Cablegate: Nicaraguan Opposition Unity and Benchmarks


DE RUEHMU #0005/01 0061846
R 061846Z JAN 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 000005


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/01/06

REF: A) 09 MANAGUA 1137; B) 09 MANAGUA 1103

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

1. (C) Summary. At the start of 2010, the majority of Nicaragua's
political opposition remains convinced of the need to unite but
continues to confront the obstacle of former President Arnoldo
Aleman, his control over the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC),
and his continued power-sharing agreement, known as the "pacto"
with Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista National Liberation Front
(FSLN). As noted in ref a, there is a growing consensus that the
opposition cannot win national elections in 2011 without the
inclusion of Aleman and the PLC, while acknowledging that it also
cannot win with him at the top of the ticket. Talks to foster
unity continue but success will hinge on agreement to select
candidates to fill vacancies in key government positions in the
coming six months and on the determination of a process to unify
the Liberal parties. It is in the USG's long-term interest that
Nicaragua's opposition unify and present a credible challenge to
Ortega and FSLN in national elections in 2011, but only through a
unity process established and fulfilled by the Nicaraguans
themselves. Should the opposition, including Aleman and the PLC,
make credible progress in this area, the USG should be prepared to
respond in concrete ways to concrete steps, including changing the
nature of our engagement with the PLC. End Summary.


2. (C) The primary mechanism for achieving opposition unity remains
the dialogue established by Esteli Bishop Abelardo Mata, which
includes Aleman and the PLC, Eduardo Montealegre and his Vamos con Eduardo/Independent Liberal Party (MVCE/PLI), and representatives of the smaller Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN). The Mata dialogue continues to promote incremental steps to foster unity on practical terms, especially cooperation within the National
Assembly and on the issue of electing members to key government
institutions, including the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), the
Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), the Comptroller's Office, and other
positions. In their December 15 meeting, the group agreed to
formally reject an FSLN proposal that all current holders of these
public offices have their terms extended for five years or until
such time as the National Assembly votes on replacements. The
group also agreed to form a commission comprised of representatives
from each party to develop benchmarks and a path towards
establishing a unified Liberal party. Mata told us that, while he
believes all sides continue to recognize the imperative of uniting
the Liberal parties, Aleman has become increasingly combative and
confrontational and appears to be taking harder positions in a
possible effort to drive others away from the unity talks.

3. (C) Montealegre told us that the talks remain necessary as they
are the "only way to bring Aleman to the table" and publicly force
him to make concessions for which he can be held to public account.
For Montealegre, the key decision point over the next several
months is the selection of magistrates to the CSE. These
magistrates, more than any other public officials, are critical to
establishing the conditions for democratic elections in 2011 and
making sure the vote is counted fairly. An opposition-controlled
CSE could also reject the earlier CSJ ruling permitting successive
presidential re-election, thereby preventing Ortega from being the
FSLN candidate in 2011. Once an agreement is reached with the PLC
on these positions, Montealegre believes they must move on to find
a process to formally unite the Liberal parties. However,
Montealegre continues to reject Aleman's proposal to conduct
"primaries" given the issues of costs, likely interference by the
FSLN, and the difficulty in finding a neutral party to administer
the vote. Montealegre plans to propose a nominating/selection
convention, to which each of the Liberal parties (and possibly some
non-Liberals) would send delegates. According to Montealegre, a
convention would reduce the chance for Aleman to rig the outcome
and avoid the risk of falling into the trap of primaries.

4. (C) At the same time, patience among the non-PLC opposition is
beginning to wear thin. National Assembly Deputy Enrique Quinonez
(formerly Aleman's right-hand man in the Assembly and currently
aligned with Montealegre) expressed frustration at Aleman's
continued unwillingness to make concrete concessions that could
lead to unity. In particular, Quinonez believes that Montealegre
and the other democratic forces in the Assembly should cease
negotiations with PLC and form their own temporary "pacto" with the
FSLN to fill the upcoming government vacancies. According to
Quinonez, Aleman is likely to do the same to the rest of them -
i.e., cut his own deal with the FSLN to preserve the PLC's
exclusive share of the positions - and remains unwilling to cede
any power to Montealegre and the rest of the opposition. Quinonez
believes that Montealegre's MVCE/PLI group, along with other
nominally pro-democracy non-PLC Deputies, could deliver enough
votes with the FSLN to reach a deal and exclude the PLC.
Montealegre has expressed concern that there are at least five to
seven National Assembly Deputies that share Quinonez's view, making negotiations with Aleman all the more difficult.


