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2006-03-21 21:33:00
Embassy Managua
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DE RUEHMU #0633/01 0802133
P 212133Z MAR 06
						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 000633 




E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/16/2016

Classified By: Ambassador Paul A. Trivelli. Reasons 1.4 (B,D).

1. (U) SUMMARY: Meetings with political and business
leaders in the department of Masaya suggest that the
presidential race remains wide open. While most Liberals
leader agree that Eduardo Montealegre is the likely Liberal
candidate, support for him among the small business owners,
who form the backbone of the Masayan economy, is tepid at
best. Local leaders from the various Liberal parties urged
the Embassy to do something to unite their various factions.
Liberal leaders also predicted that if they were unable to
get behind a single Liberal candidate, the door remains open
for a Sandinista victory in the department. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Over several weeks in February conoff and consular
FSN traveled to the department of Masaya, which borders
Managua. Given Masaya's size, geographically the smallest
department in Nicaragua, and location, bordering Managua, our
interlocutors were well informed about events in the Capital
and several presidential candidates had already visited the
Department. Among those we spoke with were representatives
from the Catholic Church, the Convergencia Mayor of Managua,
representatives of Vamos con Eduardo, the Liberal
Constitutional Party (PLC), the Masaya Chamber of Commerce,
Alliance for the Republic (APRE), Movimiento Herty 2006 and
"Businessmen for Eduardo." Our interlocutors largely agreed
that the campaigns had not yet begun in earnest and that
things would likely begin moving after the jockeying on the
Liberal side was completed and a single standard-bearer had



3. (C) Conoff met with Monsignor Cesar Castillo, Pastor of
Masaya's cathedral and a pair of parish priests. Priests
were troubled by support among their parishioners for the
FSLN, and linked that support to the poverty, lack of
opportunities and inability of the central government to
improve their lives. Priests lamented that the Sandinista
provision of the occasional bag of food or cement continued
to gain them influence and likely votes among the poor. In
no uncertain terms however, Castillo noted that "the Catholic
Church does not want the Sandinistas to win," and that
priests would be "raising awareness" in their sermons and in
meetings at their churches. Castillo demurred when asked if
this was the policy throughout the country, only stating the
Church recognizes that a Sandinista return would be
disastrous for the country and the Church.

4. (C) Masaya Mayor Orlando Noguera of the
FSLN/Convergencia Party refused to give conoff a prediction
on what would happen, but did say he believed a second round

was a very real possibility given the division amongst the
Liberals. (COMMENT: Noguera was elected on the
FSLN/Convergencia ticket, but he is well known as a
Sandinista among the groups we spoke with. He, however,
declined to be labeled as such. He is widely seen by other
interlocutors as a competent technocrat rather then an
ideologue, the FSLN flag and AK-47 displayed in the first
floor museum at the town hall notwithstanding. END COMMENT).
Noguera noted that Lewites could have a strong showing in the
Department given the predominance of small businesses and
farms in Masaya and that Montealegre would have to fight the
perception that he is the candidate of the wealthy. He
jokingly asked when the Embassy would be announcing "our
candidate." Noguera declined to make a prediction on the
outcome, but said that the elections would depend on whether
or not the Liberals could unite.



5. (U) Bernardo Silva, the Masaya coordinator for Vamos con
Eduardo, described the well-developed campaign apparatus in
Masaya and the overwhelming preference of Liberal voters for
Montealegre in Masaya. When asked about support for other
Liberal candidates, Silva was dismissive and stated that he
believed that the Liberals would unite behind Montealegre.
Silva noted that Montealegre had visited the Masaya area
several times and that his campaign was raising good money
from the local business elite. Silva described Lewites as a
threat to take votes from the Sandinistas but that he would
not have much support from liberals.

6. (U) Francisco Valdivia, leader of a group of businessmen
who have thrown their support behind Montealegre, stated his
enthusiastic support for the candidate. Valdivia, a wealthy
cattle rancher, said he was coordinating efforts for
Montealegre because he thought he was the best candidate for
the job, and he does not want to see the Sandinistas return
to power. He said he has dozens of people contributing to

MANAGUA 00000633 002 OF 003

Montealegre's campaign and he has no doubt that Montealegre
will win. He assured conoff that the support for Montealegre
is deep in Masaya and that none of the other Liberal
candidates has any chance of winning the election. He
repeatedly told conoff he hopes the Embassy will get behind
Montealegre and pressure the other Liberal candidates out.

