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Cablegate: Atlantic Coast - the Long (Winding) Road Back

VZCZCXRO8996
PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #2211/01 2692302
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 262302Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1363
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 002211

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN FEELEY AND LERSTEN
DEPT ALSO FOR WHA/FO AND CA/OCS
DEPT PLEASE PASS TO USAID/W, USAID/DCHA AND USAID/OFDA
USAID/W FOR A/AID HFORE
USAID/OFDA FOR KLUU, AFERRERA, ACONVERY, RTHAYER, AND
SBISWAS
USAID/DCHA FOR MHESS AND GGOTTLIEB
NSC FOR ALVARADO AND TSHORTLEY
SAN JOSE FOR OFDA SENIOR REGIONAL ADVISOR

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/24/2017
TAGS: EAID PGOV MOPS AEMR KPAO CASC NU
SUBJECT: ATLANTIC COAST - THE LONG (WINDING) ROAD BACK

REF: A. MANAGUA 2148
B. MANAGUA 2117
C. MANAGUA 2102
D. MANAGUA 2070
E. MANAGUA 2059
F. MANAGUA 2044
G. MANAGUA 2032
H. MANAGUA 2026 (NOTAL)
I. MANAGUA 2025 (NOTAL)

Classified By: Ambassador Paul Trivelli for reasons 1.4(b,d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: The indigenous Miskito indians of
Nicaragua's North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) believe
the Nicaraguan government (GON) failed to adequately warn
them of Hurricane Felix's September 4 arrival and has not
done enough to help them. Miskito leaders believe the true
death toll is more than 500, but claim the government is
pressuring the Miskitos to keep the official numbers lower.
Looking past the initial crisis, community leaders see the
following priorities over the short term: reducing forest
fire risk, opening roadways, providing seeds and farm
implements, restoring religious/community centers, caring for
orphans and widows, and providing materials for school
children. Democratic-leaning civil society groups believe
reconstruction efforts can help unify them, but fear their
lack of experience working with donors will preclude them
from participating. They believe the national and regional
governments will use reconstruction as a political tool to
buy votes for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)
and its YATAMA allies in the 2008 regional elections. END
SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Having emerged from the initial shock of Hurricane
Felix, there is growing resentment and anger in the
indigenous Miskito community towards the national, regional,
and local governments for their poor performance before and
after Felix. The Miskitos claim that the Nicaraguan
government failed to provide sufficient warning about Felix
and did not provide a means of evacuating residents --
especially the hundreds of people living in the Miskito Cays,
a few miles off the coast. While assistance streamed-in from
all quarters immediately following the hurricane, locals
credit the USG, other governments, and international NGOs for
coordinating and delivering much needed supplies. Catholic
priest Rodolfo French, a normally careful and measured
speaker, categorized as "totally disorganized" the national
(through the GON disaster relief agency SINAPRED), regional,
and local responses and indicated that the regional council
and local government were unable to cooperate.

3. (C) Miskito anger has been targeted at the most visible
leaders in the RAAN: Umberto Campbell - the National
Assembly deputy regarded as President Daniel Ortega's
right-hand on the Atlantic Coast; Brooklyn Rivera - the
president of the indigenous YATAMA political party, who sided
with the FSLN in the April 2006 regional elections; and,
Elizabeth Henriquez - the YATAMA mayor of Puerto Cabezas
whose sister is a well-known drug smuggler in the RAAN. Over
the past two weeks, contacts report protests denouncing the
government's failure. Rivera has made efforts to calm the
Miskitos, but with little apparent success.

4. (SBU) Although nearly destroyed in the hurricane, Radio
Miskut - the indigenous radio station operating out the
wrecked shell of a home - has been highlighting the situation
by featuring a stream of interviews with local Miskito women
-- mostly from the Cays -- who lost families and livelihoods.
As a result of these interviews, a group of Miskito women
recently appeared on national television with the Nicaraguan
Permanent Commission for Human Rights (CPDH) and a foreign
missionary who sponsored their travel to draw attention to
their plight.

5. (C) Fishermen in the RAAN have reported to local Miskito
leaders that government authorities have instructed
fisherman not to report additional hurricane-related deaths
on grounds that the USG will "initiate international action"
to prohibit fishermen from returning to the Cay if the death
count goes "too high." Leaders believe the regional and
local governments are trying to save face and believe the
real death toll is at least 500. (NOTE: The daily newspaper
"El Nuevo Diario" ran a front-page article on September 24
indicating that Ortega acknowledged the death count from
Felix could surpass 300 despite official SINAPRED reports of
only 102 deaths. This is the first time the government has
publicly mentioned numbers above the official death count.
END NOTE)

6. (SBU) Smaller fishermen and lobster trappers have alleged
that the government is not allowing them to return to their
livelihood. They report that only larger commercial vessels
are back in operation. (COMMENT: If true, this delay is
especially painful for lobstermen whose economic situation
was already precarious due to a three-month ban on lobster
harvesting that only ended at the end of July. END COMMENT.)
In addition, leaders are hearing claims from inland
communities that the government is not permitting any
harvesting of trees downed in the hurricane. It is unclear
if this includes any harvesting of wood or only harvesting
for commercial purposes, a likely step until the government
develops a more comprehensive plan.

