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Cablegate: Foreign Minister Tries to Downplay Anti-U.S.

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DE RUEHMU #0530/01 0581702
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 271702Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9257
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0971
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAGUA 000530

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

WHA/CEN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/27/2017
TAGS: PGOV PINR KDEM NU PREL
SUBJECT: FOREIGN MINISTER TRIES TO DOWNPLAY ANTI-U.S.
RHETORIC, BUT CONCERNED OVER EFFECTS ON TOURISM

REF: A. MANAGUA 0179
B. MANAGUA 0155

Classified By: Ambassador Paul A. Trivelli. Reasons 1.4 (B,D).

1. (C) Summary: Foreign Minister Samuel Santos appears
perturbed by threats against U.S. local residents, tourists,
and journalists in Nicaragua's San Juan del Sur area. He has
requested details of the incidents and will speak with the
mayor of the town about the concerns. Santos informed us
that the Nicaraguan government (GON) is "unprepared" to
participate this year in a national defense workshop offered
by the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS).
Regarding our protests over President Ortega's derogatory and
fallacious remarks against the United States in a recent
speech, Santos promised to convey our concerns to Ortega.
The Foreign Minister's efforts aside, Ortega appears
determined to criticize the United States -- as evidenced by
his speech before the police and by the government's
communication strategy (septel), which stipulates the use of
the media to oppose President Bush, but encourages U.S.
investment. End Summary.

GON Back-peddles on CHDS Defense Workshop
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (C) On February 23, the Charge and PolCouns solicited
Foreign Minister Santos' confirmation that his government
will participate in a CHDS-sponsored national security
workshop, tentatively scheduled for May 16-18. Santos, who
had been enthusiastic about the concept when CHDS director
Richard Downie met with him and other GON officials the week
before, informed us that, after raising the program with the
presidency, the decision had been to decline the offer.
Attempting to "cushion" the GON's decision, Santos argued
that the new government is still being established; many
ministers do not even know where they stand and must work
until midnight every day to keep afloat. He suggested that
perhaps the course would be viable next year, adding that in
the meantime, training on disaster preparedness would be
welcome. (Comment: During his visit, Downie mentioned the
possibility of a follow on course on disaster assistance.
Most likely, Ortega and his inner circle viewed the national
security workshop as an attempt to influence the policy
direction of the administration and turned it off.)

Threats against U.S. Citizens
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

3. (C) The Foreign Minister was visibly perturbed by
Charge's news of the threats against U.S. local residents,
tourists, and journalists in Nicaragua's tourist spot, San
Juan del Sur. The Charge explained that the threats started
with the detention, trial and sentencing of U.S. citizen Eric
Volz for allegedly murdering his Nicaraguan girlfriend. For
example, two journalists covering the case and representing
newspapers in Texas and California had departed Nicaragua
after receiving threats. Another U.S. citizen retiree
residing in San Juan del Sur was alarmed after he found his
tires punctured. The Charge reiterated our commitment to
protect U.S. citizen interests and suggested that this rise
in anti-U.S. sentiment could be partly politically driven.
He showed the Foreign Minister a copy of a draft warden
message warning U.S. citizens to exercise caution, adding
that these types of incidents could frighten off U.S.
tourists.

4. (C) Santos, who reddened and suddenly asked his assistant
to turn up the air conditioning in the room, requested
details of the incidents and the names of U.S. citizens who
have been subject to these threats. He assured us that the
police will protect them and offered to speak with the mayor
of the town about the problem, but asserted that the Ortega
government will not intervene in the Volz case. The Charge
reminded Santos that the case and the concerns about the
safety of U.S. citizens in the San Juan area have caught the
attention of the U.S. Congress and our media. The Foreign
Minister's special assistant, Danilo Rosales, and his new
Director of the MFA's North America Office, Orlando Gomez
noted our concerns.

5. (SBU) We next raised an apparent rash of police
detentions of U.S. citizens, especially those driving rental
cars, and police demands for payment for infractions that are
not the responsibility of the renter to pay, e.g. failure to
carry a safety triangle. The police threaten to seize the
licenses of those refusing to pay on the spot. Santos
clarified that the police are authorized to seize a traffic
violator's license, but are not allowed to receive payment.
Rather, the offender must pay in the appropriate office, and
in this type of violation, the rental agencies are
responsible. He acknowledged that the police are probably
seeking bribes and promised to report the problem to Chief of
Police Aminta Granera. The Charge mentioned that we have
also raised the issue with the Police Chief.

Anti-U.S. Speech Belies Accord to Deal with Contentious
Issues Away from the Public Spotlight
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

6. (C) The Charge then broached our displeasure and concern
over President Ortega's derogatory and fallacious remarks
directed against the United States in his February 20 speech
before the National Police. He noted that all of Ortega's
eleven copious references to the United States were negative
and unhelpful, including his remark that even some U.S.
presidents are reportedly involved in narcotrafficking, that
U.S. society is in decay, and our assistance to Nicaragua is
mere crumbs -- while our military is working with its
Nicaraguan counterparts to build clinics and schools. The
Charge reminded Santos that he had asked us to address
contentious issues away from the public spotlight, a concept
Ortega has not respected.

7. (C) Attempting to downplay Ortega's negative rhetoric,
Santos asserted that Ortega was really praising the police
for their fine counternarcotics efforts, even with very scare
resources. The Charge replied that attacking the United
States is not the way to convince us to provide more support.
Santos concurred and promised to convey our concerns to
Ortega at the earliest opportunity.

Comment
- - - -

8. (C) As we reported in Ref A., Santos is a relative light
weight, one of the new government's token "friendlier,
gentler," public faces, who will attempt to downplay any of
Ortega's egregious antics directed against the United States.
Santos' efforts aside, Ortega appears determined to
criticize us, as evidenced by his speech before the police --
a discourse eerily reminiscent of President Chavez' early
rhetoric -- and by the government's communication strategy
(septel), which stipulates the use of the media to oppose
Bush, but encourages U.S. investment.

TRIVELLI

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