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Cablegate: Sucre Municipality Opposition Mayor Focuses On Barrios

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R 101527Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
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RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CARACAS 001543

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 2029/11/20
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM PINR VE

SUBJECT: Sucre Municipality Opposition Mayor Focuses On Barrios

REF: CARACAS 1374; CARACAS 1367

CLASSIFIED BY: Robin D. Meyer, Political Counselor, DOS, POL; REASON:
1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) Summary: Carlos Ocariz, the opposition mayor of the
Municipality of Sucre in Greater Caracas, has focused on governing,
rather than politicking since assuming office in November 2008.
His approval ratings have increased since taking office, and his
work on social programs, public services, and participatory
budgeting represents a successful effort to challenge Chavismo at
its base. Ocariz, the former Secretary General of the opposition
party "Primero Justicia," told Poloffs on November 19 that "we need
good parliamentary deputies, not good candidates." End Summary.
A Microcosm of Venezuela

2. (U) Carlos Ocariz succeeded Chavista Jose Vicente Rangel as
mayor of the Municipality of Sucre in Greater Caracas in November
2008. Sucre Municipality is one of the five political entities in
the Greater District of Caracas. A large municipality, with an
estimated population of 1.2 million, Sucre includes middle and
upper class commercial areas, urban barrios, including Petare,
Caracas' largest, and rural barrios. Ocariz won the municipality
by winning 80-90 percent of the middle class votes, and 45 percent
of the votes from the poor in the urban barrios.

3. (C) Ocariz, Senior Advisor Federico Ortega, and other
municipal officials met with Emboffs on November 19. Ortega noted
that Sucre's socioeconomic diversity made it representative of
Venezuela as a whole. Ocariz said he had focused his
administration on improving the quality of life in the barrios.
Ortega had earlier noted that "Ocariz goes to Petare almost daily"
to inaugurate projects, attend holiday celebrations, and maintain a
constant presence in poor areas. Ocariz said the
opposition-oriented TV station Globovision has criticized him for
focusing too much on the poor areas to the neglect of wealthier
parts of Sucre.

Focus on Governance

4. (C) Sucre officials told Poloffs that it was initially easy to
improve on the previous administration's activities. The
municipality has benefited from its unusual ability to raise money
through taxes. The municipality has been helped by an unexpected
uptick in municipal tax receipts from companies and organizations
that resisted paying their taxes in full to the previous Chavista
administration. "Our tax income has gone from 650 million
Bolivares Fuerte (about 300 million USD at the official exchange
rate) in 2008 to 1.2 billion BsF (558 million USD) in 2009," said
Ortega. While passing projects through the Chavista-dominated
Municipal Council has been difficult, they have partnered with
private organizations to raise money for specific projects. His
administration has also made efforts to reach out to all members of
the community and has set up a hotline for the local Consejo
Comunal members. Ocariz has focused on basic public services such
as police, water availability, trash collection, and access to
health care.

Crime: Ocariz said the homicide rate has declined by 25 percent
over the past year, which they attribute in part to increased
police salaries and training. Sucre municipality official Angel
Alvarado believes that increased accountability is also an
important reason for the improvements, noting to Poloff that daily
reports are now due from police leaders to the Mayor's office. "We
can reduce it some more," Ortega said, "but there are city and
nation-wide problems that we cannot address alone."

Water: In an unusual arrangement, Sucre municipality is
responsible for distribution of water, while the national
government institution, Hidrocapital, is responsible for supplying
water. The basic infrastructure of pipes and pumps had been
neglected for years when Ocariz took office and could not pump
water to the poor areas in communities on the hills. Ocariz
improved the infrastructure and now more areas have access to
running water. (Note: Hidrocapital has now announced water
shortages city-wide due to supply problems described in Ref B. End
Note.)

Health: Ocariz's office is working to improve access to and
quality of health care in the municipality. Part of the
municipality's social program, the "Plan Progresa," is to promote
prenatal care through a cash incentive program. Sucre is one of
the few municipalities to own and operate a hospital; Ocariz said
they recently renovated this hospital, which happens to be next to
a partially closed central government hospital. "Ours is working,"
Ocariz said, "while theirs is in crisis." Chavez's flagship
program of "Barrio Adentro," had lost credibility in the
municipality due to a lack of doctors and medicine. In spite of
Chavez's public refocus on the program in September and October
(Ref A), Ortega said he had not seen an increase in activities or
funding for "Barrio Adentro" in Sucre municipality.

