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2006-02-22 23:00:00
Embassy Managua
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DE RUEHMU #0417/01 0532300
P 222300Z FEB 06
						C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 000417 




E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/22/2016

Classified By: Ambassador Paul Trivelli for reasons 1.4 (b and d)

1. (C) Summary: With the November national elections still
distant in the minds of the citizens of the southern
Nicaraguan department of Rivas, none of the major candidates
seems to have made a significant impact on the views of the
voting public. That stated, most contacts indicate that
Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN-PC) candidate Eduardo
Montealegre appears to have made the most headway, followed
distantly by Sandinista dissident Herty Lewites and
Montealegre's fellow Liberal dissident Jose Antonio Alvarado.
While most acknowledged that the Liberal Constitutional
Party (PLC) -- once a powerhouse in the region -- has been
weakened by association with the corrupt leadership of
Arnoldo Aleman, the eventual PLC candidate could gain
considerable support if he is seen as independent from
Aleman. Most Rivas Liberals, regardless of party
affiliation, favor a Montealegre/Alvarado ticket heading a
PLC-led alliance.

2. (C) Summary continued: Although the majority of the
population leans Liberal, the FSLN has the strongest party
structure and political control of most municipalities in the
department. Moreover, contacts indicated that the citizens
of Rivas are more likely to vote for a person than a party,
which could lead to split tickets in the election if the
Liberals do not unify. End Summary.

3. (C) Poloff and Political Assistant met with local
political, economic, social and religious leaders in Rivas on
February 15 and 16 to discuss the upcoming national elections
and other issues. We received the overall impression that
the population has not yet focused on the elections and that
none of the candidates or parties has made a strong impact.
Rivas has ten municipalities, seven are controlled by the
FSLN/Convergencia, two are PLC (Rivas and Moyogalpa) and one
is Conservative (San Jorge). Several contacts explained that
Rivas was not a center of conflict during the 1980s civil
war, so the population is generally not as overtly partisan
and tends to vote for popular individuals, regardless of
party affiliation.

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4. (C) Although most of the population has not begun to pay
attention to the national elections, many of our contacts
believe that Eduardo Montealegre currently enjoys the most
support of any presidential candidate. Father Giovanni
Loaisiga of the Catholic Church, Departmental Electoral
Council (CED) President Jose Angel Granados, and Rivas
Ranchers' Association member Noel Rivas all agreed that
Montealegre currently leads the field of candidates, although
they believe his position could change as the elections draw

5. (C) Even Montealegre's Liberal rivals in Rivas claimed
they would back his candidacy under the right circumstances.
The departmental president for APRE, Augustin Lacayo, told us
that Montealegre is a "good person" that he would support if
APRE eventually joins Montealegre's alliance. "Amigos de
Alvarado" head Milton Arcia said Montealegre is "honorable,"
though claimed that his background as an upper-class banker
alienates him from most Nicaraguans. PLC mayor of Moyogalpa
Jose Martinez explained that he privately has "sympathy" for
Montealegre, though he cannot support him publicly, and
believes that Moyogalpa will support Eduardo in the elections.

6. (C) Jorge Prendiz, the deputy departmental coordinator for
the "Vamos con Eduardo" movement, told us that "Vamos" has
formed a directorship in every municipality, with some
organization at the town/neighborhood level. "Vamos" has
registered 8,500 affiliates and has a goal of registering
11,400 in a total voting population of 110,000. Prendiz
admitted that the structural organization of Montealegre's
alliance is not as strong as it should be, and efforts are
hampered by a lack of funds, though he acknowledged that most
of "Vamos'" funds are currently dedicated to the Atlantic
Coast campaign.

7. (C) Prendiz expressed a surprising level of
dissatisfaction with decisions taken at the national level of
the alliance. He said that the affiliates want primaries to
select the alliance's deputy candidates and would be
disenchanted with any other outcome. Prendiz complained that
the Conservative Party has too high a profile in the
alliance, which he claimed is damaging Eduardo's image with
the electorate. He is resentful that the vice presidential
position was promised to a Conservative, and claimed that
rival Liberal candidate Jose Antonio Alvarado would be "much
better." (Comment: Other observers noted that the
Conservatives actually have a relatively strong base in Rivas
and control the municipality of San Jorge. Prendiz likely
realizes that his own chances of obtaining a position in
government would be considerably increased without having to
share the spoils with the Conservatives. On a different
subject, Prendiz was recommended to us by "Vamos" national
headquarters instead of the head director. In a later
meeting, local Etica y Transparencia director Octavio Ortega
called the "Vamos" director a "drunk" who was appointed for
political reasons, but who is managing Montealegre's campaign
incompetently. End Comment.)

