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Cablegate: Opposition Unity Talks Continue - Arnoldo Aleman Remains Key

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O R 111614Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0260
INFO WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 001137

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/10
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL KDEM NU
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION UNITY TALKS CONTINUE - ARNOLDO ALEMAN REMAINS KEY

REF: A) STATE 124850; B) MANAGUA 1103

CLASSIFIED BY: Robert Callahan, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) Summary. In a December 3 meeting, a group of prominent
Nicaraguan business and political leaders reported to the
Ambassador on their efforts to promote opposition unity. The
group, several of whom had traveled to Washington the week before
for a talk at the Inter American Dialogue and for meetings with the
Department, believe the opportunity for Liberal, and broader
opposition, unity is greater than ever before. However, unity
continues to hinge on the participation of ex-President Arnoldo
Aleman and his Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC). The group urged
the USG to reconsider its relationship with Aleman in order to
improve the chances for unity and to reduce the risk that Aleman
will form another "pacto" with Ortega. Ambassador responded that
the USG is prepared to work with all those interested in preserving
democracy in Nicaragua, including Aleman, but would need to see
credible and concrete evidence of action on the part of Aleman and
the PLC before a reciprocal response by the USG could be expected.
End Summary.

2. (C) On December 3, Ambassador met with Antonio Lacayo, former
Minister of the Presidency under Violetta Chamorro, Roger Arteaga,
businessman and President of the American Chamber of Commerce
(AMCHAM), Cesar Zamora, past President of AMCHAM, Arturo Cruz,
former Nicaraguan Ambassador to the U.S., Noel Vidaurre,
Conservative Party leader and former Presidential Candidate, and
Eduardo Montealegre, Liberal opposition leader and 2006
Presidential candidate, to discuss ongoing opposition unity
efforts. The group recently returned from a November 24
presentation on Nicaragua at the Inter-American Dialogue and from
meetings with senior officials at the Department (ref a). The
group has been working for the last several months to bring
opposition groups, civil society, and the business community
together to confront President Daniel Ortega, preserve democratic
space, and form a united bloc to challenge Ortega and/or the
Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in the 2011 national
elections.

3. (C) Lacayo believes the chances for opposition unity are better
than ever, following the successful November 21 opposition march
and other recent setbacks for Ortega domestically and
internationally (ref b). The march showed that the opposition
political parties and civil society can work together successfully,
turning out participation far greater than had been expected in
spite of all the difficulties and harassment by the Ortega
government. Fear, he said, had been broken. Lacayo called the
previous two weeks the "worst of Ortega's presidency," noting the
strong turnout by the opposition, the successful efforts of
Nicaraguan National Police Chief Aminta Granera to preserve public
order and facilitate the march (despite explicit pressure from
Ortega not to do so), and the selection of Julio Cesar Aviles (whom
Ortega opposed) to be the next Chief of the Nicaraguan Armed
Forces. These three events, according to Lacayo, were clear losses
for Ortega and showed what the opposition and key institutions can
achieve if they remain firm.

WHERE IS ALEMAN AND WHAT DOES HE WANT?

--------------------------------------------- --------------

4. (C) Montealegre lamented the decision by the PLC not to oppose
the 2010 budget and fiscal reform package submitted by the FSLN, in
which the PLC largely abstained from voting and some PLC Deputies
cast deciding votes to facilitate its rapid passage as well as the
passage of key amendments (septel). According to Montealegre,
these votes show that Aleman has not yet firmly committed to being
in the opposition. "He wants to be in the opposition, but is not
yet prepared to pay the price of separating from Ortega,"
Montealegre commented in reference to the "pacto" power-sharing
agreement between Aleman and Ortega.

MANAGUA 00001137 002 OF 003


5. (C) Lacayo and the group believe that the opposition cannot win
without Aleman and the PLC and that the PLC finally recognizes it
cannot win without the rest of the opposition. The PLC's votes in
the National Assembly are necessary for the opposition to be able
to propose and vote on new members for key government institutions,
including the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), Supreme Court of
Justice (CSJ), the Comptroller's Office, and other positions. Only
with a united block of Deputies that includes the PLC can the
opposition force the FSLN's hand and take control of these
institutions. Montealegre also acknowledged that of all the
opposition parties involved in the unity effort, only the PLC is
viable to compete in the 2011 elections . (Note: Montealegre's
Vamos con Eduardo/Independent Liberal Party (PLI) remains hobbled
by internal problems and legal challenges and both the Sandinista
Renovation Movement (MRS) and Conservative Party (PC) remain
banned.) In the unity discussions, Aleman has been using the PLC's
strong legal position to press Montealegre and other leaders to
commit early in 2010 to a "primary" system to select the
presidential candidate for 2011.

