C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN SALVADOR 000053
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/16/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL ES
SUBJECT: PUBLIC SECURITY MINISTER FIGUEROA ON THE ARENA
CONTEST, ELECTION SECURITY, ECONOMIC MISSTEPS
REF: A. SAN SALVADOR 33
Â¶B. SAN SALVADOR 36
Classified By: The Ambassador, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
Â¶1. (C) Summary: Public Security Minister Figueroa told the
Ambassador January 17 that, given his membership in COENA and
in order to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest,
he would not support any candidate during ARENA's internal
nomination process. He had cautioned former FM Lainez to
avoid suggesting he was a shoo-in for the nomination, warning
this could backfire. Figueroa said President Saca was
opposed to VP Escobar's candidacy. He said violent groups
sympathetic to the FMLN were unlikely to act until after the
elections, and only if ARENA won. He lamented recent
regulatory decisions that were likely to harm El Salvador's
attractiveness to investors. End Summary.
Â¶2. (C) Minister of Public Security Rene Figueroa told the
Ambassador January 17 that he was happy with his decision not
to seek ARENA's nomination for President. He said he would
not throw his support to any candidate until after ARENA's
decision was made in March in order to avoid any conflict of
interest, given his membership in COENA (ARENA's executive
board). Figueroa said he would encourage every interested
candidate to pursue ARENA's nomination in order to ensure the
best possible candidate.
Â¶3. (C) Figueroa said he had cautioned former Foreign Minister
Francisco "Pancho" Lainez to avoid giving the impression he
was certain to be annointed ARENA's candidate by COENA. By
protecting COENA from charges of favoritism, he told Lainez,
you protect yourself and your candidacy. Figueroa said he
believes VP Ana Vilma de Escobar should be one of the three
finalists and that Lainez concurs in that assessment, but
that President Saca is opposed to her candidacy, largely due
to continuing pique over the snap announcement of her
candidacy (without consulting Saca) in September.
Â¶4. (C) Looking forward, Figueroa said he enjoys government
service and would gladly return in a future ARENA
administration if the opportunity presented itself. He said
he would not be interested in serving as foreign minister,
nor as vice president.
Â¶5. (C) Figueroa said the FMLN had a number of violent
splinter groups, but assessed they would not act
independently of FMLN leadership. Figueroa said these groups
enjoyed popular support in several neighborhoods of San
Salvador, including Soyapango and Mejicanos, and had an
infrastructure of safe houses in these areas. Figueroa
doubted they would take any violent actions before the 2009
elections, judging it more likely they would take action
after the elections if ARENA won. He speculated their
actions would be indirect, e.g., in the form of hidden
explosive devices, rather than more overt acts like shootings.
Â¶6. (C) On the economy and economic reforms, Figueroa was
concerned over recent decisions against Exxon and Shell, as
well as recent regulatory decisions to impose rate reductions
on electicity distribution companies. He lamented the impact
these and other decision would have on El Salvador's
investment and business climate (Ref A). Figueroa offered to
convoke a meeting with the Presidency's technical secretariat
in order to discuss the impact of these moves.
Â¶7. (C) Comment: We share Figueroa's concerns about recent
Administration decisions that reflect negatively on El
Salvador's investment climate and may not even be successful
in attracting the public support for ARENA that Saca seeks.
We will follow up with Figueroa and others in the Saca
Administration on economic regulatory issues with the hope of
minimizing the long-term damage to El Salvador's economy at
the cost of limited and questionable short-term electoral
gain. The Ambassador will meet with Technical Secretary
(Chief of Staff equivalent) Eduardo Ayala January 23 to
discuss the anti-competitive actions of the GOES.
Â¶8. (C) Comment continued: Figueroa is being wisely cautious
in appearing impartial during ARENA's candidate selection
process, and will undoubtedly throw his complete support
behind ARENA's candidate, regardless of who emerges
victorious. We are hopeful that Figueroa's influence will be
key to ensuring VP Escobar receives a fair shake within ARENA
and does not emerge from the process with bitterness towards
her treatment. End comment.