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03SANTODOMINGO7406 2003-12-17 12:22:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Santo Domingo
Cable title:  

DOMINICAN ELECTION SERIES #9: AMBASSADOR DISHES

Tags:   DR PGOV 
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					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SANTO DOMINGO 007406 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: DR PGOV
SUBJECT: DOMINICAN ELECTION SERIES #9: AMBASSADOR DISHES
OUT U.S. MESSAGE ON ELECTIONS WHILE PLD SERVES UP VANILLA

REF: SANTO DOMINGO 7132



1. (SBU) Following is number 9 in our series on the Dominican
elections:

AMBASSADOR DISHES OUT U.S. MESSAGE ON ELECTIONS WHILE PLD
SERVES UP VANILLA

Almost two weeks ago, on December 3, the Ambassador hosted
senior reps of the opposition Dominican Liberation Party
(PLD) to a lunch at his residence. For the third time in a
month, PLD candidate Leonel Fernandez declined an invitation
because of previously scheduled travel out of the country.
Party Secretary Reynaldo Pared Perez and the PLD's sole
national senator Jose Tomas Perez led the PLD group for
discussion with Embassy staff. For this series of party
ecounters the Ambassador also hosted the chair of the
Elections Monitoring Committee (Comision de Seguimento),
Monsignor Agripino Nunez, rector at the Catholic university.
Nunez has been mediating between the political parties and
the Elections Board in hopes of fostering a more positive
electoral environment.

USG POSITION: NEUTRAL AND FAIR

The Ambassador set forth the U.S. position on elections: we
are neutral with regard to candidates and will work with
whoever wins. The overriding interest of the United States is
to see a free, fair, transparent, and clean electoral
process. He told PLD guests of Embassy efforts to secure
support for election observes and of his initiative in
getting nine other Ambassadors to visit the JCE jointly to
express their collective concerns. The PLD representatives
responded very positively to this and appeared relieved to
hear it. (Persistent rumors in Santo Domingo have held that
the Ambassador and Embassy have been working to get President
Mejia re-elected.)

PLD ELECTION CONCERNS

The PLD leaders lashed out against the JCE as their "most
troublesome obstacle." Their concern is twofold. Six of
nine judges are declared PRD supporters and five of those six
are from Mejia's "PPH" faction. The PLD seriously doubts the
judges' ability to maintain a neutral stance or even to take
the elections seriously. PLD indignation was fueled by
reports that on November 29 President Mejia had received all
five of "his" JCE judges. (JCE President Luis Arias is from
the PRD but not from the PPH faction.)

Another problem for the PLD is the issue of control of the
computer system and the civil register. They alleged many
examples of young adults (those most likely to vote PLD)
trying to register for the first time and finding their names
already on the rolls with photos and id numbers of older
individuals. They asserted that the wrong polling address
appears on more than 900,000 registration IDs (cedulas),
potentially a tactic to confuse the vote. (The law now
requires that each polling booth serve no more than 600
voters, a stipulation which has led to extensive
re-assignments.)

Another cause of PLD heartburn is misuse of government
resources in the campaign, especially with involvement of the
military. PLD reps said that at a recent event for army
retirees in San Pedro de Macoris, military officers
distributed shoes and make promises of trousers and pension
increases if Mejia is re-elected. Campaign director
Francisco Garcia and SecGen Pared Perez, strongly seconded by
others, complained about campaign activities by senior level
military -- citing the much-discussed amateur video that
caught Army Chief of Staff Gen. Zorrilla Ozuna handing out
money from a PPH envelope to people on the street. They say
this level of military involvement has not been seen in a
Dominican election since 1978, when Balaguer made a last,
furious bid at re-election.

Tax reform was another theme. Citing their comments to
Treasury Under Secretary Taylor in his encounter with
assembled opposition representatives, they argued the need
for fiscal reform sooner rather than later. They doubted
GODR bona fides in negotiations with the IMF and raised fears
that President Mejia would let the economy continue to crash,
leaving the next administration -- theirs -- with nothing to
work with. The PLD does not want to inherit a crisis of
governability.
NOT ANSWERING THE TOUGH QUESTIONS

The Ambassador asked for PLD proposals for dealing with tough
issues like corruption and tax reform, noting that if
victorious, the PLD would for at least two years face a
Congress controlled by the PRD. The guests shrugged it off --
Fernandez had managed through two years of congressional
opposition and is prepared to deal with it. During the
Fernandez administration the GODR doubled revenue with a
lower level of taxes than now; good management would help the
country eventually to recover and to excel. (The PLD is very
willing to take full responsibility for the economic growth
experienced during Leonel's administration and is currently
running an ad campaign comparing prices of goods to those of
today under Mejia's.)

The PLD reaction to the issue of corruption was not as
comfortable. Invited by the Ambassador to set forth PLD
proposals to reduce corruption and to deal with the financial
crisis, they demurred with the comment that their platform
committee will have answers to all this by the end of
December. (This is the second time they've dodged the
corruption issue with us.)

In their summary, the PLD leaders stressed the importance of
a USG voice in prodding all the players involved, especially
the PRD and the Mejia administration, to play by the rules.

COMMENT

Recounted ten days later, this event sounds like a
predictable exchange, even a bit dreary and unimaginative --
plain vanilla. But it paid off. The Ambassador was
reinforcing the USG message and building trust. The
following week Assistant Secretary Noriega delivered the same
message and more, big time, before the assembled Dominican
Congress, and spoke privately to PLD Secretary General Pared
Perez and PLD advisor Temistocles Montas in one of a series
of contacts with the opposition. When pushed by the press to
express some indignation over U.S. "interference," both PLD
leaders explicitly turned down the journalists'
characterization. They saw no interference, in part because
they knew the message ahead of time and they heard it again,
in private. And like other major political party leaders,
they have the ear of the USG when they need it.
HERTELL