Ambassador that the fact that the National Assembly showed
some muscle to stop the President's effort to create
Citizen's Power Councils (CPCs) was a wake-up call for Ortega
about the National Assembly's ability to check presidential
power. Montealegre suggested also that since neither Ortega
nor Aleman can reasonably expect to serve another
presidential term, the creation of Prime Ministerial post
could provide them with a vehicle to perpetuate their power.

7. (C) On October 1, Aleman told the press that the he had
established a "commission" to consider constitutional reforms
and negotiate with the FSLN. The named members of this
"commission" include several of Aleman's key political
lackeys: Herrera, Supreme Court Justice Ivan Escobar,
National Assembly Executive Council Member Wilfredo Navarro,
National Assembly Economic Committee Chairman (and former
Foreign Minister) Francisco Aguirre and PLC Assembly Deputy
Oscar Moncada. Aleman and Ortega are both gearing up their
respective political machines to push for constitutional
reform. Other political heavyweights, for example, National
Assembly President Rene Nunez and Supreme Court Justice
Rafael Solis, have been filling the airwaves and national
press with their support for a parliamentary system "because
it would be closer to the people."

8. (C) Moncada confirmed to us on October 3 that a process
of negotiation has begun with FSLN, and acknowledged that the
FSLN's goal is to keep Ortega in power. Moncada could not
clearly state how constitutional change would benefit the
Liberals; his bottom line comment was that it didn't really
matter what the constitution looked like in Nicaragua,
because it would still be the same small group of governing
class elite that was in charge, no matter how the system is
organized. He argued that since the FSLN was not going
disappear, the point of negotiating with the FSLN was to
search for a practical mechanism of coexistence.

9. (C) This talk of constitutional reform causes even
stalwart PLC members some doubt. On September 28, PLC Deputy
Carlos Noguera expressed his concern to us that creating a
parliamentary system is not a simple tweak to the
constitution but a wholesale departure from historical
national precedent, a fundamental change in the body politic.
"It's not easy. It's a radical change," he opined.
Rodriguez echoed these comments to us, noting that the
current Constitution -- written by Ortega in 1987 and
subsequently amended -- is flawed and unwieldy, but "now's
not the time to change it." Constitutional reform requires a
super-majority in the National Assembly of 56 votes (in two
successive years), so, for such a vote to succeed, Aleman
would need to deliver to Ortega approximately three-quarters
of the PLC's National Assembly votes.

Comment
- - - -

10. (S) The October 4 release of the democratic camp's
"Manifesto" may be the start of an important process of
peeling away non-Alemanista elements of the PLC in favor of a
united democratic opposition. It also would be a meaningful
addition if other anti-Pacto forces join this movement, for
example the anti-Ortega Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).
However, we believe that it is indicative that the PLC
members who are talking with Montealegre are freelancers, not
acting on behalf of the party. For now, it appears that
Aleman continues to hold sway over the PLC party machinery,
despite the dissenting grumbles from the PLC political base.

11. (S) We agree with Montealegre that a sustained
Ortega-Aleman push to change the constitution could represent
a real danger. If Aleman can continue to control a
sufficient number of PLC members to help Ortega secure the
super-majority needed to create a Prime Ministerial post, the
Ortega-Aleman power and corruption "Pacto" will continue to
hold the balance of power in Nicaragua for many years to
come. Our best hope for keeping this from coming to pass
will be to watch the development of the new "Unity Alliance"
(or whatever the anti-Pacto democratic group decides to call
itself) and stand prepared to help as we can.
TRIVELLI

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