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08SANSALVADOR362008-01-11 22:39:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy San Salvador

DE RUEHSN #0036/01 0112239
P 112239Z JAN 08
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/10/2018 
REF: 2007 SAN SALVADOR 2000 
Classified By: Ambassador Charles L. Glazer, Reason 1.4 (d) 
¶1. (C) Summary:  On January 7, ARENA responded to growing 
pressure to name a presidential candidate by announcing the 
selection process.  The field of potential candidates has 
evolved rapidly with a number of well-known candidates, 
including Minister of Public Security Rene Figueroa and 
businessman Roberto Murray Meza, leaving the race and a 
number of lesser-known candidates generating some buzz. 
Ultimately, the ARENA candidate will be decided by March 15, 
though we may know the result even earlier. End Summary. 
How We Got Here: FMLN Pressure on ARENA 
¶2. (C) Ever since the FMLN announced its presidential ticket 
of Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sanchez Ceren in September 
2007, pressure has been growing on ARENA to identify its own 
candidates.  The Funes ticket has been polling strongly, in 
part because it is running against an as yet unnamed ARENA 
opponent.  In the days after Funes' name was first mentioned 
publicly, Vice President Ana Vilma de Escobar and Minister of 
Public Security Rene Figueroa both announced their intention 
to seek ARENA's nomination to run for the Salvadoran 
Presidency.  Long-time observers of Salvadoran politics will 
not be surprised that Roberto Murray Meza flirted several 
weeks with seeking ARENA's nomination, but pulled his name 
out of consideration January 7, the morning COENA (ARENA's 
National Executive Committee) announced the selection process 
for naming its candidate. 
¶3. (C) Press reports the weekend of January 5 featured 
competing "top six" lists in El Salvador's top two dailies, 
which, combined with the Escobar and Figueroa candidacies, 
offered a potential lineup of ten candidates.  However, the 
field is fluid, and several candidates have since appeared or 
bowed out.  As of January 11, there are eight declared or 
presumed candidates (presented here in no particular order): 
Ana Vilma de Escobar, Salvadoran VP 
Federico Colorado, ANEP President (National Private 
    Enterprise Association) 
Luis Mario Rodriguez, Legal Advisor to President Saca 
Hugo Barrera, ARENA founding member 
Francisco "Pancho" Lainez, Minister of Foreign Affairs 
Jorge Nieto, Minister of Public Works 
Eduardo Barrientos, ARENA founding member 
Roberto del Cid, Evangelical pastor. 
The Selection Process 
¶4. (C) Since Funes' nomination, there has been a growing 
chorus of worry and discontent within ARENA, with a number of 
party members concerned with the lack of transparency in the 
selection process and the perceived advantage to the FMLN of 
allowing Funes to campaign against an unnamed ARENA 
candidate.  On January 7, President Saca announced the 
process by which ARENA will choose its presidential candidate 
and announced the creation of a commission to oversee the 
process to ensure transparency. 
¶5. (C) Beginning on January 22, candidates will have seven 
days to announce their intention to seek the ARENA candidacy. 
 Once the slate of candidates is determined, each will be 
interviewed by members of COENA and participate in three 
public debates, likely to be televised, which would be a 
first.  The field of candidates will be reduced to three 
final contenders who will then be given the opportunity to 
lobby ARENA members under the supervision of COENA.  On March 
15, ARENA,s 15 sections (one per department plus one that 
represents the eight party sections) will vote by show of 
hands to select the candidate.  In May, ARENA,s General 
Assembly will meet and officially announce the candidate. 
¶6. (C) Cesar Funes, Rene Figueroa, Eduardo Zablah, and 
Roberto Murray Meza have all announced that they will not run 
for the presidency.  According to Ruben Alvarez, ARENA Deputy 
Director of Youth Issues, additional candidates are likely to 
appear by the January 29 deadline.  Media reports claim that 
both Figueroa and Murray Meza, who were considered to be 
strong contenders for the presidency, will likely use their 
influence to determine who will be the next candidate. 
¶7. (C) Biographical info on remaining candidates as of 
January 11: 
Vice President Ana Vilma de Escobar announced her 
pre-candidacy in September 2007.  In 1999, Escobar was chosen 
by former President Flores as the Director of the Salvadoran 
Social Security Institute (ISSS), the nation,s public 
healthcare provider.  Prior to her appointment, she worked 
for USAID for nine years managing programs designed to 
improve El Salvador,s economic development. She also has 
experience within the banking industry.  Even though Escobar 
has been an active member of the ruling Nationalist 
Republican Alliance (ARENA) and is currently ARENA,s 
Executive Director, she has not garnered much party support 
for her candidacy. 