6. (C) Montealegre noted that the Liberals continue to make
progress on uniting their collective forces through a dialogue
mediated by Esteli Bishop Abelardo Mata. In the group's meeting on
December 2, the PLC, Montealegre's Liberals (Vamos con Eduardo and
the Independent Liberal Party), and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance
(ALN), which holds five Deputy positions in the National Assembly,
agreed to block elections to the aforementioned government
institutions through March 14, to allow more time to achieve
Liberal unity. According to Montealegre, this was significant as
Aleman had been previously unwilling to commit to blocking votes on
all of these positions and had been pressing for an agreement
before the end of 2009 to hold primaries.

7. (C) Cruz and Vidaurre acknowledge that Aleman believes he can be
the opposition candidate for 2011, though they expressed doubts
that the opposition could hold together under his candidacy or that
he could win a general election. According to Cruz, Aleman's
popularity among the Liberal base has risen over the course of 2009
but not enough to overcome likely massive abstention among the
general electorate in a head to head race against Ortega. The key,
therefore, is to continue to draw Aleman into a closer and stronger
relationship with the rest of the opposition so that he cannot
break away once it becomes clear he cannot be the candidate in
2011.

RENEWING A USG-ALEMAN RELATIONSHIP?

--------------------------------------------- --------

8. (C) The group argued that greater incentives are needed to draw
Aleman further into the opposition camp and make it politically
impossible for him to renew his "pacto" with Ortega. The group
has supported the efforts negotiated by Mata, as well as broader
unity efforts that bring together the business community, civil
society and other smaller political parties. They remained
concerned, however, that Aleman could break from the unity efforts
if he does not believe his long-term interests will be protected or
advanced in the unity coalition. When pressed, Lacayo and Cruz
believe that Aleman is primarily interested in retaining control
over his political party, protecting himself from further criminal
prosecution, and securing long-term protection and stability for
his family. In a subsequent conversation, PLC Deputy and Aleman
confidante Oscar Moncada confirmed to us that these are Aleman's
primary personal objectives. In light of this concern, Lacayo
urged the USG to reconsider its relationship with Aleman and his
family. In particular, they urged that visas be restored to his
family members and that the USG (the Embassy) enter a direct
relationship with Aleman. Lacayo believes a meeting with Aleman

MANAGUA 00001137 003 OF 003


would help secure the PLC's place in the opposition coalition and
provide strong disincentives for Aleman to again negotiate directly
with Ortega.

9. (C) Ambassador noted that the PLC, and Aleman in particular,
have failed to respect their public and private commitments making
it difficult to believe that they will honor these current
commitments either. In December 2008 and January 2009, despite
multiple pledges to defend the rightful winners of the November
2008 municipal elections and to form a democratic-leaning National
Assembly, the PLC switched sides and joined with the FSLN to divide
up control and to exclude Montealegre and other non-PLC opposition
members. The December 4 vote on the budget and fiscal reform
package was just one more incident in the long history of Aleman
and PLC pledging to support democracy and the opposition, while
forming their own agreement with the FSLN on the side, that made it
difficult to take Aleman's recent pledges seriously.

10. (C) Nonetheless, the Ambassador noted, the USG remained
interested in meeting with and working with all groups that are
interested in preserving democracy in Nicaragua. If Aleman and
the PLC were committed to unity and took verifiable and irrevocable
steps to support democracy, including changes in the CSE that would
lead to more democratic elections in 2011, we could be prepared to
consider changes in the relationship with Aleman and other senior
leadership within the PLC, including a meeting with Aleman at a
future date. The burden, however, would be on the PLC to
demonstrate its commitment. Commitment would be measured in deeds,
not words ("obras y no palabras," in Spanish, was a key campaign
slogan and governing theme of Aleman's administration).

COMMENT

-------------

11. (C) The opposition is correct that they cannot win in 2011, or
make the necessary changes to the election law and other
institutions like the CSE that are needed to be able to compete in
fair elections, without Aleman and the PLC. At the same time, the
polls remain clear that Aleman is one of the most despised public
figures in the country and his candidacy at the top of a "unity"
ticket would likely divide the opposition further, increase
political apathy and voter abstention, and weaken Nicaragua's
increasingly fragile democracy. In fact, in a recent lunch with
the MRS leadership, they told us that never, under any
circumstance, could they support Aleman as the opposition leader.
We have maintained our position that the terms for opposition unity
are something for Nicaraguans, not the USG, to decide, and all
parties, from Eduardo Montealegre, to the MRS, to the PLC have
welcomed this position and believe it has contributed to the
ongoing efforts to foster unity. To that end, the request to
consider changing our relationship with Aleman and the PLC bears
serious consideration and may prove useful to coalition-building
efforts. At the same time, Aleman and senior PLC leaders have
previously shown their unwillingness or inability to commit to
breaking their current relationship with Ortega and the FSLN, so
caution is in order. We will provide septel a proposed series of
benchmarks on which to monitor PLC commitment towards fostering
opposition unity and preserving democracy that could be matched
with steps on the USG side to change our relations with the PLC,
including Aleman personally.
CALLAHAN

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