Cablegate: With Arena Fractured, Funes Is Fmln's Only Rival


DE RUEHSN #0037/01 0261915
R 261914Z JAN 10


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/01/19
SUBJECT: With ARENA Fractured, Funes is FMLN's Only Rival



1. (C) Summary: Eight months into the Funes presidency, the GOES
can best be characterized as schizophrenic. The part of the
government that Funes controls is moderate, pragmatic, responsibly
left-of-center and friendly to the USG. The part he has ceded to
hard-line elements of the (left-wing) Farabundo Marti National
Liberation Front (FMLN) is seeking to carry out the Bolivarian,
Chavista game-plan, including implacable hostility towards the USG.
Divisions on the right have given the FMLN a dominant position in
the Legislative Assembly. However, the FMLN does not have an
outright majority in the legislature, and it faces strong
opposition in the popular and independent-minded President Funes.
Funes's popularity could erode quickly if his administration does
not start showing visible results in reducing violent crime and
reviving the economy. The government's long-run inability to
tackle crime or produce economic growth, coupled with petty
infighting and corruption within the country's political parties,
raises questions about the future of democratic governance in El
Salvador. End summary.




2. (S) The FMLN's relationship-of-convenience with Mauricio Funes
has soured since the March 2009 election. Early in his tenure,
Funes surrounded himself with centrist advisors and laid out a
moderate, pro-U.S. foreign policy - moves FMLN hardliners saw as an
attempt to distance himself from their influence. Recognizing
Funes's popularity and needing his support, the FMLN sought subtle
ways to challenge Funes's independence. Starting in September
2009, FMLN hardliners within Funes's cabinet (most notably Vice
President and Education Minister Salvador Sanchez Ceren) gave
anti-American speeches, announced El Salvador's intention to join
ALBA, and made high-profile visits to Cuba and Venezuela - each
action carefully choreographed to defy Funes's agenda but with the
pretense that the officials were acting as FMLN representatives,
not as members of the Funes government (see reftel A). Meanwhile,
Public Security Minister Manuel Melgar has sought to politicize the
National Civilian Police (PNC) and the FMLN has used its
"territorial" ministries (Labor, Health, Education and Gobernacion)
to extend their geographic and bureaucratic hold over the GOES.
Funes advisors told us the FMLN may have also used their control of
the Salvadoran intelligence agency to bug phones in the Casa
Presidencial (see reftel B). Thus far, however, the two sides
continue to cooperate on issues of mutual interest, including the
budget and tax reform passed in December.

3. (C) While the Funes-FMLN conflict would appear to benefit the
right, internal divisions there have prevented the (center-right)
National Republican Alliance (ARENA) from mounting a serious
opposition. Since October, thirteen legislative deputies and
scores of mayors and local party functionaries have left ARENA,
most of them joining the newly-formed Grand Alliance for National
Unity (GANA) (see reftel C). ARENA leaders blame these defections
on former president Antonio Saca, whom the party expelled from its
ranks in December 2009. While not officially a member of any
party, Saca is widely rumored to be the inspirational and financial
force behind GANA.

4. (C) This crisis has not only dashed ARENA's hope of forming a
majority alliance in the Legislative Assembly, it has also called
into question the identity of the party, for years considered one
of the most well-organized and ideologically-unified in Latin
America. Still, XXXXXXXXXXXX told
PolOff that the crisis has galvanized the party's base, which XXXXXXXXXXXX
says is "angry as hell" at Saca and the GANA "traitors." According
to XXXXXXXXXXXX, in February ARENA plans to roll out a Contract with
America-style publicity campaign that will emphasize "center-right
pragmatism" and distance the party from President Saca's corrupt
legacy. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that ARENA president Alfredo Cristiani has
instructed party leaders to focus their criticism on the FMLN and
avoid attacking GANA or President Funes, both of which ARENA views
as potential allies. Until the 2012 legislative elections,

however, ARENA will remain a marginalized force in national

5. (C) Aside from the FMLN and ARENA, the country's other political
parties are small, weak, and ideologically malleable. Their only
real selling points are as coalition partners providing the final
votes on closely fought legislation. Neither the FMLN nor ARENA
can achieve a legislative majority without the support of GANA or
the (opportunist) National Conciliation Party (PCN). In recent
months, the FMLN has teamed with both GANA and the PCN to reshuffle
the legislature's leadership positions and pass a contentious tax
increase (see reftels D and E). Given their strategic positions,
GANA and the PCN will likely remain major players in legislative
battles ahead, demanding, as they were rumored to have done in
their previous votes with the FMLN, political favors and covert
payments in exchange for their support.


