Cablegate: Northern Border Provinces Tilting Toward Roldos

Published: Mon 21 Aug 2006 09:30 PM
DE RUEHQT #2094/01 2332130
O 212130Z AUG 06
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: QUITO 001588
1. (U) Summary: The northern provinces of Imbabura and
Carchi are strongholds of the Democratic Left (ID) party and,
in Imbabura, the indigenous movement. Predictably, Leon
Roldos is the acknowledged front runner in presidential
elections. There is little agreement among key actors over
which presidential contender follows Roldos, reflecting
provincial politics fractured between indigenous groups and
other national parties and local movements, and widespread
rural poverty fueling homegrown political populism. During a
recent visit, we also heard differing views of the status of
electoral preparations and the potential for electoral fraud.
End Summary.
2. (U) PolOffs continued the Embassy's democracy outreach
(see Reftel) with visits to the central highland and northern
border provinces of Imbabura and Carchi on August 8-10.
PolOffs met with members of the press, local government
officials, NGOs and party leaders. In all private and public
events, PolOffs stressed the importance of ensuring free,
fair, transparent and inclusive elections and highlighted USG
support to the region.
3. (U) Every person we spoke with in Carchi province (which
borders Colombia) painted a depressing view of deteriorating
social and economic conditions in the province. Officials
believe rampant illegal Colombian immigration uniformly
brings crime and poverty to Carchi. Dollarization was
repeatedly blamed for making Ecuadorian goods and labor more
expensive than Colombian goods and labor (note: Ecuadorian
gasoline, however, is still much cheaper). Extortion in the
form of a "tax" from anonymous criminal elements has become
rampant and largely unreported. There is little investment
or capital; four of seven banks have closed. Ecuadorians are
fleeing the province. Some officials believe the
international community has forgotten the province,
complaining that Cotacachi municipality, in Imbabura
province, has support from 60 NGOS while Tulcan only has one.
When PolOffs pointed out specific significant projects
funded by USAID in Carchi, Tulcan municipal officials said
they had thought the programs were funded by the United
Nations. Former general and Carchi Prefect Rene Yandun (ID)
asserted that the hopelessness, lack of security and emptying
province pose a substantial risk to Ecuador's national
4. (U) Imbabura officials were a bit more upbeat than their
counterparts in Carchi. They acknowledged USG assistance in
many areas. The populist themes of decentralization,
employment and corruption, were all common refrains, but with
little in the way of substantive proposals. The prefect
(U.S. governor-equivalent) said that personality, more than
ideology, was the major issue in the elections.
Electoral Trends
5. (U) Imbabura is a mountainous province with a rural
indigenous population of approximately 40% of its 344,000
inhabitants. It is home to the major highland indigenous
cities of Otavalo and Cotacachi, which draw many tourists for
their local attractions and handicrafts. Eleven percent of
the population is Afro-Ecuadorian, concentrated mostly in the
Chota valley area, which produced most of the members of
Ecuador's very successful World Cup national soccer team.
All agree Democratic Left (ID) party machinery is strong;
however, election results contradict the conventional wisdom.
A popular ID defector allied with the PRIAN (Roldosista
Institutional Renewal Party) to win the province-wide
prefecture (U.S. governor-equivalent) in 2004. His ID
challenger came in second and the indigenous Pachakutik
(MUPP-NP) candidate a distant third. None of Imbabura's
current congressional deputies are ID: one is Pachakutik, one
is presidential candidate for the Democratic Revindication
Movement (MRD) Marco Proano, and the other deputy is a one
man political party. The province's 2002 presidential
returns were consistent with Ecuador as a whole, giving 26%
of the vote to Lucio Gutierrez and 23% to Alvaro Noboa in the
first round and electing Gutierrez resoundingly in the
6. (U) The northern border province of Carchi is less
populous and less indigenous than Imbabura and more reliably
an ID stronghold. Of its 153,000 inhabitants, none are rural
indigenous, although 11% are Afro-Ecuadorian (again from the
Chota valley area, which forms the border between the two
provinces). In the prefecture race of 2004, the ID candidate
handily beat his challenger (who formed an alliance of five
little known parties) 41% to 20%. The mayor of Tulcan, the
only principal urban area, located on the border with
Colombia, also hails from the ID. In the presidential
elections, however, the top vote-getter in the first round
was coastal populist Alvaro Noboa with 29%. The ID
candidate, Rodrigo Borja, came in second with 23%. A local
political entity, the Independent Work and Democracy Movement
(MITD), has recently become the main competitor of the ID in
Carchi province.
Election Officials Sanguine about Fraud
7. (U) Imbabura electoral, government and party officials
were generally satisfied with electoral preparations.