Federico Colorado has been the President of ANEP (National 
Association of the Private Enterprise) since 2003.  (Note: 
Current Salvadoran President Saca was President of ANEP when 
he was elected.  End note.)  Colorado has denied interest in 
running in the past, but media reports now suggest that he 
will announce his candidacy as long as he has his family,s 
support.  He would have considerable support from the 
business community, which has significant influence over 
ARENA,s domestic policies. 
Luis Mario Rodriguez currently serves as legal advisor to 
President Saca, and media sources report that Saca has 
mentioned Rodriguez as a potential candidate on several 
occasions; however, Rodriguez seems to lack a base of support 
within ARENA. He served as the Executive Director of ANEP 
under Saca from 1999-2004.  At age 35, Rodriguez is the 
youngest potential candidate and is considered too young by 
many in ARENA; however, as a member of ARENA,s &new 
generation8 he may represent the future of the party. 
Unlike many of the other candidates, he seems enthusiastic 
and announced his intention to seek the nomination 
immediately after the selection process was revealed. 
(Comment: Age aside, Rodriguez comes across as presidential 
material.  End comment.) 
Hugo Barrera currently serves as the president of CEPA (the 
Salvadoran port and airport authority) and is an ARENA 
founder, but he created some resentment within ARENA when he 
left to form his own party, Patria Libre, in 1985.  Although 
his business success leads some to believe that he could be a 
strong candidate against Funes and possibly capable of 
negotiating alliances with other parties, many consider him 
to be a member of ARENA's old guard; thus incapable of 
leading ARENA into the future.  He served as the Minister of 
Public Security under President Calderon Sol and is co-owner 
of the Diana Food Company, where he has had a tense 
relationship with employees.  Barrera is unlikely to be the 
ARENA candidate because many believe him to represent party 
hard-liners, and many in ARENA believe that the party must 
move to the center to compete with the FMLN,s Funes. 
Barrera lacks charisma and may thus find it difficult to 
compete against the media savvy Funes. 
Francisco &Pancho8 Lainez, Minister of Foreign Affairs, is 
a long-time party activist and former member of ARENA,s 
youth wing.  Lainez is seen by some as a potentially strong 
candidate against the FMLN,s Funes; however, he has been coy 
about seeking the ARENA candidacy.  According to media 
reports, Saca has also mentioned Lainez as a potential 
candidate and, if he chose to run, he would likely have 
strong party support.  Press reports January 11 indicate 
Lainez will resign soon in order to pursue the ARENA 
Jorge Nieto is the Minister of Public Works and is a former 
Minister of Labor.  The media is reporting that Nieto 
announced his intention to run to Saca in a private meeting 
January 8 and that he plans to make announcement within the 
next few days.  He does not have a particularly close 
relationship with Saca; however during his tenure as the 
Minister of Labor and Superintendent of SIGET 
(Superintendency of Telecommunications and Electricity) he 
was very pro-business.  As a result, he would likely have 
significant support from the business community. 
Eduardo Barrientos is a founder of ARENA and has strong 
support from other party founders.  Barrientos was the first 
Director of the Youth Sector (1981-82).  He is currently a 
private businessman and is likely to find some support within 
Roberto del Cid is an evangelical pastor who could have the 
support of the growing evangelical movement in El Salvador, 
an important constituency in the last presidential election. 
However, he is not likely to receive support from the 
majority of ARENA,s membership and thus remains a dark horse 
¶8. (C) Comment: ARENA has been flailing internally since the 
FMLN's surprise announcement of a relatively (for the FMLN) 
moderate outsider as its candidate.  The precipitous 
announcements of VP Escobar and Rene Figueroa, followed by 
months of rumor and speculation over Murray Meza's possible 
candidacy only added to internal ARENA fretting and the 
outward appearance of drift.  The process announced by 
President Saca, and almost certain to be approved by COENA, 
will provide structure to the selection process and has left 
key ARENA officials confident the emerging candidate will 
have built a base of support among ARENA members and not have 
been simply anointed by President Saca.  (This was a 
widespread fear concerning Figueroa, and the sense of relief 
among many ARENA officials when he withdrew his candidacy was 
¶9. (C) Comment continued: ARENA leadership believes this 
process will serve to diminish voters' desire for a change of 
party in the Presidency by offering a change of power within 
the ruling party instead.  In their view, the FMLN winning 
2009 presidential elections would threaten El Salvador's 
constitutional democracy, economic growth and stability. 
Salvadoran voters will offer their verdict in March 2009.