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Cablegate: Lopez's Split From Unt Highlights Continuing Opposition Disunity

VZCZCXRO7142
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHCV #1145/01 2451530
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 021530Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3643
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CARACAS 001145

SIPDIS

HQSOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
DEPARTMENT PASS TO AID/OTI (RPORTER)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/24/2029
TAGS: PGOV KDEM VE
SUBJECT: LOPEZ'S SPLIT FROM UNT HIGHLIGHTS CONTINUING OPPOSITION DISUNITY

REF: A. CARACAS 1134 B. CARACAS 1111

CARACAS 00001145 001.2 OF 003

Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR ROBIN D. MEYER, FOR REASON 1.4(D)

1. (C) Summary: Representatives from the opposition Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) party rejected rumors, published by the local media August 26, that popular former Mayor of Chacao municipality Leopoldo Lopez has been expelled from the party reportedly for insubordinate behavior. Lopez announced September 1, however, that he had in fact been ejected from UNT due to "differences" with party officials over how to proceed in advance of National Assembly (AN) and municipal council elections expected in 2010. Conversations with party rank and file indicate that Lopez, who headed UNT's grassroots "popular networks" outreach initiative, may attract a broad following to his "movement of movements" -- likely creating yet another obstacle to the opposition's limping attempts to achieve electoral unity. Lopez seems to be saying that he has a better idea of what it will take to beat Chavez and is willing to break with his party to get his way. End Summary.

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LOPEZ: UNT'S PROBLEM CHILD
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2. (SBU) Opposition-oriented Globovision TV reported August 26 that Lopez had been formally expelled from UNT after a party meeting in Caracas the previous evening, on the grounds that it was part of a "party restructuring." Local media reported that UNT President Omar Barboza had officially endorsed the expulsion, and speculated that the decision was taken in order to limit Lopez's influence within the party. Within hours, UNT leaders rejected the rumor as false and spokeswoman Delsa Solorzano publicly asserted that Lopez would remain in UNT unless he decided to leave. Lopez announced September 1, however, that he had in fact been expelled from the party due to "differences of opinion" with UNT's leadership over how to select candidates in advance of elections. In an interview with Globovision, Lopez said that "I accept the expulsion, but I will continue working in the street." He complained that parties have not permitted "new faces" to emerge among their leadership and called on student and youth leaders to run as candidates for the upcoming elections. Lopez had been UNT's leader in the Caracas metropolitan district and in charge of its "popular networks," an organizing effort to extend UNT's reach.

3. (C) Prior to Lopez's announcement, Solorzano met with Poloffs August 27 and emphasized that Lopez remained a member of UNT. Nevertheless, she then expressed frustration for his refusal to participate in opposition activities, including its "unity table" effort. She noted that Lopez was vocally out of step with UNT, but admitted that the party itself was in a difficult state owing to its leadership vacuum. (Note: Its leader, Manuel Rosales, fled to Peru to seek political asylum in April and its Secretary General, Gerardo Blyde, had to step down after being elected mayor of Baruta municipality in November 2008. End Note.) Some of the conflict is likely due to a debate whether opposition candidates should run in a "perfect alliance" but under each individual party banner, or Lopez's calls for a "unified ticket" of candidates under a single umbrella organization. The ticket approach would force unity in advance of elections, but party representatives have warned that per electoral rules, it would require each party to formally reconstitute itself as a political organization after 2010. Solorzano said UNT would finally fill its vacant positions with planned internal elections in mid-December.

4. (C) Solorzano went on to say that the opposition was doing well in preparing unity candidates for municipal council elections, and she was emphatic that the opposition would be ready if AN elections were held as early as Spring 2010 (Reftel A). She noted UNT's leadership in many of the unity tables, and repeatedly said that UNT was the predominant opposition party and the only one with national reach.