Electoral tribunal officials did not express any needs or
worries about the process and welcomed the possible
participation in their province of international observers.
They proudly described a rural democracy education drive
which presented seminars in remote villages to voters.
Electoral officials also claimed a pilot electronic vote
project tested in Otavalo in 2004 had been a great success.
Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict with elections in
Brazil, electronic voting would not take place this year as
it would rely on Brazilian machinery. No official we spoke
to believed electoral fraud was likely.
8. (U) Carchi officials were similarly positive about the
pace of preparations and dismissive of any possibility for
fraud, highlighting their own rural outreach efforts and a
democracy library they hoped would become more interactive.
They requested a photocopier and computers for the library
and like their neighbors in Imbabura, welcomed the prospect
of international election observers.
Election Watchdog Groups More Concerned
9. (U) Meanwhile, the major NGO operating in the two
provinces, Citizen Participation (PC), had a much more
pessimistic view of election preparations and the
opportunities for fraud. In both provinces, PC reported a
significant risk of fraud, supplying anecdotes from
observations in the 2004 municipal elections. One volunteer
who had counted the ballots in one polling station later
learned that a much different number appeared in the final
tally. Another volunteer caught an election worker
surreptitiously marking votes that had been turned in blank.
One enterprising candidate in Imbabura had supplied rural
voters with a left rubber boot before the election and
promised to deliver the right boots after he won. The
Imbabura PC representative ridiculed the electoral tribunal's
rural democracy seminars; he heard that several passed
unattended. PC representatives in both provinces said they
had nearly ecruited all the volunteers they needed for their
own observation efforts.
10. (U) In Carchi province, the leaders of the local
political movement, MITD, expressed concern that they might
suffer as a result of their lack of representation on the
provincial tribunal, despite being the second most powerful
party in the province. (Note: by law, the top seven
political parties at the national level in the last elections
are represented on the tribunals. Only parties, not
movements, are represented.)
Female Candidate Quota Open to Interpretation
11. (U) Although no one we met openly opposed the 45% quota
for female candidates in this election, electoral tribunal
officials from both provinces said the rule was open to
interpretation (as to how to alternate between male
and females on candidate lists). Some electoral officials
claimed that many women are not interested in participating
as political candidates. The Cotacachi municipal council VP,
Patricia Espinoza, vehemently disagreed with that view. She
believed the quota rule would be widely misapplied in
Ecuador, hurting women's representation. For example, some
parties would place women low on their candidate lists,
virtually ruling out their prospects for election. Espinoza
said she is active in a growing movement of female
politicians who are pressing national election authorities to
properly implement the quota.
Presidential Predictions Varied
12. (SBU) The only consistent prediction for the upcoming
elections was agreement that the ID as a party and Leon
Roldos as its supported candidate would do well in both
provinces. In Carchi, most believed the MITD will come in
second to the ID in both presidential and congressional
balloting. Cynthia Viteri (PSC) and Rafael Correa (PAIS) are
the only candidates who have already campaigned in Carchi
thus far. (Note: the formal campaign period opens on August
29.) MITD leaders endorsed Viteri during her visit.
13. (SBU) In Imbabura, the PRIAN prefect claimed Noboa and
Roldos were leading the presidential sweepstakes and that
congressional seats would be divided among their followers.
The ID congressional candidate in Imbabura, however, believed
that Rafael Correa was the current leader, followed by
Roldos. He was adamant that Cynthia Viteri and Alvaro Noboa
were weak in Imbabura and the congressional seats would be
split between the ID, Correa's PAIS and the Ecuadorian
Roldosista Party (PRE - despite the name, not linked to
Roldos). Cotacachi municipal council VP Espinoza, whose
municipality is heavily indigenous and pro-Pachakutik,
lamented the fracturing of the leftist vote, saying
Pachakutik was poised at the brink of disaster.
Public Outreach Events
14. (U) PolOff took questions from the press in both Carchi
and Imbabura and gave a radio interview in Imbabura on August
10. Questions from the press focused on the reason for the
visit and how the USG views preparations for elections. The
radio interview covered a broad range of topics. We
emphasized USG wishes to help strengthen democracy in
Ecuador, our broad relationship beyond commercial issues and
stressed our theme for these outreach visits: vote and vote
15. (U) Votes from Imbabura and Carchi made up only 3 and
1%, respectively, in the 2002 elections. Though not the most
populous region in Ecuador, the visit to this corner of the
country highlighted several broader trends. Social and
economic woes underlie these elections in many parts of the
country, fueling populist appeals. While national parties
reach these parts of the country, often local movements or
personalities sway the voters more. The ID and Roldos will
likely do well in this region but fractured politics and
socio-economic problems will challenge any candidate who wins.
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