Viewing cable 07SANSALVADOR1943
Title: POTENTIAL THIRD FORCE IN THE SALVADORAN ELECTORAL

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
07SANSALVADOR19432007-09-27 22:22:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy San Salvador
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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSN #1943/01 2702222
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 272222Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY SAN SALVADOR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7985
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN SALVADOR 001943 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/09/2017 
TAGS: PGOV PREL ES
SUBJECT: POTENTIAL THIRD FORCE IN THE SALVADORAN ELECTORAL 
LANDSCAPE 
 
Classified By: DCM Michael A. Butler, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
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SUMMARY: 
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¶1. (U) Former ARENA party Economy Minister Arturo Zablah is 
heading up a center-left alliance which may serve as a 
launching pad for a run at El Salvador's presidency in 2009. 
Following nearly a year of meetings and alliance building 
with politicians, academics and civil society 
representatives, Zablah unveiled his plan of government this 
month.  In it, he identifies what he sees as the failures of 
nearly two decades of successive ARENA administrations and 
his plan of action to address these failures.  Zablah hopes 
to capture the support of centrist voters that are 
increasingly unhappy with the polarization of the country's 
political arena and not strongly attracted to either ARENA or 
the FMLN.  Zablah, a businessman and seasoned politician,is 
clearly interested in a role either as a presdential 
candidate or a power broker.  He has yetto formalize a 
relationship with an existing poliical party, but he seems 
to feel that his movemet can build sufficient momentum to 
bring a party possibly the FDR, to him.  Though it is early 
i the political season, a Zablah run -- even an unsccessful 
one -- could significantly impact the contry's political 
landscape. 
 
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A New Alliance 
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¶2. (U) Arturo Zablah, the patriarch of a powerful Salvadoran 
business clan, is heading a broad-based effort to create what 
he claims is a centrist alternative to El Salvador's existing 
political parties.  Zablah, the former Minister of the 
Economy under the ARENA Presidency of Armando Calderon Sol, 
is the driving force behind the "Alliance for Change," a 
center-left political movement that is attempting to rally 
civil society and the professional class behind an effort to 
transform the Salvadoran political landscape. 
 
¶3. (U) Zablah's political platform, "Towards Sustainable 
Development in El Salvador," is effectively a plan of 
government.  This tract, a widely-circulated pamphlet that 
the group debuted at a rally in September attended by nearly 
2,000 people, identifies seven principal problems facing El 
Salvador, ranging from delinquency and organized crime to 
corruption, impunity, political polarization, unemployment, 
fiscal irresponsibility, and environmental damage.  In 
response to these problems, he offers a range of social, 
political and economic strategies.  These include the 
creation of an independent electoral authority; proposals to 
eliminate government and police corruption; a stronger focus 
on health, education and housing issues; pension reform; a 
larger government role in promoting small business and 
microenterprise; tax reform including removing the value 
added tax on food and medicine; and an analysis of the impact 
of the 2001 dollarization of the economy. 
 
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Zablah on Zablah 
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¶4. (C) On September 18, Political Counselor and Deputy met 
with Zablah and his public relations spokesman, Carlos Vega. 
Zablah opened the meeting with a summary of the main tenants 
of his political program.  He argued that the FMLN is 
inherently unable to reform and has painted itself into a 
corner by preaching an ideology that it now cannot distance 
itself from.  He opined that that the FMLN cannot win this 
election alone, and that any electoral chance it has lies in 
coalition with someone else.  Zablah commented that the FMLN 
faces an insurmountable hurdle in that the Salvadoran lower 
class is inherently conservative and genuinely fears the sort 
of radical change that the FMLN has been threatening for 
years.  He also concluded that the average Salvadoran values 
the strong bilateral relationship with the U.S., and fears 
that if the FMLN gains power, the relationship would 
deteriorate to the detriment of Salvadorans living in the 
U.S. (Note: Though he didn't directly say it, it was clear 
that he meant an FMLN victory would mark the end of Temporary 
Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadorans. End note.) 
 
¶5. (C) The conversation also included some interesting comments on public security. Zablah noted that immigration to the U.S., resulting disintegration of the family structure, and lack of viable economic prospects are driving El Salvador's spiraling crime rate. He discussed a series of steps, each designed to attack a specific problem such as delinquency and street gangs. He argued that although none is sufficient in and of itself, together they could well add up to progress against the complex social dynamics dampening El Salvador's future prospects. In an aside, Zablah stated that the national civilian police (PNC) is riddled with corruption and incompetence, citing the "fact" that PNC chief Rodrigo Avila owns a private security firm represents an "enormous, unacceptable conflict of interest." (Note: Though Avila divested himself of his interest in his security firm when he returned to government service, the allegations of conflict of interest persist. End Note.)
 
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The Numbers May Not Lie 
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¶6. (C) Zablah has obviously given serious thought to 
electoral dynamics.  He summed up El Salvador's electoral 
arithmetic as follows:  Of some 3.8 million potential voters, 
800,000 will not vote; a million represent the hard-core 
supporters of ARENA and the FMLN, leaving roughly two million 
votes in play.  Zablah stated that he is confident he could 
get enough of those votes to become the third force in the 
electoral calculus.  He argues that if a second round of 
balloting is Zablah vs. ARENA, the FMLN will desperately 
support him in order to keep ARENA out of power.  If the 
tables are turned, ARENA does the same.  Either way, he plays 
a role. 
 
¶7. (U) Zablah may not be far off the mark.  Early polling 
data suggests that ARENA is vulnerable on economic issues, 
crime, and corruption.  An August 2007 poll conducted by La 
Prensa Grafica, one of the country's two major daily 
newspapers, showed ARENA support at the Presidential level at 
only 27%, and the FMLN with not quite 17%, leaving a majority 
of the population undecided as to whether or not to vote and 
for whom. Though the election is over a year away, and the 
parties have yet to select their standard bearers, the data 
suggests that much of the center is indeed up for grabs. 
 
¶8. (C) In a separate meeting between Emboffs and the 
Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), a center-left FMLN 
splinter group, Faction Chief Julio Hernandez stated that his 
party is actively considering offering the Presidential spot 
on its ticket to Zablah.  It remains to be seen if the offer 
will actually be made or accepted. 
 
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Comment 
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¶9. (C) Zablah comes across as organized, well-informed, 
confident, and genuine.  Though encouraged by the progress he 
has made thus far in terms of resonating with the public and 
putting his movement on the political map, he is still in the 
exploratory stages of putting together a formal candidacy, 
let alone a political party.  He noted that if he has not 
built serious momentum in the next few months, and if it 
looks as though success is not in the cards, he will likely 
cut his losses and quit.  In the meantime, the movement is 
focusing on building support and recognition with 
professional groups and academics while considering the 
possibility of joining up with an existing party such as the 
FDR to avoid the hassles and hurdles of forming a new party. 
 
¶10. (C) Zablah seems sincere when he claims that his 
principal aim is incorporating civil society and the 
professional classes into the Salvadoran political spectrum. 
In so doing, he hopes to open up additional political space 
and force both ARENA and the FMLN to be more accountable to 
the Salvadoran electorate.  By all appearances, Zablah has so 
far gone over well with civil society, the universities, and, 
perhaps most importantly, the press.  If his "brand" matures 
and he perseveres into the electoral cycle, Zablah could 
become a sought-after alliance partner and/or deal broker. 
Glazer