US embassy cable - 03GUATEMALA264

PRESIDENTIAL PRE-CANDIDATE WHITBECK DISCUSSES UPCOMING ELECTION

Identifier: 03GUATEMALA264
Wikileaks: View 03GUATEMALA264 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Guatemala
Created: 2003-01-31 16:41:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL PINR ETRD PHUM GT
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.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 GUATEMALA 000264 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/31/2013 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PINR, ETRD, PHUM, GT 
SUBJECT: PRESIDENTIAL PRE-CANDIDATE WHITBECK DISCUSSES 
UPCOMING ELECTION 
 
 
Classified By: PolCouns David Lindwall for reason 1.5 (d). 
 
1. (C) Summary:  Former senior FRG member Harris Whitbeck 
told the Ambassador that it is almost certain he will run for 
President as the candidate of the Partido Patriota, and said 
the FRG has lost much of its popular support.  He believes 
Rios Montt would be defeated at the polls if he runs.  The 
Ambassador told Whitbeck that the USG will be strictly 
neutral in the election, and said that we hope this 
government and its successor will improve counter-drug 
cooperation.  The Ambassador said CAFTA represents an 
historic opportunity to reduce poverty in Guatemala, and said 
it is urgent that Guatemalans effectively address our 
non-trade concerns that could endanger approval of CAFTA by 
Congress.  It is too early in the electoral season to 
speculate on Whitbeck's chances of winning the Presidency, 
but the polls would suggest at this point that he is a long 
shot. End summary. 
 
2. (C) In a January 30 breakfast with the Ambassador, former 
senior FRG official Harris Whitbeck said that the Partido 
Patriota had offered to make him its presidential candidate 
in the 2003 elections, and he will make a decision in coming 
days.  He told us it is almost certain he will accept. 
Whitbeck, who was a founding member of the FRG, left the 
ruling party in 2002 and accused it publicly of abandoning 
its principles.  He said that he told Partido Patriota 
founder Otto Perez Molina that his one condition for becoming 
the party's presidential standard bearer was that he would 
pick his own cabinet, and Perez Molina could head the party's 
congressional team (note: retired General Perez Molina has a 
constitutional impediment that keeps him from being the 
presidential candidate until he has been out of the military 
for five years -- in 2004. That impediment does not apply to 
congressional candidacies.  end note).  Whitbeck believes he 
could secure the support of much of the FRG's rural base, 
where he is well known because of his government jobs in 
rural development, and believes voters are looking for an 
alternative to the "corruption-ridden FRG and PAN."  He does 
not believe his "American" image would cost him votes (Note: 
Whitbeck was a dual national, but renounced his U.S. 
citizenship in 1993). 
 
3. (C) Whitbeck said the FRG is in a tight spot -- Rios Montt 
wants to run, but doesn't know if the system will let him; 
the party has no one else it can credibly run, and if it 
stretches outside the party for the candidate, it will 
relinquish control.  Whitbeck opined that the growing public 
momentum for Rios Montt's candidacy is designed at least in 
part to keep FRG congressmen from jumping ship and joining 
the opposition, which many are expected to do if Rios Montt 
does not run.  Whitbeck believes that Zury Rios's political 
ambitions (which he described as "uncontainable to the point 
of being almost pathological") are also keeping the aging 
General in the political fray.  Whitbeck said that if Rios 
Montt runs, he will lose. 
 
4. (C) The Ambassador told Whitbeck that the USG would be 
scrupulously neutral in the upcoming election.  He commented 
that decertification of Guatemala as a cooperating partner in 
the war on drugs was almost certain to happen imminently, and 
said we would be calling on this government and its 
successors to greatly improve counter-narcotics cooperation. 
The lack of significant improvement in counter-narcotics 
performance would imperil Guatemala's participation in CAFTA. 
 The Ambassador said that CAFTA offers, in our view, the best 
hope the Central American region has had since the Alliance 
for Progress to reduce poverty, and that we hoped Guatemala 
would quickly address the non-trade issues that could become 
impediments to CAFTA ratification.  Whitbeck agreed that 
CAFTA was an historic opportunity for Guatemala, and said all 
parties should be working to ensure that the negotiation is a 
success. 
 
5. (C) Whitbeck said that reducing the power and influence of 
the narcotics mafias and containing violent crime would be 
difficult challenges for the next government.  He believes 
the military should be reduced, and its excess troops turned 
into a new police force to replace "the current corrupt 
force." He said that, if elected, he would seek USG advice on 
his ministers and senior government officials to ensure that 
he was not putting individuals with ties to organized crime 
in positions of responsibility. 
 
6. (C) Comment:  The long election season is just beginning, 
and it is too soon to tell which two candidates will make it 
to the second round.  Whitbeck will have both the 
disadvantage and the advantage of not being the candidate of 
a major party.  The Partido Patriota, while small, built a 
public name for itself in the 2001 and 2002 protests against 
the Portillo government, and is reported to have received 
significant funding from the Gutierrez-Bosch conglomerate. 
Whitbeck has a better grasp on the realities and needs of 
rural Guatemalans than any of the other potential candidates 
and is progressive on all the issues of importance to us.  At 
this stage, however, the success of his candidacy remains a 
long shot. 
Hamilton 

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