Funes's Challenges: Crime and the Economy


6. (C) Public security ranks atop most polling on the nation's
priorities, particularly after a 37 percent increase in homicides
in 2009. Despite great efforts, successive administrations have
failed to make much of a dent in the intractable street-gang
problem, so Funes's team will need to be both creative and
ambitious in its approach to make any headway. So far, they have
been neither. Funes's most significant public security reform to
date has been a temporary deployment of troops to patrol high-crime
areas (see reftel F) which news reports suggest may have moderately
reduced crime in those areas since the November 2009 deployment.
However, the constitution limits such deployments to six months,
and Funes has yet to propose reforms to the GOES security apparatus
that would make those gains sustainable. He has not moved to
provide the National Civilian Police (PNC) with significant
increases of badly-needed personnel, equipment and training, nor
sought institutional changes in PNC culture, that will result in
more effective law enforcement and crime control.

7. (C) The other major concern for the GOES is the sluggish
economy, which continues to feel the effects of the global
financial crisis and the recession in the U.S. According to the
GOES, GDP declined 3.5 percent in 2009 and is projected to grow
less than 1 percent in 2010 - its worst two-year performance since
1992. Unfortunately, Funes has few options available to stimulate
a recovery: the GOES has limited funds for countercyclical fiscal
activity, even with President Funes's modest tax increase, and
dollarization rules out monetary stimulus. Funes and his economic
team understand the importance of free-market incentives, but have
been anemic in their efforts to attract private investment.
Ultimately, powerful trade and remittance relationships mean that
the Salvadoran economy will only recover following a sustained
economic recovery in the U.S.




8. (C) GANA's threat to ARENA now appears more serious than it did
at first. GANA has poached dozens of ARENA-loyalists in recent
weeks and has demonstrated through an extravagant convention and a
subsequent publicity campaign that it has the deep pockets to put
up a real fight. Whispers within ARENA also suggest GANA's
critique of ARENA's elitism has struck a chord among mid-level
party functionaries, many of whom secretly sympathize with GANA
despite remaining within ARENA. ARENA's rebound depends on
recuperating financing, which it lost when it became an opposition
party without GOES patronage to hand out. It still represents the
only organized force capable of confronting the growing influence
of the FMLN.

9. (C) Funes's ego has little chance of rapprochement with the
hard-line FMLN. If things continue to deteriorate, we could see an
open break between the two sides, possibly resulting in a new

alliance between Funes and an existing party (perhaps the
center-left Democratic Change (CD)) for the 2012 legislative
elections. Funes would then need to shake up his cabinet and seek
right-of-center allies in the Legislative Assembly to pass his
agenda. The FMLN response would be ugly - massive street protests,
labor strikes, road blockages, threats of violence, legislative
logjams - and paralyze some government operations and place a
further drag on the struggling economy.

10. (C) The GOES's inability to make gains in public security,
continued anemic growth and the disintegration of the right taken
together present a challenging road ahead for democracy in El
Salvador, especially if coupled with a Funes-FMLN split. Funes's
persistent high popularity ratings, now well over 80 percent, make
it too soon to sound the alarm, but democratic institutions are
vulnerable. Sanchez Ceren's recent call for sweeping
constitutional reforms to institute "participatory democracy" is a
timely reminder that the hard-line FMLN's threat to Salvadoran
democracy is real. The Embassy, allied with civil society, will
continue to engage and support moderates in the GOES while working
with democratic forces across the political spectrum to strengthen
Salvadoran constitutional institutions.

© Scoop Media

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