2004-07-26 20:40:00
Embassy Caracas
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C O N F I D E N T I A L CARACAS 002367 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/26/2014


Classified By: Abelardo A. Arias, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, for R
easons 1.4(b) and (d).


C O N F I D E N T I A L CARACAS 002367



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/26/2014


Classified By: Abelardo A. Arias, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, for R
easons 1.4(b) and (d).


1. (C) If the August 15 presidential recall referendum
passes, opposition leaders propose a primary election, to
select a unified opposition candidate for the follow-on
presidential election. Beyond the apparent front-runner,
Miranda State governor Enrique Mendoza, other opposition
leaders inside and outside the Coordinadora Democratica (CD)
have indicated that they will run in the primary. The
biggest challenge for the opposition will be maintaining
unity before, during, and after the primary. End summary.

Si "Si," Opposition Primary Quickly Follows

2. (C) If President Hugo Chavez loses the presidential recall
referendum August 15, a follow-on presidential election must
occur within thirty days according to the Constitution.
Opposition leaders have proposed an open primary shortly
after the August 15 referendum to elect a candidate to
compete against Chavez in the presidential election. (Note:
Opposition leaders presume that Chavez will be able to run in
the election although no official decision has been made by
the Supreme Court.) Fernando Martinez Mottola, consultant to
the Coordinadora Democratica and leader of the group drafting
the opposition's Governance Accord, told poloff on July 15
that the Accord will define the process for the primary. The
Accord, released on July 25, is designed to provide a set of
guiding principles for a transition government, but will also
set guidelines for an opposition primary. The Accord states
that the unified candidate will be "selected through a
primary election and the candidate will promise not to seek
immediate re-election in 2006." The guiding political,
economic, and social principles are more broad than Plan
Consenso Pais (reftel),but it shares the same short-term,
transition period time horizon.

Open to All

3. (C) Martinez asserted that the primary would be open to
all Venezuelans. Americo Martin, a CD leader and possible

transition president candidate, told poloff on July 8 that he
supported an open primary. Martin discounted the possibility
of Chavez supporters skewing an open primary by
participating. Alejandro Armas told poloff on July 16 that
he supports a closed primary election where only people who
signed the firmazo can vote. Pompeyo Marquez_, a Coordinadora
spokesman, told poloff on July 21 that he supports a primary
restricted to the firmazo list as well. He asserted that the
unified candidate of the opposition should be selected by
opposition supporters. Alfredo Larrazabal, a Sumate leader
and member of the "Group for a Unified Candidate" committee,
told poloff on July 15 that the Group would recommend an open
primary to promote a democratic, inclusive process to choose
an opposition unified candidate.

August 29 - Calm After the August 15 Storm

4. (C) Many opposition leaders, including Martinez, have said
the primary would be held on August 22, one week after the
referendum. However, Martinez told poloff on July 15 that
the Accord would recommend an August 29 primary. The days
immediately after August 15 will be chaotic, Martinez
predicted, and will not allow the opposition to begin the
primary election process until at least mid-week. He said
the opposition will need two weeks to process the referendum

results and then proceed with the coordination of primary
logistics and campaigning. Larrazabal reaffirmed that the
"Group for a Unified Candidate" would recommend August 29 as
the date of the primary election. He said the Group is
recommending a three-day candidate enrollment period and a
nine-day campaign period between the August 15 referendum and
the proposed August 29 primary.

Meet the Candidates

5. (C) Eight leading candidates have emerged for the
opposition to date: Enrique Mendoza, Henrique Salas Romer,
Americo Martin, Pompeyo Marquez_, Gerver Torres, Enrique
Tejera Paris, Cecilia Sosa, and Antonio Ledezma. Other names
have been mentioned, but various factors make their candidacy
unlikely. Julio Borges, the Primero Justicia National
Coordinator, is considered to be too young and prefers to
wait for a later opportunity. Alejandro Armas, a Solidaridad
National Assembly Deputy, is in very poor health. Manuel
Cova, President of the National Workers' Confederation (CTV),
has publicly stated that he will not be a candidate in the
primary (and he has been a lackluster public figure). Of the
eight candidates, Enrique Mendoza is the apparent
front-runner, but 1998 presidential candidate and Carabobo
state Governor Henrique Salas Romer is presenting himself as
a strong candidate. The other six candidates appear to be
unlikely to win a primary if Mendoza and Salas run, but are
presenting themselves as candidates to jockey for political
positions in an opposition government and/or present a
particular political agenda.


6. (C) Enrique Mendoza is the front-runner in a number of
opposition polls. The June 2004 Greenberg poll showed
Mendoza as the clear winner in a opposition primary. While
Mendoza is considered an important leader of the opposition
and the Coordinadora Democratica, his support among
non-aligned and moderate Chavista voters is weak. Armas
believes Mendoza has legitimacy within the opposition ranks
and should be able to win a primary. However, Mendoza might
wait for the 2006 presidential election due to the Governance
Accord's clause that commits an opposition transition
president to not seek re-election in 2006.

