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Cablegate: Ortega Appoints Another Pseudo-Minister of Defense

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #1223/01 1302300
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 102300Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0176
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 001223

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/10/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR KDEM NU
SUBJECT: ORTEGA APPOINTS ANOTHER PSEUDO-MINISTER OF DEFENSE

REF: MANAGUA 0081 AND PREVIOUS

Classified By: Ambassador Paul A. Trivelli for reasons 1.4 (b and d)

1. (C) Summary: President Ortega recently appointed former
spokeswoman for the Nicaraguan Supreme Court Ruth Tapia Roa
to the post of Secretary General of the Ministry of Defense
"with the rank of minister." Tapia's chief qualifications
appear to be her relationship to former Sandinista military
officials and connection to First Lady Rosario Murillo.
Ministry officials were taken by surprise and are uncertain
how Tapia's appointment will influence the Ministry's
relationship with the Army and the President. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On May 7, President Ortega appointed Ruth Tapia Roa
as Secretary General of the Ministry of Defense "with the
rank of Minister." (Note: The Secretary General is normally
the third-ranking position after the Minister and Vice
Minister. End Note.) Tapia, a former spokeswoman for the
Managua Court of Appeals (2005-present) and Supreme Court
(2002), is the sister of retired army Colonel Adela Tapia and
revolutionary hero Ulises Tapia. She was an officer in the
Sandinista Popular Army (EPS) from 1980-83. In 1983, she
left to study in France, where she also held a position at
the Nicaraguan Embassy in Paris and served as the FSLN
representative. Aside from her brief stint in the EPS,
contacts report that Tapia has no background in defense and
security issues. She is expected to take up her post the
week of May 16.

Who is in Charge?
- - - - - - - - -

3. (C) Shortly before his January 10 inauguration, Ortega
named Dr. Juan Umana, functionary in charge of Nicaragua's
demining efforts, as the "special administrator" of the
Ministry of Defense and has since that time declined to name
a Minister or Vice Minister (reftel). Umana told pol/miloff
on May 8 that Tapia's appointment took him by surprise and
that he expected to share control of the Ministry with her.
He implied that the "rank of minister" designation is a
fiction that will allow Ortega to count another female in his
cabinet -- but one with no real power. Senior Ministry
official Silvio Diaz (protect) later reported that Tapia
"will be in charge" and accused Umana of having a "Napoleon
Complex" (Umana is short and squat).

4. (U) The Liberal president of the National Assembly's
Defense and Government Commission, Enrique Quinonez, publicly
criticized Ortega following Tapia's appointment, claiming
that Ortega's refusal to name a real minister has degraded
civilian control over the armed forces. Quinonez commented
that Ortega is very "comfortable" maintaining a direct
relationship with the army, but this has undermined the
carefully cultivated institutionality of the Ministry of
Defense. FSLN deputy Jose Figueroa defended the President's
position, saying that Ortega has the right to administer
executive branch institutions as he sees fit.

Does it Matter?
- - - - - - - -

5. (C) Publicly, armed forces officials are careful to
support the principle of civilian authority, but have quietly
resisted any intrusion from or subordination to the Ministry
of Defense, jealously guarding a direct relationship with the
President. In a recent interview with "Confidencial"
following the release of a poll giving the army high scores
in public confidence, armed forces chief General Halleslevens
confirmed the army's adherence to the Defense White Paper
(reftel), but admitted after persistent questioning that
President Ortega "has given priorities to other areas of
government," referring to the Ministry of Defense. When
asked about the army's relationship with the Ministry,
Halleslevens commented that Dr. Umana was attending a
conference in Geneva with Major General Calderon Vindel.

6. (C) A May 9 meeting with OAS demining officials William
McDonough and Carlos Orozco provided further insight into
Umana and Calderon's interaction at the Geneva conference.
McDonough commented that, in contrast to past visits in which
Ministry officials took the lead role, General Calderon was
"calling all the shots." According to McDonough, Umana had
no authority to make decisions or meet with donors and was
basically relegated to the role of messenger for Calderon.

7. (C) In an additional example of the erosion of civilian
oversight, Silvio Diaz was recently chastised by Umana by
having "direct contact" with the army's Civilian Affairs
branch while dealing with technical issues -- communication
that he has maintained for the last 10 years without
incident. Diaz explained that the army's Secretary General
instructed Umana that all official communications between the
Ministry and armed forces must pass through Umana to the
Secretary General.

Comment: So Much for Civilian Control
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

8. (C) Despite Tapia's unusual designation as "Secretary
General with the rank of Minister" and her connections to the
Presidency, she is unlikely to reassert the Ministry's
authority over defense policy and oversight of the armed
forces. Ortega has clearly acquiesced to the military's
desire to allow the Ministry to fall into irrelevance. We
have done what we can to support the Ministry's institutional
position, such as including Ministry officials in relevant
activities and senior-level visits, but Ministry will likely
play no significant role in the Ortega administration.
TRIVELLI

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