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Cablegate: Nicaraguans Successfully March Against Ortega

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAGUA 001103

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/11/24
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM PROP NU
SUBJECT: Nicaraguans Successfully March Against Ortega

REF: MANAGUA 1091

MANAGUA 00001103 001.2 OF 002

CLASSIFIED BY: RobertJ.Callahan, Ambassador, State, US Embassy
Managua; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) Summary: Despite the governing Sandinista National
Liberation Front's (FSLN) tactics to suppress marcher turnout, on
November 21 civil society and the opposition successfully gathered
approximately 25,000 participants to protest President Daniel
Ortega's authoritarian manner of governance. The FSLN's activity
the same day also brought thousands of supporters to Managua, but
gathered far fewer than the governing party expected. A major
factor leading to the opposition's massive demonstration was the
police's ability to provide security throughout Nicaragua.
Nonetheless, there were violent confrontations between the two
groups on the roads from Managua back to the departments, which
resulted in one death. End Summary.

Despite FSLN Tactics, Civil Society/Opposition March a Success

2. (C) Exceeding expected numbers, Nicaragua's civil society and
opposition parties gathered a crowd of thousands from across the
country to protest the one-year anniversary of the November 2008
municipal electoral fraud and Ortega's re-election efforts. Local
media reported that Nicaraguan military intelligence estimated
25,000 participants. The crowd included the 18 civil society
organizations that comprise the Citizens' Union for Democracy (UCD)
as well as all major opposition parties. Political and civil
society leaders that participated included former President Arnoldo
Aleman, National Assembly Deputy and former presidential candidate
Eduardo Montealegre, former presidential candidate Edmundo Jarquin,
and the president of the Higher Council of the Private Sector
(COSEP) Jose Adan Aguerri. The crowd also included prominent
figures from the FSLN's government of the 1980s, such as former
Supreme Court Chief Judge Alejandro Serrano.

3. (C) According to Enrique Saenz, president of the opposition Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), the FSLN miscalculated in believing that the governing party's intimidation tactics would dissuade participants from joining the democracy march. Leading up to the UCD protest, Ortega's FSLN employed a variety of tactics to suppress turnout. These tactics included the threat of violence on the roads to Managua and calling for a countermarch. A key tactic was threatening to terminate the permits of operators of public transportation who provided services to members of civil society or the opposition. However, local leaders across Nicaragua told us that they were able to secure the necessary means to transport thousands from all over Nicaragua. Saenz estimated that the residents of Managua outnumbered those from the departments. He believed that Managuans joined the march throughout the morning once they saw the crowds from the departments reach Managua and saw the police did have control of the situation. Other political leaders believed the pressure from various actors (e.g, the Catholic Church) held some influence over Ortega to not release a violent assault against civil society and the opposition.

The FSLN Rally - Large Presence, but Good Turnout?

4. (C) What was initially planned as a competing countermarch to the UCD protest ultimately morphed into an Ortega-fest at a different time and location from the UCD activity. The FSLN, through the National Workers Front (FNT), originally announced a march that would begin at 9:00 am. In the end, fears of FSLN-instigated violence did not come to fruition. The governing party's "Great March of the Victories" became more a government function (beginning at 5:00 pm after being delayed several times) and centered around Daniel Ortega's speech in which he lauded the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). The back-drop was a huge poster of Ortega with the text "Nicaragua in ALBA - Solidarity, Christianity, Socialism." Government/party media estimated over 300,000 participants at the FSLN activity, but independent media reported a significantly lower turnout. The governing party had hired most of the inter-city buses to transport people to its event, but people from across Nicaragua told us that many of those buses were empty.

Police Provide Security for Marches, but Some Violence Erupts

5. (C) On November 21, Police Commissioner Aminta Granera
demonstrated that her institution is capable of functioning
properly and protecting citizens' basic rights. Approximately
7,000 police across Nicaragua provided security the day of the
marches. In Managua, 3,000 police cordoned-off the march routes,
controlled the major rotundas, and provided buffer zones between
competing marches. Outside Managua, 4,000 police provided security
on the roads to Managua and escorted caravans coming to the capital
for the march. Leaders of civil society and opposition parties
acknowledged the police's positive work in providing a safe
environment for the protest (in contrast to several recent security
debacles, reftel).

6. (C) While the marches in Managua took place without any major
incident, there were confrontations between the governing FSLN and
the Liberals when the opposition caravans were returning to their
departments from Managua. One incident occurred near Ciudad Dario
in the department of Matagalpa (approximately 90 km northeast of
Managua). According to a traveler in the opposition caravan, FSLN
sympathizers ambushed the opposition buses and fired arms,
"morteros" (improvised projectile devices), and threw rocks. The
Liberals responded with rocks and morteros. The ensuing exchange
of rocks resulted in the death of one FSLN supporter and several
injured. A similar incident occurred on the road from Managua to
Leon. A traveler on one of the buses to Leon told us that the FSLN
buses blocked the opposition caravan, sprayed the Liberal buses
with pepper spray, and threw rocks at the opposition members. This
resulted in several injuries, including an opposition councilmember
from a municipality in the department of Chinandega.

Comment

7. (C) The civil society and opposition march was a resounding
success and surpassed all expectations in bringing approximately
25,000 Nicaraguans to protest President Ortega's government.
Likewise, Police Commissioner Granera showed at last that she was
capable of leading a national police that protects citizens' basic
rights. This was a needed shot in the arm to both the opposition
and the police, but the question now becomes whether civil society
and the opposition can sustain this unity effort to defend the
country's democratic space and whether the police can continue
functioning in a non-partisan manner.

8. (C) The FSLN's actions on November 21 also raise questions.
The lower than expected turnout at the FSLN's activity suggests
that all might not be well in the governing party. Additionally,
since Ortega's party in the past has demonstrated its ability (and
will) to violently suppress the freedom of expression, it is
unclear exactly why Ortega allowed this massive protest march. As
mentioned earlier, different political leaders attribute Ortega's
actions to miscalculation or to domestic and international
pressure. Regardless of the reason, the common belief is that
while Ortega allowed the opposition march, he is not likely to
change his authoritarian tendencies.
CALLAHAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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