7. (C) In contrast to Valdivia, Masaya Chamber of Commerce
President Donald Porras said that support for Montealegre
among his members is tepid at best. While Porras himself is
a Montealegre supporter, he described his members (mostly
small businessman) as not caring very much for Montealegre.
Porras stated clearly that his members believed that
Montealegre is the candidate of the bankers and the wealthy
and would do nothing to help the "little guy". Porras
expressed frustration that he was unable to get his members
fully behind Montealegre. He also said that a recent
fundraiser for Jose Alvarado was attended by a number of his
members, but he did not believe Alvarado had deep support as
anything other than an alternative to Montealegre. (COMMENT:
The perception of Montealegre as the candidate of the
wealthy was also voiced by the Lewites and APRE camps. This
is an important issue in Masaya as the department lacks large
employers/farms. The strength of the Masayan economy is
based on small scale artisans and businessmen who generally
lament their lack of access to credit and blame the banks,
and by association, Montealegre. END COMMENT.)



8. (U) Conoff also met with Masaya APRE leader Mariano Vega.
Their campaign headquarters is a rundown shack that was
furnished with 3 chairs and a table and nothing else. Vega
said that Alvarado was not getting much traction in Masaya,
and that was mainly due to lack of funds. Vega was unable to
provide much in the way of an Alvarado platform other than to
say that the only way the Liberals could win was through a
joining of forces of Montealegre and Alvarado. He was more
interested in discussing his run for the National Assembly on
the APRE ticket. Vega made a plea for US-sponsored election
training and for the USG to help resolve the Liberal

9. (U) The meeting with PLC department head Noel Saenz was
not productive as it turned into a rally attended by a dozen
Aleman supporters. Saenz assured Conoff that the PLC was
looking forward to the elections and that a Liberal candidate
will win. Saenz was coy on which candidate and said that he
would be fine with a primary, but only under the PLC banner.
All attendees reiterated their belief that Aleman was
innocent and begged the Embassy to "take the shackles off"
their leader.

10. (U) A meeting with Fernando Brenes, who coordinates the
Herty campaign in Masaya, revealed an effort at grass roots
development and an interesting take on the importance of the
National Assembly elections. Brenes told conoff that he
would be thrilled if together Lewites and Montealegre could
gain sufficient seats in the Assembly to do away with the old
order. Brenes stated that he believed that irrespective of
the winner, the two can work together in the National
Assembly to reform Nicaragua's political system. (COMMENT:
This Scenario is frequently mentioned by Herty supporters and
Lewites himself. END COMMENT). Brenes also sketched out his
current efforts with grass roots campaigning, noting that
Lewites' supporters had in fact been visiting towns
throughout the department and their efforts are gaining
strength. Brenes stated confidently that Lewites would
garner 30-40 percent of the vote in Masaya, including a large
share of the non locked-in Sandinista vote and a fair number
of votes from those fed up with the Liberals.




11.(C) While the FSLN-controlled Departmental offices of the
Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) canceled several scheduled
meetings, all parties/groups (aside from the Mayor)
matter-of-factly stated that the Sandinista-controlled CSE
was registering its supporters and making it difficult for
others to register. One CSE scheme, as alleged by the
Lewites camp, was that the CSE was withholding cedulas (the
Nicaraguan voter document) from those wishing to work in one
of the garment assembly plants unless they were Sandinista
supporters, essentially denying them the ability to work.
Others made similar allegations. There is clearly no
confidence among the non-Sandinistas that the CSE will play
by the rules.




MANAGUA 00000633 003 OF 003

12. (C) As the meetings in Masaya make clear, Liberal
division leaves the door wide open for a Sandinista victory
in the department. Most Liberals in Masaya believe that only
the USG can broker a solution that would unify the Liberal
camp. The wild card will be how well Lewites does in Masaya,
which is considered to be one of his strongholds. Given the
demographics in the department, if he can not do well in
Masaya he will not be a factor in the race.