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8. (C) The president of "Amigos de Alvarado" in Rivas is
Milton Arcia, a wealthy businessman who owns the only ferry
that provides regular service to the island of Ometepe.
Arcia told us that he supports Alvarado with his time and
financial resources because Alvarado is a personal friend and
"well qualified" as a presidential candidate, having headed
five ministries under various Liberal administrations. When
asked if Arcia would support a Montealegre/Alvarado ticket,
he replied that Montealegre does not possess the leadership
qualities necessary to defeat FSLN candidate Daniel Ortega.
Regarding Montealegre's consistently wide lead in the polls,
he repeated the allegation that the polls are "bought" and
manipulated by a media sympathetic to Montealegre. Arcia was
also convinced that Alvarado would win internal PLC primaries
if allowed to participate. Queried on his ties to APRE, the
largest party where Alvarado is currently running as a
pre-candidate, Arcia derided the party as "gallo pinto" (a
dish of mixed rice and beans, referring to its inclusion of
members from different ideological backgrounds) and
proclaimed himself a "Liberal, through and through."

9. (C) APRE departmental president Augustin Lacayo confirmed
that APRE's relationship with the "Amigos" in Rivas is
"interesting" and "needs clarification." He noted that APRE
had received Alvarado in Rivas on February 11 and accompanied
him on a trip to Ometepe. (Note: Arcia did not seem to be
aware of the details of the visit. End note.)

10. (C) Aside from Arcia and Lacayo, no one else seemed to
have any confidence in Alvarado's campaign. Octavio Ortega
accused Alvarado of using GON employees to support his
campaign (an allegation we have heard frequently), which
Ortega said "looks bad". Ortega told us that APRE had been
considerably weakened in Rivas when the Conservatives left
the alliance after the 2004 municipal elections.

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11. (C) Miguel Angel Escorcia, president of "Herty 2006" in
Rivas, admitted that Montealegre probably enjoys the most
support of any candidate in the department, but claimed that
dissident Sandinista candidate Herty Lewites is gaining
steam. Escorcia explained that the local directorship of
"Herty 2006" is composed of ex-FSLN members, but affiliates
also include significant numbers of Liberals and
Conservatives. He claimed that 25 percent of Sandinista
voters will support Herty, and that three of the seven
Sandinista mayors in Rivas privately back Lewites. Escorcia
told us that "Herty 2006" has a leadership structure in every
municipality, but the organization only receives US$280 per
month for operating expenses (he showed us a receipt). He
said that the movement would select deputy candidates some
time in April. Escorcia emphasized that Herty's deputies
"know that they will only make US$2,000 a month instead of
US$4,500" once Lewites reforms the salary scale.

12. (C) Other contacts were skeptical of Herty's chances in
Rivas. Augustin Lacayo claimed that Lewites "has nothing" in
Rivas and will eventually rejoin Ortega in the FSLN. Jorge
Prendiz said that Lewites will not capture more than 10
percent of the Sandinista vote. Interestingly, Amcham member
Hector Sanchez Arguello, a former Contra commander, told us
that he and other businessmen are supporting Herty as a ploy
to weaken Ortega. He also mentioned that Lewites' nephew is
an investor in Remanso Beach, the development project that
Arguello manages.

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13. (C) Most contacts noted that the PLC, as in other areas
of the country, has suffered a decline and will not
successfully compete with the Liberal dissidents in the
national elections. The PLC vice mayor of the city of Rivas,
Marcia Tijerino, stated bluntly that "the Liberals will lose
the elections without unity." Rivas mayor Jose Martinez
(Arnoldo Aleman's MC during his 1996 presidential campaign)
welcomes all Liberal candidates to visit Rivas, and has in
fact had meetings with Alvarado and Montealegre. However,
Tijerino and Martinez both insisted that the PLC is the
Liberal flagship party with Aleman as its leader, and that
other Liberals should play by the PLC's rules. (Note: In a
private aside after the main meeting, Martinez acknowledged
that the PLC has "major problems" and implied that Aleman is
the source. End Note.)