Abandoned Central Government Projects

5. (C) Poloffs had previously visited the Petare barrio of Sucre
on July 15. During that visit, community leaders had stressed the
failure of central government programs in Sucre as a result of
mismanagement or corruption. One Sucre community leader showed
Poloffs an abandoned factory on the outskirts of Petare that had
been stripped of cement blocks, steel rods, and wire fencing. One
of the tall public housing buildings nearby had been abandoned
because the river had started encroaching on its foundation. The
twenty new homes built a few years ago as the start of an
uncompleted plan for 400 homes still lacked access to public
services such as electricity, water, paved roads, and public
transportation.

Chavez is "Far From the People"

6. (C) Ocariz told Poloffs that Chavez's focus on Colombia,
Honduras, and other international issues was evidence that he was
losing touch with the daily concerns of many Venezuelans. "He used
to be close to the people," Ocariz said, "but he now he is far."
Ocariz said he has heard private dissent even from some of the
Chavista members of the Municipal Council. In focus groups run by
Sucre official Alvarado this past July, young men from Petare
expressed practical concerns about jobs and security. One
participant asked why Chavez was "flying all around the world while
things in Caracas are so bad." A local community leader in Petare
told Poloff that people were interested in concrete things like
paved roads, electricity, and water "so we can turn our ranchitos
into houses." In his family's one-room home with dirt floors and
unfinished walls, he had a DVD player and cable television but no
electricity to run them. Ocariz staff said his approval ratings
have increased in the urban barrios; the rural barrios, however,
are still strongly pro-Chavez.

2010 Elections

7. (C) Ocariz told Poloffs that there were many potential
candidates from Sucre interested in running for office in the 2010
National Assembly elections. He said part of the difficulty in
selecting candidates was because the National Electoral Council
(CNE) had not yet announced the new district boundaries. Ocariz
said "we need good members of parliament," as well as candidates
who can win. He thought the opposition had a good chance of
winning many National Assembly seats, although he acknowledged that
fraud or outright cancellation of elections was possible. Ocariz
said he had distanced himself from the "Primero Justicia" party to
focus on governance and had little public involvement with the
opposition's preparations for the 2010 elections. As for his own
political future, Ocariz said his focus was on his reelection as
Sucre Mayor in 2012.

Bio Note on Carlos Ocariz

8. (C) Carlos Eduardo Ocariz Guerra was elected mayor of the
Sucre Municipality of Caracas in November 2008, defeating then
Information Minister and close Chavez advisor Jessie Chacon.
Previously, Ocariz worked in the Miranda State Governor's office,
where he founded the Foundation for the Social Development of
Miranda State. He narrowly lost to Jose Vicente Rangel in the 2004
Sucre election. From 2000 to 2005 he was a representative of
Miranda State in the National Assembly. He worked briefly at the
Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC before returning
to Venezuela in 1995. A founding member of the "Primero Justicia"
political party, he resigned his position as Secretary General
after winning the Sucre mayorship. He has hired many young and
politically-independent staff members to work in Sucre, and the
office regularly uses polling data in its strategic development.
Born on May 1, 1971, Ocariz graduated with a civil engineering
degree from Caracas' Metropolitan University in 1994 and studied
public policy in Montreal, Canada in 1995. He is married to
Mariana Gimenez Soucy and has two young children.

Comment

9. (C) Ocariz's focus on improving public services in the
municipality's poor areas is both good government and good
politics. Sucre's ability to raise taxes, unusual in many
municipalities with less commercial activity, reduces its
dependency on the central government for funding and expands the
options available to an opposition leader. The reports of
abandoned and wasted central government efforts, breakdowns in
basic services, and resentment of Chavez's focus on external
affairs may explain his falling poll numbers in areas that have
strongly supported him in the past.
DUDDY

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