|Wikileaks:||View 03GUATEMALA264 at Wikileaks.org|
|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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