5. (C) Despite the unity talks and other ongoing efforts, Aleman
continues his political hokey pokey - one day with the opposition
and the next (sometimes even the same day) continuing his "pacto"
power-sharing agreement with Ortega. On December 15, immediately after holding another round of Bishop Mata's unity talks with Montealegre, in which all parties agreed not to confirm any
government position until March 2010, Aleman's Liberal Supreme
Court (CSJ) magistrates joined with the FSLN CSJ magistrates to
divide up between their parties sixteen positions on the appellate
courts. This, along with the budget and fiscal reform votes (ref
b), were just the latest in Aleman's ongoing pattern of pledging
opposition unity and denying forming any "pacto" one day, only to
subsequently order his loyalists to vote with Ortega to retain the
current division of power.

6. (C) In a December 28 interview with the national daily La
Prensa, Aleman raised further doubts about his willingness to
comply with his public and private commitments in the Mata
dialogue, declaring that he intends to run for the presidency in
2011 and that the PLC "will not cede its quota" of magistrates to
other opposition parties or civil society leaders in exchange for
unity. Subsequently, other PLC Deputies have publicly confirmed
that they will not give up the PLC's share of the government
positions and threatened that they will be "forced" to vote with
the FSLN to divide up the positions if there is no unity agreement
soon. As Quinonez noted, these magistrates and other public
officials are the key to Aleman's power as well as the guarantors
of his legal and political protection.


7. (C) As noted in ref a, a group of prominent Nicaraguan business
and political leaders, lead by Antonio Lacayo, former Minister of
the Presidency under Violetta Chamorro, continues to urge the USG
to reconsider its relationship with Aleman and the PLC in order to
improve the chances for opposition unity and to reduce the risk
that Aleman will form another "pacto" with Ortega. To the extent
that changing this relationship could foster opposition unity and
that any USG step is in response to concrete actions on the part of
Aleman, we believe this idea has merit. Unity is essential to
enable the opposition to present a credible challenge to Ortega and
the FSLN in national elections in 2011 that will be held under
circumstances far less than free and fair. Opposition unity will
also be critical to helping Nicaragua preserve democratic space and
to hold the Ortega government to account for its actions and
governance. For unity to be successful, however, it must be the
result of a process led and implemented by Nicaraguans themselves.

8. (C) As previously noted, we remain skeptical of Aleman's
willingness to break his current power-sharing relationship with
Ortega and to make meaningful concessions that would lead to a
viable united opposition. Therefore, any change in the USG's
relationship with Aleman would need to be in response to clear,
concrete and irrevocable steps on the part of Aleman and the PLC.
Any outreach to Aleman ahead of such concessions is likely to
simply be leaked by him to the media as "proof" that the USG has
come around and now implicitly supports his presidential ambitions.

While the opposition has been reluctant to date to establish clear
benchmarks, the consensus is that agreement must be reached in
March-April on a process to select and approve opposition
candidates for the vacant positions, with final approval to take
place no later than June. The terms of two CSE magistrates and all
of the Comptrollers positions become vacant in February, followed
by four CSJ magistrates in April and the final five CSJ magistrates
in June. Following the adoption of a process to select and approve
a united opposition slate for these positions, the opposition would
then need to agree to a process to formalize unity and select a
slate of candidates for 2011. In the interim, there are also
likely to be several key votes in the National Assembly that will
test the willingness and commitment of the PLC to join with the
opposition, including additional budget modifications and fiscal
reforms, an amnesty bill for political opponents of the Ortega
government, and the rejection of an FSLN effort to strip
Montealegre of his immunity from prosecution to face charges in a
politically-motivated case.

9. (C) Each of the above benchmarks represent an instance in which
we can and will evaluate the PLC's willingness to clearly and
constructively join the opposition and take steps that strengthen
Nicaragua's democracy. Should the PLC take such actions, we should
be prepared to consider commensurate responses, on a step-by-step
basis, in our relations with Aleman and the PLC. These steps could
1) restoring visas or endorsing waivers for some PLC
officials, other than the Aleman family, who previously had their
visas revoked;
2) consideration of visas on humanitarian grounds
for some members of the Aleman family who were not directly
involved in his corruption (one son - 4 years old - is reported to
have a serious medical condition and may seek a visa to attend
medical consultations with specialists in the U.S.);
3) a private meeting between the Ambassador and Aleman at a neutral location;
4) and other future steps to re-integrate the PLC into the opposition.
These steps will infuriate the Ortega government and may lend it to
take retaliatory actions against the Embassy, but could serve to
foster coalition-building among the opposition, bind Aleman closer
to the rest of the opposition and make it politically more
difficult for him to form a new "pacto" with Ortega, and strengthen
the capabilities of the pro-democratic forces to challenge Ortega
successfully in 2011.

© Scoop Media

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