Cablegate: Media Reaction: Nicaraguan Municipal Elections


DE RUEHMU #1415/01 3291745
O 241745Z NOV 08





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Media Reaction: Nicaraguan Municipal Elections


1. SUMMARY: The current political unrest in Nicaragua, arising
from disputed municipal election results (REFTELS), is dominating
all forms of domestic media. Amidst the clamor, foreign press
articles and editorials regarding the situation have been well
covered by local press as have State Department and Embassy
statements. Declarations by prominent Nicaraguan civil society
groups and international donors--dovetailing with the USG call for a
transparent vote recount--have also been well reported. Only the
Sandinista-controlled media outlets have distorted or minimized the
statements and/or added to the violence by inciting viewers.
Several journalists, including from pro-government outlets, have
been injured in the violence. END SUMMARY.

What's Being Reported
- - - - - - - - - - -

2. Center-left national daily "El Nuevo Dario" (circ. 30,000) ran
an article November 11 quoting Deputy Spokesperson Wood entitled,
"No more violence and count vote by vote." The article reads in
The United States Government urged Nicaragua to guarantee electoral
results that exactly correspond with the will expressed in the
voting booths by the people of Nicaragua in the elections this past
Sunday, asserting that the lack of national and international
observers complicates the credible evaluation of the municipal
election results.

In the customary daily press briefing, Deputy State Department
Spokesman Robert Wood yesterday pointed out...the case in Nicaragua,
highlighting that they have received information of widespread
irregularities in the Nicaraguan elections...Wood underlined that
"though the official results are not yet available, we note that
domestic observation groups and opposition parties have reported
widespread irregularities throughout vote centers in Nicaragua.
Unfortunately, the decision of the Supreme Electoral Council not to
accredit national and international electoral observers has made
difficult an appropriate evaluation of the elections," Wood pointed

3. "El Nuevo Dario" ran an article November 11 covering the European
Union statement. Text in the article reads:

...The EU presidency calls for an "effort towards transparency" in
order to "dissipate the criticism, especially in terms of the
recounting of votes," said the communique. The Union...regrets the
lack of accreditation of independent national and international
observers, whose absence makes the evaluation of the regularity of
the election difficult. "The European Union will follow the
situation with utmost attention," the text added.

4. Center-right national daily "La Prensa" (circ. 40,000) ran an
article November 11 which reads:

The Liberal candidate for the Managua mayorship, Eduardo
Montealegre, demanded today that the full Supreme Electoral Council
review every electoral tally sheet of every voting station in
Managua, from the municipal elections held last Sunday, which he
qualified as fraudulent...The opposition candidate insisted that the
electoral tally sheets held by the alliance, led by the
Constitutional Liberal Party, "clearly" show that the liberals won
the elections last Sunday in Managua.

According to Montealegre, the distortions in the Council's facts are
"a pattern that is seen throughout the country" [...] "We have to
review each electoral document because it cannot be that the
documents that the Council has are different from what ours say, if
the information was gathered from the same process," Montealegre

5. Center-right daily "La Prensa" (circ. 40,000) published a
half-page spot on November 12 paid for by the Nicaraguan Episcopal
Conference, which represents the Catholic Church leadership. An
article on the placement reports that:

...The Conference's call for "review and comparison of all the
electoral tally sheets in the hands of the political parties that
participated and that were signed at the moment of the closing of
the voting places, as a solution to the 'general distrust of the

In a pastoral letter, read by the Secretary of the Conference of
Bishops, Monsignor Rene Sandigo, stated that the priests feel that
this 'review and comparison' should be done 'with the presence of
the political party observers and foreign and national observing
organizations'. The priests also made an 'urgent calling' for the
Supreme Electoral Council to 'act honestly, with transparency and
impartiality, for their own dignity and for the respect of the
sacred vote that the Nicaraguan people conscientiously deposited.'
The Catholic Church has actively participated in the electoral
process and justified yesterday's message as 'a clear posture in
favor of the people, who feel frustrated by the electoral results in
many municipalities.'"

6. "La Prensa" also ran paid declarations for the American Chamber
of Commerce and Superior Council of Private Businesses (COSEP) on
November 12. Text of the accompanying news article reads:

The American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) and the Private Business
Superior Council (COSEP) stated last night that they do not trust
the results of the past municipal elections held on November 9.
Both business organizations declared their discontent and agreed
that a review of the electoral tally sheets was necessary for all
the polling stations in Managua and those municipalities in which
there was non-conformity with the results...