7. (U) Looking beyond the initial crisis, community leaders
highlighted several short-term priorities to help "stabilize"
life in the RAAN. A summary of these priorities follows:

-- Reducing risk of forest fires: Rice planting begins in
January. To prepare the ground, farmers burn the organic
waste from their corn and bean crops. With so many downed
trees and other organic waste from the hurricane expected
still on the ground, there is grave concern about fires
getting out of control and "devastating what remains."
Community leaders and agricultural cooperatives stressed the
importance of outreach efforts to warn farmers of this danger
and of finding alternative crops with short production cycles
that will not require pre-burning. Aikuki Wal, an indigenous
agricultural cooperative operating in 62 RAAN communities, is
preparing a proposal for USG consideration to address these
issues.

-- Opening roadways: Following the hurricane, initial
efforts focused on opening main roadways to deliver disaster
relief supplies. However, the vast majority of the roads and
tracks remain blocked by fallen trees. Leaders from inland
communities were emphatic about re-opening these roads to
enable farmers to access their outlying farmland to start the
re-planting process. Quick action would assure that most
farmers could get something in the ground over the next month
to help alleviate a medium-term food shortage.

-- Providing seeds and tools: Along with road clearance,
farmers urgently need seeds -- corn and beans -- and farm
implements, particularly axes, machetes, and hoes. Farming
in the RAAN is largely a non-industrialized subsistence
activity and the vast majority of farmers' rudimentary tools
were lost or destroyed in the hurricane.

-- Restoring religious / community centers: Much of
community life in the RAAN revolves around the Moravian and
Catholic churches. In addition to addressing the spiritual
needs of the communities, they often run schools, clinics,
community centers, and care for the most disadvantaged.
Hurricane Felix destroyed or seriously damaged churches in
nearly every affected community. According to Moravian
authorities, 44 of 56 churches were destroyed and another 11
severely damaged. While the Catholic Church did not provide
specific figures, Father French indicated that damage was
extensive in parishes throughout the RAAN.

-- Assisting orphans and widows: Following its initial
efforts to distribute food in coordination with Catholic
Relief Services (CRS), Father French indicated that the
church is shifting its focus to care for orphans and widows
created by Felix. In addition, Father French stressed -- as
he did in his first meeting with the Ambassador -- the need
for scholarships which he said were more important than ever,
given even fewer local alternatives.

-- School repairs and supplies: Community leaders and NGO
CEDECHA stressed the importance of reopening schools to
normalize children's routines while reducing their exposure
to post-hurricane dangers such as open latrines, uncovered
and polluted wells, wild animals, etc. Given that school
repair and reconstruction will take time, CEDECHA urged U.S.
support to provide school supplies and materials, enabling
students to re-start their studies, even if in temporary
structures.

Reconstruction as a Political Tool?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

8. (C) While the GON, at all levels, should assume
responsibility for rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts,
there is growing concern among Miskito civil society leaders
that the government will use the reconstruction process (as
leaders allege the regional government has done with
emergency aid) as a political tool - favoring pro-Sandinistas
or buying support through reconstruction for non-Sandinistas
in the lead up to the 2008 elections. Similarly, leaders of
democratically-oriented civil society groups believe the
reconstruction process can help them unify if they can
participate in the rehabilitation process. However, these
groups are at a severe disadvantage for two reasons. First,
they have historically been scattered and disorganized and
efforts to unify them over the past year have yielded few
tangible results. Second, most have never worked with
international donors and lack the internal systems required
to qualify for and administer programs. Thus, in the wake of
Hurricane Felix, the underlying fear of democractic-leaning
civil society is that the GON, with the unwitting aid of
international donors, will silence any voice of opposition
during the rebuilding phase.

Comment
- - - -

10. (C) Seeing the hurricane as an opportunity to overcome
the RAAN's historical resistance to the Sandinistas since the
conflict in the 1980s, we believe that the regional
Sandinista-leaning YATAMA government -- with backing from
the national government -- will push hard to directly control
post-hurricane reconstruction efforts (the regional
government has officially taken over control from SINAPRED)
or use its network of NGOs. Therefore, we will remain
vigilent about how our assistance to the region is used to
ensure that we do not aid the Sandinistas in their effort to
use reconstruction assitance to further their own political
agenda in the RAAN.
TRIVELLI

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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