14. (C) In private meetings, other local PLC leaders were
even more critical of the national leadership. CED president
Jose Angel Granados told us that the national PLC
directorship does not want to choose deputies using primaries
(a mistake), so Montealegre and Alvarado should convince them
through negotiations. Moyogalpa mayor Jose Martinez agreed
that Arnoldo Aleman's corrupt leadership of the party has
caused the PLC's current weakness and is the main obstacle to
Liberal unity. Martinez explained that the PLC lost several
municipalities to the FSLN in 2004 because the national
leadership imposed loyal candidates in several instances
instead of letting the strongest contenders compete -- a
strategy that backfired.

15. (C) None of the PLC pre-candidates, aside from Jose Rizo,
seemed to enjoy any support at all in the department.
Contacts noted that Enrique Quinonez and Noel Ramirez have
visited Rivas recently, but with little impact. Granados and
Noel Rivera claimed that Rizo has some following in the
department, however, Rivera indicated that Aleman would not
allow Rizo to win the nomination.

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16. (C) Virtually everyone we spoke with acknowledged that,
while the majority of the population has Liberal sympathies,
the FSLN is strong and organized. Moyogalpa mayor Jose
Martinez stated that the FSLN is the only party in the
department that is truly organized and that "you will never
find a Sandinista without a cedula (voter ID card)."
Monsignor Leonel Navas of the Catholic diocese told us that
the FSLN wields considerable influence and the seven
Sandinista mayors in Rivas help the party campaign. Rivas
Chamber of Commerce treasurer Benancia Ibarra explained that
the Sandinistas trained people to expect the government to
"give them favors" -- something that the PLC has not mastered.

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17. (C) As usual, most contacts were highly critical of the
Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) and local Departmental
Electoral Council (CED). Rivas vice mayor Imelda Martinez
claimed that the PLC is disadvantaged because CSE president
Roberto Rivas has betrayed the party and sided with the FSLN.
Miguel Angel Escorcia of "Herty 2006" pleaded for OAS
observers to curtail "massive fraud" planned by the CSE. He
added his observation that "only Arnoldistas and Danielistas
get cedulas." APRE head Augustin Lacayo labeled the CSE a
"disaster" and stated that the partisan magistrates conspire
to shut out small parties. Moyogalpa mayor Jose Martinez
said the CED is "very deficient" and does not deliver cedulas
to Ometepe. He noted that the cost to travel to Rivas is at
least 100 cordobas, when the average worker on Ometepe only
earns 30 cordobas a day. On a more personal level, Rivas
Chamber of Commerce member Pedro Mendoza said he had to pay a
bribe to "get anything done at the CED."

18. (C) Local CED president and former PLC departmental head
Jose Angel Granados acknowledged many of the accusations made
against the CSE and CED. He admitted that the CED has
retained several thousand cedulas for citizens of Ometepe
that have not been delivered for "lack of resources," though
he said the opening of municipal offices in June or July
should alleviate the problem. Granados agreed with Escorcia
that without a strong observer presence, "the FSLN will steal
the vote." He admitted that the "raton loco" (deliberately
switching citizens from one voting location to another to
cause confusion) had dissuaded many people from voting in
2004 and claimed that both the FSLN and PLC have "radical
members" who will try to manipulate the vote in their party's

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19. (U) Total Population (2005 est.): 166,938
Total Urban Population: 68,123
Total Rural Population: 98,815

Votes Received by Party, 2004 Municipal Elections
PLC: 23,212
FSLN: 26,812
APRE: 8,579
PRN: 1,138
AC: 1,359
Others: 997

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20. (C) The lack of personal identification with a political
party is a trend that is perhaps more advanced in Rivas due
to the relative lack of violent ideological confrontation in
the department, but it is becoming more pervasive throughout
Nicaragua as memories of the 1980s civil war rapidly recede
in the minds of a young population. The FSLN has capitalized
on this phenomenon by, at the national level, seeking a
rapprochement with the Catholic Church and toning down its
Marxist rhetoric in some venues. On the local level, the
FSLN uses primaries with its Convergencia partners to select
mayoral and National Assembly deputy candidates. To be sure,
these primaries are often fixed or manipulated, but the FSLN
in recent years has tapped better candidates in general than
the PLC, which often imposes candidates by "dedazo" who have
no greater qualification than their abject loyalty to Aleman.
Unless the moribund Liberals adapt and accept a more
democratic method of candidate selection, particularly at the
local and Assembly level, the FSLN may continue to gain
electoral ground.