The statement released November 11 by AmCham referred to "the
alarming actions that occurred in the last few hours in our country
in the municipal electoral process, blurred and shadowed by the
phantom of fraud and the lack of respect for the popular will and
the lack of national and international observation." "Despite the
irregularities which occurred before and during the electoral
process, we demand that the truth prevail in an environment of
respect for the popular will" said the communiqu. The business
chamber asked that there be "representatives of friendly countries
and organizations" so that, together with national personalities
they can work together in an ad-hoc commission in a process of
7. On November 14, "La Prensa" highlighted international media
pressure regarding the elections, picking up on articles in "The
Economist" and "Le Monde." The "La Prensa" article reads:
"How to steal an election. Daniel Ortega sets an ugly precedent."
This is the title of one of the articles in the print edition of the
respected British magazine "The Economist," while the influential
French newspaper "Le Monde" last week published an article entitled,
"Relations between Nicaragua and the European Union Embittered."
Both media outlets emphasized the possibility that direct budget
support (of some $120 million annually) that the European Union and
various European nations bilaterally give to Nicaragua could
diminish next year.
8. Center-left national daily "El Nuevo Diario" ran an article
November 15 which quoted Ambassador Callahan's response to a press
question regarding U.S. foreign assistance in light of the election
fraud. The text reads:

At any given time the U.S. can "review," "evaluate" and "examine"
the level of cooperation that it keeps with Nicaragua...announced
U.S. Ambassador Robert Callahan. Callahan stated that the U.S. has
"serious doubts that the process was transparent and open and that
the results reflect the political will of Nicaraguans." Later he
added, "I cannot speak for all international cooperation, but as for
us, obviously, my country reserves the option to review, evaluate
and examine the level of cooperation."

9. "El Nuevo Diario" also ran an article November 15 which reads:

The outgoing mayor of Managua, Dionisio Marenco, publicly stated his
doubts about whether Alexis Arguello, the FSLN candidate, was the
clear winner of the November 9 municipal elections. "I think the
Supreme Electoral Council needs to be more flexible and clearly
explain each electoral tally sheet and find out who is lying, who
erased the tally sheets and who destroyed them," he said. If this
does not happen, "there will always be a serious doubt, and it is
not even worth declaring a winner because it will create distrust
which will in turn have an impact on the political state of things
and the governance of the country and sociologically we will go back
about forty years," Marenco said. "I am not really clear how many
votes Alexis got, where he got them from, how many he actually won,
with what number of votes. I won with 145,000, Herty with 135,000.
Alexis should have won with 155,000 if you follow the natural vote
growth. If you tell me that he won with 300,000 votes I doubt it
because it is not possible to get that many," said Marenco. He
insisted that "it will be difficult for people to believe and trust
in the Supreme Electoral Council. If that happens, we will have
created a [situation of] distrust where no one believes us and we
would not be able to govern."

10. On November 18, "La Prensa" ran an article which consisted of a
verbatim reprint of the text of the November 16 "Washington Post"
editorial stating that "President Ortega is moving to construct
another dictatorship and calls on the United States to suspend the
Millennium Challenge Account."

11. On November 20, the electronic version of "El Nuevo Diario"
posted an article citing the Washington Office for Latin America
(WOLA) statement issued November 19. Nearly verbatim versions of
the statement ran in the print versions of both dailies on November
21. The "El Nuevo Diario" article entitled, "United States NGO
calls for cessation of violence in Nicaragua," reads in part:

The Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA) expressed concern
over the tension between the government and opposition parties and
urged the political leadership of the country to "avoid any type of
violence." [...] The NGO urged the Supreme Electoral Council to
carry out a recount of the votes of the past election in the
presence of national and international observers in the
municipalities where the final results are in dispute.

Distortion of Reality
- - - - - - - - - - -

12. In addition to print reporting, these statements by domestic
civic society, religious and business groups, as well international
governments, NGOs, foreign press articles and editorials have been
widely reported in other formats including extensive coverage by
independent national radio and TV stations. On November 17, a
prominent evening talk show hosted by well-respected journalist
Carlos Fernando Chamorro was dedicated to reviewing the
international reporting on the situation in Nicaragua. However,
according to the "official" Sandinista media outlets, this
international pressure has had no effect, other than to "prove the
Gringo-backed conspiracy to topple the Government of Reconciliation
and Peace." NOTE: The Sandinista outlets Radio Ya, Radio La
Sandino, and Channel 4 are primarily owned and controlled by the
FSLN party. News and advertisements for these outlets are directed
by Government Communications Coordinator, First Lady Rosario
Murillo. The Ortega government has, at times, represented to Post
that employees of these outlets are official members of the
Presidential staff, therefore Post is unable to work with them on a
journalistic basis. END NOTE.