7. (C) Henrique Salas Romer lost the 1998 presidential
election to Hugo Chavez and has become an alienated voice
within the opposition, particularly within the Coordinadora
Democratica. Salas, who is Governor of Carabobo state and
patriarch of Proyecto Venezuela, is rallying support within
Carabobo by campaigning for the proposed primary in
conjunction with referendum campaigning. Like Mendoza, Salas
could win an opposition primary, but would face difficulty
garnering support from non-aligned and moderate Chavista
voters. Larrazabal, the Sumate leader in charge of the
primary, said Salas has given initial indications that he
would support a primary. A considerable fear within the
opposition is that Salas would reject the primary and present
himself as a candidate for the presidential election
regardless of the primary's outcome. Thus, Salas and the
unified opposition candidate chosen in the primary would
compete against Chavez, which would virtually guarantee a
Chavez victory. Like Mendoza, Salas has longer-term
presidential aspirations. Due to political maneuvering and
the re-election clause in the Governance Accord, Salas could
decide to wait until 2006 to run for president.

Dark Horses

8. (C) Americo Martin, a Coordinadora leader and former
leftist revolutionary, told poloff on July 8 that he is
preparing to present himself as a candidate for the primary.

Martin said he seeks to gain support from Accion Democratica
(AD) and Salas' Proyecto Venezuela (PV). Martin asserted
that he can attract voters from the non-aligned and moderate
Chavista camps, while securing the traditional opposition
votes. He sharply criticized Mendoza's campaign, asserting
that Mendoza cannot attract voters outside traditional
opposition parties. While Martin could theoretically attract
more left-oriented votes, his limited support within the
opposition and nationally are inhibiting factors for his

9. (C) Pompeyo Marquez_, a Coordinadora spokesman, has not
presented himself as a candidate, but his name is often
mentioned. Marquez_, an octogenarian and former leftist
rebel, could use his less traditional opposition roots to
solicit support from non-aligned and Chavista voters. In
addition, Marquez_ has broad support within the opposition.
Group of Professionals for Yes, an organization that seeks to
gain the support of 700,000 Venezuelan professionals, named
Marquez_ its honorary director. While Marquez_ may enjoy the
support of many potential voting blocks, he is not a strong
candidate. Marquez_ emphatically told poloff on July 21 that
he will not present himself as a candidate for the primary.

Long Shots

10. (C) Gerver Torres is the leader of A Dream for Venezuela,
an NGO that promotes reconciliation and reunification through
a long-term vision for Venezuela. Torres told poloff July 13
that he would present himself as a candidate, but he viewed
his candidacy as mechanism to present his NGO's vision for
Venezuela. Torres, until recently affiliated with Harvard
University and a former official in the Carlos Andres Perez
government, is not part of the Coordinadora. Enrique Tejera
Paris, another octogenarian and career technocrat, has
offered his candidacy, but has received little media coverage
or opposition support. Cecilia Sosa, former President of the
Supreme Court, told poloffs on June 25 that she would present
herself as a candidate if "the people asked her to run."
Antonio Ledezma, President of Alianza Bravo Pueblo, has been
shunned by the Coordinadora and would present his candidacy
as a means to advance his political career. Tejera, Sosa,
and Ledezma have been active to varying degrees in the


11. (C) Two distinct opposition strategies exist for the
primary and the unified candidate. The opposition could
shoot for their core constituency, particularly people who
have signed the firmazo and are from traditional opposition
parties. However, the Coordinadora could launch a campaign
to attract votes from non-aligned and moderate Chavista
groups. The above candidates represent both strategies. If
the opposition is focusing on its core constituency, Mendoza
and Salas are the leading candidates. If the opposition
seeks to attract new votes, Marquez_ or Martin would be more
inclusive candidates. If there is a primary, that vote will
decide the candidate. If all candidates discussed present
themselves, then a Mendoza or Salas victory is a likely bet.
It is possible, however, that Mendoza and/or Salas will
choose not to participate and recommend one of the other
candidates. Considering that this is a transition
presidency, political jockeying and "saving oneself" for a
future election are distinct possibilities. In addition, the
recently-released Governance Accord calls for the
opposition's unified candidate to commit to not seek
re-election if elected to the transition presidency.

12. (C) The first priority of the opposition, reflected in
its strategy and campaigning, is the August 15 presidential
recall referendum. However, opposition leaders and Sumate
are working to create the framework for an opposition primary
on August 29. An open primary two weeks after the referendum

will limit campaigning to the benefit of better known
candidates such as Mendoza and Salas. While uncertainty will
envelope the process until the actual primary, the opposition
is working to develop a strategy that will select a candidate
in an open manner and maintain unity.