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09SANSALVADOR1071 2009-11-18 16:31:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy San Salvador
Cable title:  

ARENA Rebels Hope to Return, Prepared to Go It Alone

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1. (C) Summary: Leaders of the group of twelve (conservative) ARENA
breakaway Assembly Deputies, now called GANA, told PolCouns their
preferred option was to return to ARENA after sufficient leadership
changes (i.e., former President Cristiani relinquishes control)
took place. They do not rule out forming a new party or joining an
existing party before 2012 legislative elections. They expect
additional deputies may defect to GANA in coming days, while some
may be lured back to ARENA with financial incentives. GANA has
received private messages of support from President Funes, but the
group is adamant it retains its ARENA-style center-right
orientation. End Summary.

2. (SBU) PolCouns met November 17 with former ARENA Deputies
Guillermo Gallegos and Mario Tenorio. Gallegos, who led ARENA's
legislative bloc in the 2006-2009 Assembly is now the leader of the
breakaway group called GANA, the Grand Alliance for National Unity.
Tenorio leads GANA's twelve deputies in the Assembly.

3. (C) Gallegos said the twelve had broken from ARENA not because
of an ideological quarrel but in order to force a change in ARENA
leadership. He and Tenorio were critical of ARENA's lack of
direction since it lost the March 2009 presidential election.
Former President (1989-94) Alfredo Cristiani (1989-94) had assumed
leadership of ARENA's executive board (COENA) on an interim basis
through October. Gallegos believes Cristiani is attempting to stay
in control of COENA as a way to protect himself from charges
brought in Spain for his alleged role in the 1989 Jesuit murders.
Gallegos said ARENA had, during twenty years in government, turned
into a party with distinct groups loyal to current and former
presidents. Gallegos and Tenorio believe all four former ARENA
presidents must step down from positions of authority in the party.
Gallegos denied that GANA was operating under the direction of
former President Saca. Indeed, Gallegos said Saca's recent public
comments critical of the breakaway deputies had "injured" him,
since he and Saca had a previously close relationship.

4. (C) Gallegos said GANA's preferred option was to return to ARENA
once sufficient changes in party leadership had taken place. "Plan
A," Gallegos said, was by far their preferred option. However, he
said, GANA is prepared to form its own new party (or take over an
existing, smaller party) and compete in 2012 legislative and
municipal elections (Plan B). He noted that several ARENA mayors
had recently joined the ranks of GANA, suggesting the group's
support is broadening. Gallegos said "Plan C," joining up with an
existing conservative party, probably the (conservative,
opportunistic) National Conciliation Party (PCN) was not an
attractive option but a possibility. He joked that he could not
rule out "Plan D," i.e., getting out of politics altogether.

5. (C) Gallegos said he expected two or three more deputies might
soon move from ARENA to GANA. At the same time, he said, some
Salvadoran business interests were offering financial incentives to
a few of GANA's twelve deputies and might succeed in luring them
back to ARENA. Gallegos said President Funes had privately
expressed support for GANA's twelve deputies -- Gallegos said Funes
had all but "adopted" them -- but did not want to publicly align
himself with GANA. Gallegos said that while GANA's twelve deputies
and others remained loyal to ARENA's core beliefs, he said he could
conceive of an alliance between GANA and the "Friends of Mauricio"
movement that supported Funes' candidacy. Unlike the (left-wing)
FMLN, he said, the Friends of Mauricio (now called the Citizen
Movement for Change) is moderate and centrist.

6. (C) Gallegos said GANA had voted with the FMLN on the 2010 GOES
budget and other issues to garner necessary support to gain
representation in the National Assembly leadership. However, he
said, GANA will not always vote with the FMLN. He dismissed
criticism that the twelve deputies had betrayed voter intentions by
leaving ARENA after being elected as representatives of that party.
Assembly rules, Gallegos said, explicitly allow deputies to change
allegiance once elected. Gallegos said none of the GANA deputies
had felt threatened. On the contrary, he was pleased with public
expressions of support by rank-and-file ARENA supporters.

7. (C) Comment: While ARENA's meltdown has had the dramatic flair
of a Latin American telenovela, Gallegos and Tenorio privately
project a calm, deliberate air that suggests they understand the
gravity of ARENA's situation. While it is too early to predict if
GANA will ultimately return to ARENA or continue an independent,
center-right path, what is clear is that President Funes' 2009
victory and ARENA's defeat kicked off a process of soul searching
and reassessment of the party's direction. As for President Funes,
ARENA's divisions represent more of a distraction than a threat:
none of GANA's members have suddenly aligned themselves with the
FMLN's more extremist goals, and Funes will continue to enjoy
support for moderate proposals from both GANA and ARENA.