DE RUEHMU #1532/01 1922127
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 112127Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6960
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS MANAGUA 001532
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN, DRL JFARRAR AND NTONGOUR
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PHUM PREL NU KCRM KDEM KWMN SUBJECT: HRDF PRODEM PROJECT PROMOTES CREATING SPACE FOR CIVIC PARTICIPATION IN THE FACE OF "CAUDILLISMO"
1. (U) SUMMARY: On June 21-22, Foreign Affairs Officer and POL Intern attended a Catholic Relief Services (CRS)-sponsored conference for mayors from four of Nicaragua's departments. CRS is executing a $350,000 Human Rights and Democracy Fund (HRDF) grant to undertake the Civic Participation and Democratic Planning pilot project (PRODEM) in Honduras and Nicaragua. The HRDF grant term is from August 1, 2005 until January 31, 2007. PRODEM is operating in 10 Nicaraguan municipalities in the departments of Chinandega, Chontales, Matagalpa and Nueva Segovia. The conference provided all participants with an excellent opportunity to exchange views and to challenge old assumptions about dynamics between public officials and the citizenry in municipal governance. END SUMMARY.
2. (U) The purpose of the conference -- titled "Encuentro de Alcaldes Que Promueven La Participacion Ciudadana8 -- was for PRODEM mayors to share their experiences in accommodating citizen participation in municipal decision-making and to learn new approaches to democratic governance, including the importance of incorporating the views of women in development decisions. The two-day event provided ample opportunities for the mayors to deliberate over topics that challenge the traditional &caudillismo8 way of running municipalities.
INTRODUCING HUMAN RIGHTS REPORTING/HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY FUND - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
3. (U) Foreign Affairs Officer spoke before the conference on the Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL),s human rights reporting and HRDF activities. The presentation emphasized aspects of the PRODEM project that support USG democracy and human rights policy objectives including: strengthening the capacity of civil society, especially women,s groups, to negotiate with local governments; increasing citizen familiarity with national laws that protect democratic rights and with legal mechanisms that enable citizens to have a voice in municipal decision-making; creating space for permanent constructive dialogue between mayors and other municipal officials and civil society; and, realizing important social and economic development benefits through civic participation in municipal affairs.
4. (U) Among the 32 participants were 13 mayors (11 from Nicaragua and 2 from Honduras), advisors to some of the mayors, and staff members from PRODEM,s social partners who are executing the project for CRS, including CARITAS and Justicia y Paz, and CRS officers. Of the Nicaraguan alcalde attendees, 2 were FSLN and all of the others were PLC members. Only one of the mayoral participants was a female, a vice-mayor representing her Honduran municipality.
5. (U) The conference appeared to be well-organized and professional, and it stimulated significant animated discussion among the participants. The first day,s program included power point presentations on achievements thus far, findings from surveys about perceived project strengths and weaknesses in the public participation process, and interactive discussion sessions. The social partners and mayors from Ciudad Dario in Nicaragua and Tuepasenti in Honduras collaborated in giving individual presentations on experiences and lessons learned from their own municipalities. These sessions generated robust feedback from other mayor attendees.
6. (U) On the second day, Alejandro Bravo, a Nicaraguan political scientist, discussed the historical evolution and practical application of democratic decision-making from its elective (ancient Greek), representative (Roman) and more recent participatory forms, stressing the importance of participatory democracy in addressing the weaknesses (and vulnerability to corruption) of traditional representative democracy. Mexican-born anthropologist Araceli Garcia Gallardo's presentation focused on gender dimensions of civic participation. She underscored the reality of unequal power relations between the sexes in the public sphere, and on how to overcome biases regarding women,s traditional &reproductive8 role in relation to men,s &productive8 role in social and political decision-making.
7. (U) Opinions and perceptions from the alcalde participants about the virtues of civic participation in municipal decision-making and on advances of the PRODEM project varied. The Mayor of Trinidad admitted that citizens in his municipality aren,t interested in civic participation; he seeks new ways to motivate them to participate in PRODEM. However, Chichigalpa's FSLN mayor countered that in his "cabildos8 (town meetings), more than 300 men and women actively participate. Another mayor asserted that many citizens are afraid to come to town meetings because they believe the mayor will tax them if they show up. Others suggested that more citizens would participate if they could afford transportation from remote rural areas.
8. (U) One PLC mayor opined that citizens from opposing political parties were reluctant to participate in PRODEM activities. Another mayor averred that citizen attendance is low because the town meetings are often held during regular work days and many rural folk lack motivation to attend events consider irrelevant to their needs. The mayors agreed that Nicaragua,s civic participation laws are new and thus many people have minimal awareness of the opportunities they offer. Nonetheless, several mayors indicated that PRODEM activities have raised awareness among them and their constituents concerning the importance of civic participation in municipal decision-making in identifying community priorities, sometimes with constructive results, including the purchase of road building equipment.
OBSERVATIONS BY THE SOCIAL PARTNERS - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
9. (U) CRS Acting Director Jefferson Shriver and the Justicia y Paz and CARITAS social partners shared the following observations:
-- Through PRODEM, studies reveal that as of March 2006, civic participation by women in these municipalities has, on the average, risen from a very low baseline to about 30%. (COMMENT: the objective is to have 50/50 male/female participation by the end of the project).
-- PRODEM's goal is not to undermine mayoral authority, but to enable citizens to complement that authority through broad-based decision-making.
-- PRODEM's major thrust has been to find ways to improve citizens' access to information about the importance of municipal decision-making for their welfare, and regarding when and where town meetings and PRODEM support activities are held.