Cablegate: Fmln Vp Candidate Sanchez Ceren: Hard-Liner's Soft


DE RUEHSN #1139/01 2702209
P 262209Z SEP 08



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/24/2018

Classified By: The Ambassador, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: FMLN VP candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren told
us the (left-wing) FMLN would, if they win the March 2009
elections, reprioritize domestic spending to social needs
like health and education, would maintain CAFTA-DR, and not
toy with the dollarized Salvadoran economy at the beginning
of their term. (Comment: It is only fair to conclude that an
FMLN government will want to reconsider dollarization, and
other important questions, after they feel more entrenched in
power. End Comment.) He said that while the leading
Salvadoran business group was hostile to Mauricio Funes'
presidential candidacy, the FMLN had broad acceptance in
smaller Salvadoran enterprises. Sanchez Ceren said the large
number of Salvadorans in the U.S. would be a powerful
incentive to maintain good bilateral ties, but this would not
exclude relations with other countries like Cuba or
Venezuela. He acknowledged his polarizing role in Salvadoran
politics and said El Salvador must look to the future to
address El Salvador's problems, not dwell on conflicts of the
past. He welcomed recent poll results suggesting Salvadoran
voters expect Funes to win the presidential election and
expressed concern about possible voting irregularities and
post-election violence. He acknowledged the controversy over
his relative power vis-a-vis Funes, but said Funes would
dominate a "presidentialist" system if he won. End Summary.

2. (C) DCM and PolCouns met with FMLN Vice-Presidential
candidate (and head of the FMLN's bloc in the Legislative
Assembly) Salvador Sanchez Ceren, his wife Rosa Margarita
Villalta de Sanchez, and FMLN Legislative Assembly Deputy
Hugo Martinez September 24. Sanchez Ceren said the FMLN
intended to refocus GOES investment in the country with
increased emphasis on health, education, and agriculture. He
said the government's "Red Solidaria" (welfare program) was
valuable and should be continued, with a modified focus. He
added that there was untapped potential in idle land for
expansion of the agricultural sector.

3. (C) Sanchez Ceren then asserted that both the FMLN and
presidential candidate Mauricio Funes recognized the need for
stability in order to keep and attract investment, both
foreign and domestic. He said the FMLN would keep the
CAFTA-DR trade agreement and maintain the U.S. Dollar as El
Salvador's legal tender. He said that statements in prior
campaigns favoring the return of the Colon were no longer
applicable, since the country had five years of experience
using the Dollar. A return to the Colon would not be
possible in the short term, though he did not rule it out.
Commenting on recent public disagreements between Funes and
others in the FMLN (most recently General Coordinator Medardo
Gonzalez), Sanchez Ceren noted power in the Salvadoran system
is concentrated in the presidency, thus discounting those
differences. Sanchez Ceren said that while the leadership of
ANEP, the Salvadoran National Association for Private
Enterprise, was hostile to Funes' campaign, they did not
represent all Salvadoran business interests. Sanchez Ceren
and Martinez said the Funes campaign and the FMLN had ongoing
contact with many smaller businesses that were not members of
ANEP and that were supporting the campaign and prepared to
work with a Funes government.

4. (C) Sanchez Ceren noted the large number of Salvadoran
citizens living in the United States, suggesting this was a
powerful reason for the FMLN to maintain close relations with
the United States. Sanchez Ceren and Martinez welcomed the
announcement that Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans
in the U.S. had been extended. Sanchez Ceren said FMLN
foreign policy would be broadly based on principles of good
relations with other countries (including Cuba and Venezuela)
and honoring commitments. Using the country's trade
agreements and dollarized economy as an example, he said that
would be the starting point for policy decisions, suggesting
these agreements will remain in place even if certain aspects
of CAFTA-DR would need to be renegotiated. He suggested it
would be folly to discard the advances El Salvador has made
since the 1992 peace accords. Martinez noted that there are
many who selectively doubt the FMLN's policy assertions,
acknowledging the certainty of an Iraq pullout, but dismiss
other promises that cannot be demonized. "We will keep our
promises," he said.

5. (C) Sanchez Ceren acknowledged he is a polarizing figure
in Salvadoran politics. Given the country's history, he
said, that should not surprise anyone. He said the solution
to resolving this polarization was to look forward, not back,
and for Salvadoran political parties to set aside historical
battles and address the country's current needs. Sanchez
Ceren and Martinez welcomed poll results from the Francisco
Gavidia University which showed respondents expect Funes to
win the election over Avila by 16.6 percent (47.8 Funes, 31.2
Avila, with 19.7 percent either not responding or saying they
don't know.) (Note: The question did not address voting
intentions. End Note.) They acknowledged that the poll that
matters will be held March 15 and expressed worries about
potential voting fraud and post-election violence in the
event of a close result. They welcomed planned monitoring
missions by the European Union, OAS, and others, and were
supportive of the NDI-led comprehensive monitoring and quick
count program.

6. (C) Pressed on his views towards Cuba, Sanchez Ceren noted
that, because of the assistance provided to rebel forces
during the war, including efforts to secure a peace
agreement, he had a special appreciation for Cuba and the
Cuban government. He said he welcomed recent changes taking
place in Cuba and said the FMLN would establish relations
with Havana if it wins the election. Martinez noted El
Salvador was the only Central American country without
bilateral relations with Cuba. DCM noted that some countries

(e.g. Chile, Brazil, and Panama) had managed to maintain good
relations with the United States and Havana, but others, such
as Bolivia, had been unable to strike the right balance.

7. (C) Comment: Sanchez Ceren was, as expected, following the
script regarding positions on the FMLN's continued good
relations with the U.S. if Funes wins. In areas where we are
likely to disagree (e.g., Cuba) his acknowledgment of those
differences was direct. We are struck by the irony of
Sanchez Ceren commenting on the need for tolerance at the end
of a week where media featured his having ordered summary
executions of accused infiltrators during the civil war. It
is still an open question whether he or Funes calls the FMLN
shots. Econ Counselor reported separately that he was with
other FMLN members the same day who were using the talking
point regarding the GOES being a "presidentialist" system.
Finally, Sanchez Ceren saying what the FMLN will not do at
the beginning of their term, e.g., ending dollarization,
leads us to conclude that dollarization, and much more,
probably would be on the table later on.

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

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