13. On November 18, the day of the planned opposition Liberal
Constitutional Party (PLC) march in Managua, the official Sandinista
Channel 4 dedicated the majority of the day to showing images of
violence in the street with sub-headlines such as "people infuriated
by Eduardo Montealegre's crimes." Nearly all images were of vandals
clad in red and black (FSLN party colors), many carrying Sandinista
flags. At times, the commentator and announcers stated that
"liberals dressed as Sandinistas were committing acts of violence."
Some of the most egregious anti-U.S. commentary aired around 3 p.m.
in the afternoon. Once the PLC announced it would not be able to
proceed with the march, Channel 4 began reporting that the Liberal
march failed because the "people" were opposed to it and did not
allow it to happen. "The Right failed and pulled back due to the
power of the people." The propagandist commentators and street
reporters for the station spoke for nearly three hours at the top of
their lungs, yelling slogans and encouraging the crowd to chant.
The studio commentator stated that "the North American Embassy's
plan to interfere has failed...The U.S. Embassy has threatened to
withhold aid in the past, this isn't anything new but, they won't do
it... This is a Gringo Embassy plan that has failed, showing that
the people no longer accept the neo-liberal capitalist system.
Don't believe the lies you see on other channels, channel 2
transmits on a stolen frequency, that channel and "La Prensa" and
"El Nuevo Diario" are inciting violence by continually publicizing
Montealegre's election crimes." Similar sentiments were aired on
the Sandinista radio stations throughout the day.

Media Under Fire
- - - - - - - -

14. Throughout the protests the opposition media provided extensive
and generally balanced coverage. Many reporters and wire
photographers were injured and/or violently prevented from entering
protest areas by Sandinista supporters. Reporters from Channels 2
and 8 and from both main papers had a particularly rough time.
Specific injuries and threats to opposition and independent media,
including serious radio station interference and signal jamming, are
too numerous to mention here and will be reported SEPTEL. However,
it should be noted that the government-affiliated Channel 4 was
given preferential access by Sandinista supporters to cover the
unrest. The station aired footage shot from trucks speeding along
protest routes as Sandinista reinforcements were dropped off, many
of whom were seen blocking opposition media shouting "only channel 4
allowed here." We must also note that a reporter from
government-affiliated Radio Ya was attacked. This reporter, known
to be part of President Ortega's press entourage, was injured and
his truck burned at 3 a.m. on November 17. Inexplicably, an
unidentified TV crew was there well before police or other
assistance, to film him lying on the ground as the truck burned. It
turned out that the destroyed truck had been rented by ALBA-Caruna,
a quasi-government entity for channeling off-budget Venezuelan
assistance to Nicaragua. It was unclear how the Radio Ya reporter
came in possession of the vehicle.

- - - - -

15. COMMENT: Prior to the elections, the GON was engaged in
efforts to close democratic space available to criticize its
actions, including by media. Given the strong coverage that
independent local media outlets provided of the political unrest and
the chorus of domestic and international calls for a peaceful,
transparent solution involving an international electoral audit and
review, the Nicaraguan government will almost certainly resume and
increase its pressure on the media. On November 20, the Nicaraguan
Professional Journalists Association (Colegio de Periodistas) issued
a statement condemning the recent election-related violence against
journalists, stating that "without freedom of expression there is no
democracy." Additional physical attacks on journalists are likely,
as are questionable legal maneuvers to suspend the legal standing
and frequency registrations of legitimate stations. Other tactics
that we expect to be resumed and increased include, harassment of
individual journalists and media companies through tax "audits" and
spurious slander and libel charges leveled at media by the
government or its paid proxies. Prior to the elections
government-affiliated outlets featured almost daily appearances by
senior government officials that attacked opponents using ad hominem
arguments, half-truths and innuendo. We anticipate an
intensification of this government-facilitated defamation campaign
against opposition candidates, media and regime opponents.


© Scoop Media

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