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DISCONTENT AMONG UNT RANK AND FILE
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5. (C) Poloff met with Caracas metropolitan councilman Freddy Guevara August 24, a student-leader-cum-politician who was elected to his position in November 2008 on the UNT ticket. Guevara asserted that he had no faith in opposition parties or its unity initiative and said that he was a member of Lopez's faction. He said student leaders -- many who rose to prominence during the Summer 2007 protests against the GBRV's closure of Radio Caracas TV -- had graduated and then joined parties with the hope of pursuing "change from within." Guevara lamented, however, that they felt stymied by the authoritarianism of the party structure. He contended that not only is it difficult to rise through the ranks of the parties, but there is no prescribed method for doing so. He dismissed internal party elections as shams that have kept the same leadership in power for years. Guevara noted that UNT, relatively speaking, is a new party, but he said that its leaders in Zulia State had been entrenched even before the party was formally established. He said parties are "like anything else in Venezuela, you have to impress the boss to get ahead."

6. (C) UNT's grassroots coordinator, Jaqueline Nunez, told Poloff August 28 that the party was split between the elder "los maracuchos" leaders from Zulia State and Lopez's following. She assessed that Lopez is frustrated by his inability to run for public office and the knowledge that he nevertheless continues to command a considerable public following. Nunez criticized Lopez's unwillingness to use this capital on behalf of another political figure without personal gain. She wondered what Lopez hoped to do with his "popular networks," noting that "Venezuelans don't need another political party." Nevertheless, she went on to criticize UNT's repeated public assertions that it is the "number one party," which she argued was counterproductive to the opposition's unity efforts. She warned that while Venezuelans came out in record numbers to vote "No" in February's constitutional referendum, that was because of a broad rejection of the policy -- not a vote in favor of the opposition.

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LOPEZ'S FOLLOWERS
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7. (C) It is not clear who Lopez will bring with him if he attempts to create a new party. Polling from the Datos firm indicates that he enjoys 87 percent name recognition nationwide, which is remarkable given that Lopez has never held national office. According to the same poll, he has a 39 favorability rating -- second among opposition leaders only to Governor of Miranda State Henrique Capriles Radonski. It is unclear, however, whether Lopez can translate his personal support into votes for other candidates. His push for a different process for candidate selection, and its accompanying threat to party structures, is likely to envelop the opposition in debate that will be a drain on both time and energy. Some Venezuelans have lauded Lopez's willingness to challenge the opposition's aging leaders, while others are frustrated that he is not supporting the unity table effort, flawed though it may be. This would be the second time in less than three years that Lopez has split from a party; in 2007, he left Primero Justicia (PJ), which he co-founded in 2000, to join UNT.

8. (C) Guevara said that municipal Mayors Gerardo Blyde (Baruta) and Grateron are members of Lopez's "movement of movements." Blyde has told Poloffs previously that he feels a special bond with Lopez because the two left PJ together in 2007 in favor of UNT. Nevertheless, Blyde is reportedly close to Liliana Hernandez, who ran on the UNT ticket for the Chacao mayorship in November 2008 but whom Lopez refused to endorse -- what many observers consider the first visible schism between Lopez and the UNT. (Note: With Lopez's backing, Emilio Grateron won Chacao running as an independent candidate without party support -- a strong indication of Lopez's political savvy and campaign ability. End Note.) Guevara claimed that Lopez's movement is a broad effort to create dialogue among all sectors of Venezuelan society, and that "this is not an anti-party game" but rather an effort to create an alternative platform to Chavismo.

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COMMENT
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9. (C) UNT's internal divisions are in large part due to its composition -- it is a large umbrella party that has absorbed a variety of personalities and ideologies from across the spectrum. Nevertheless, we have heard similar complaints about tired leadership, internal fissures, and an opaque internal promotion process from other opposition party members. Lopez's much-publicized rebelliousness is likely to complicate the opposition's efforts to create a unity slate of candidates for elections in 2010. Lopez seems to believe he knows better how to beat Chavez and will not hesitate to break with his opposition colleagues to get his way. Chavez's recently passed electoral legislation (Reftel B) is a calculation that his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) will go to the polls more organized and cohesive than the opposition and reap the benefits of the new law. End Comment.

DUDDY

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