US embassy cable - 03GUATEMALA145


Identifier: 03GUATEMALA145
Wikileaks: View 03GUATEMALA145 at
Origin: Embassy Guatemala
Created: 2003-01-17 17:51:00
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

E.O. 12958: N/A 
1.  (SBU) Summary:  The FRG used the occasion of President 
Portillo's January 14 state of the union speech to bus in to 
the capital thousands of former self defense committee 
patrollers (ex-PACs).  After delivering his annual review of 
his government's accomplishments and priorities in Congress, 
Portillo and FRG leader Rios Montt addressed the crowds, who 
have been promised compensation for their unpaid service to 
the nation during the 36-year civil conflict.  While the 
substance of the official speech was nothing new, the pro-FRG 
rally marked the first major FRG event of election season, 
and suggested that the FRG is not yet attempting to distance 
itself from Portillo's record.  End Summary. 
Cup Half Full Speech to Congress 
2.  (U) In an hour-long speech to Congress on January 14, the 
third anniversary of his swearing-in, President Portillo 
emphasized his government's accomplishments, including the 
following highlights: 
-- New Things:  He cited as accomplishments the creation of 
new government bodies and key legislation to tackle 
persistent problems, including the Commission for 
Transparency and Against Corruption, the National Council for 
Food and Nutrition Security, the Presidential Commission 
Against Discrimination and Racism, the Secretariat for 
Agrarian Issues, laws on Agriculture and Fishing, Urban and 
Rural Development Councils, reforms to the municipal code, 
and decentralization; 
-- Statistics:  He also cited the number of free fertilizer 
bags distributed to campesinos, the 47.6% increase in the 
minimum wage for agricultural workers in his term (43.6% for 
non-agricultural workers), financial and monetary reforms, 
macroeconomic stability, and record tax collection (10.58 
percent of the GNP); 
-- Military Restructuring:  He cited troop reductions, 
closure of bases, and phased reduction of the EMP; 
-- Free Trade:  He claimed to have promoted free trade and 
pledged to vigorously pursue a CAFTA; 
-- Media Attack:  Portillo also made jabs at the news media, 
"in the hands of private interests who do not necessarily 
have national interests at heart;" 
--  Corruption:  He claimed to have showed openness to combat 
it despite enduring strong criticism; 
--  Failings:  He acknowledged failings on completing some 
Peace Accords commitments, citing "great challenges and 
enormous obstacles;" and (in apparent self-defense) warned 
against "criminalization" politics by substituting calls for 
prosecution in place of debate; 
-- Belize:  He said the Belize border dispute is "an open 
wound that we will not reopen further...or close at the cost 
of legitimate national interests." 
-- Elections:  He pledged an impartial vote and smooth 
transition to the next administration. 
Speeches in the Square 
3.  (U) After delivering his speech and distributing the 
government official report in Congress, Portillo, accompanied 
by aides and the FRG leadership, addressed a crowd estimated 
at 20,000 (the largest grouping of supporters during his 
tenure) gathered in the city square outside the former 
National Palace.  The crowds were reportedly bused in on a 
fleet of 200 buses, and FRG T-shirts featuring Efrain Rios 
Montt were distributed.  Rosenda Perez, the leader of the 
ex-PAC association of Peten, was in the front row of 
4.  (U) Portillo repeated parts of his official speech to the 
crowd, promised not to "defraud" the ex-PACs, warned that 
critics would "invent stories" about the organization of the 
rally, and lauded Rios Montt as a leader.  Haroldo Quej Chen, 
who, as FRG Secretary of Organization and ex-PAC himself, was 
the likely orchestrator of the rally, introduced Rios Montt 
as "a leader any politician fears, a leader any animal fears, 
the greatest leader Guatemala has..."  (Note:  It was Quej 
Chen who cited to the press the high estimate of 30,000 
attendees.  End Note.).  FRG Congressional bench leader 
Aristides Crespo told the crowd that "they attack us, they 
defame us, they criticize corruption, and we have never 
denied that we have problems, but one must not forget that 
its was the previous government who sold the electric utility 
and telephone company and as a result everyone pays more for 
electricity and the telephone." 
5.  (U) For his part, Rios Montt told the crowd that "as FRG 
Secretary General, I declare that this event is not sponsored 
by the government or promoting any particular candidate.  It 
is a recognition of the accomplishments up until now of this 
central government and the municipal governments." 
6.  (U) Reaction to Portillo's official speech and the rally 
were predictable, with media highlighting opposition and 
civil society criticizing Portillo's official speech for 
avoiding of key issues (i.e. difficult bilateral relations 
with the U.S., corruption and insecurity), and decrying the 
misuse of official funds and personnel in the staging of a 
highly partisan rally. 
7.  (SBU) The President's speech was a stock defense of his 
government's (in some cases) legitimate accomplishments and 
was most notable for what it left out:  any mention of us 
(with the exception of the positive reference to CAFTA).  We 
interpret this as a signal of Portillo's interest in 
minimizing attention to tensions in the bilateral 
relationship.  More interesting than Portillo's official 
speech was the FRG's demonstration of its capacity to turn 
out a (paid) crowd, and its confirmation of ex-PAC support at 
its base.  While the official campaign period will not begin 
until May, we can expect more FRG campaign rallies 
thinly-veiled as "pro-government" rallies in the future. 
During this interregnum before the official campaign, the FRG 
is faced with a dilemma.  While explicit in its support for 
Rios Montt as FRG leader and presumed presidential candidate, 
the rally did nothing to distance the party from Portillo and 
his legacy of corruption. 

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