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Cablegate: Atlantic Coast - Government Continues to Fumble

VZCZCXYZ0006
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #2325/01 2881707
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 151707Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1497
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 002325

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN FEELEY AND LERSTEN
DEPT PLEASE PASS TO USAID/W, USAID/DCHA AND USAID/OFDA
USAID/OFDA FOR KLUU, AFERRERA, ACONVERY, RTHAYER AND SBISWAS
NSC FOR ALVARADO AND TSHORTLEY

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/11/2017
TAGS: EAID PGOV KPAO NU
SUBJECT: ATLANTIC COAST - GOVERNMENT CONTINUES TO FUMBLE

REF: MANAGUA 2211

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

1. (C) SUMMARY: In the aftermath of Hurricane Felix the
Nicaraguan government continues to mismanage the situation in
the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). In his
presentation before the United Nations General Assembly on
September 25, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega failed to
ask the international community for post-Felix assistance,
despite public promises to do so. Regional religious leaders
have sharply criticized regional government officials who
falsely claimed that the religious community is "pleased"
with the government's response to Felix. Indigenous leaders
rejected Ortega-allied YATAMA deputy Brooklyn Rivera's
proposal to postpone 2008 municipal elections in the RAAN.
Ambiguous legislation to restrict harvesting of downed timber
has triggered unrest in communities throughout the RAAN. In
response, indigenous leaders are organizing to better control
reconstruction efforts. END SUMMARY.

Ortega Blows it at the U.N.
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2. (SBU) In the wake of Hurricane Felix, the local and
international community expected President Ortega to request
international assistance when he addressed the U.N. General
Assembly on September 25. Instead, he described the evils of
"global capitalism" and promoted Iran's right to develop
nuclear technology in any way the Iranian government sees
fit. Back home, the people were stunned. For the
communities in the RAAN -- already angered by the
government's response to Felix and deeply suspicious of
Ortega for the atrocities committed during the 1980s --
Ortega's speech was seen as yet another insult to Nicaragua's
indigenous peoples. Three days after the speech, fifty
National Assembly deputies signed a declaration condemning
Ortega's address for having "ignored the urgent needs of our
coastal peoples in the RAAN."

Religious Leaders Critical of Government Response
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3. (C) Two days before Ortega's U.N. address, national,
regional, and local officials from the indigenous YATAMA
party declared that the RAAN's various religious leaders were
"pleased" with the government's response to the Felix crisis.
The next day, leaders from the Catholic, Moravian, and
Baptist churches notified us that church leaders did in fact
not endorse the government's response. Two days later, they
held a press conference to clarify their position and to call
for transparency and accountability in aid distribution.
Religious leaders continue to criticize the regional
government's actions, reflecting deep resentment among the
population.

Opposition Rejects Proposal to Suspend Elections in RAAN
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4. (U) Two days after Ortega's speech, Rivera, in his
position as a National Assembly deputy, proposed to his
Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) colleagues that
the 2008 municipal elections be suspended in the RAAN due to
Hurricane Felix. The opposition bloc in the Assembly
immediately rejected the idea, calling it a ploy by Rivera to
buy time for his increasingly unpopular YATAMA party in the
RAAN. The reaction among RAAN leaders was similar. There is
no indication that the Assembly will take further legislative
action on this proposal.

Timber Processing Frozen
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5. (U) On September 21, the National Assembly ratified
presidential decree 92-2007, suspending all commercial
extraction of timber in the RAAN. The decree prioritizes
timber use for housing reconstruction, encourages
reforestation, and protects damaged forestland from the
encroachment of agriculture and cattle raising. While most
agree these protection measure are essential to ensure the
long-term recovery of the forests, the decree has angered the
dozens of timber processing companies operating in the RAAN
because it prohibits them from processing downed timber on
their own lands. Further, the decree does not specify who
will process the timber for reconstruction or how it will be
done, raising doubts among RAAN residents about the decree's
effectiveness. There is widespread concern that the
government will use the decree as a smokescreen to grant
preferential access to party loyalists; however, we have not
seen any evidence to support this assertion.

Food Aid - Currency of Influence
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6. (C) Multiple sources have reported that the regional
government is not equitably distributing relief supplies to
the affected communities, instead diverting it to party
loyalists. There are also unverified claims that relief
supplies are showing up in local markets. On September 26,
the RAAN Council of Elders denounced these irregularities,
demanding that the National Assembly mount an investigation
into the matter. Separately, Catholic priest Rodolfo French
accused the regional government of secretly stockpiling
relief supplies and chain saws in the private warehouse of
YATAMA president Brooklyn Rivera to influence voters in the
2008 municipal elections. According to former Vice Minister
of Foreign Affairs Javier Williams-Slate, this partisan
process has already begun. He reported the regional
government is using food aid to recruit 50-100 people in each
community to build support for the regional government.

Indigenous Community gets Organized
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7. (C) Believing that the Nicaraguan government,
international agencies, and donors are overlooking or
ignoring the potential role that indigenous NGOs and
community groups can play in the rehabilitation of the RAAN,
indigenous leaders are getting better organized. They have
formed a seven-person committee called "Unity for the
Development of the Children of the Caribbean Coast" to
coordinate ideas, planning, and proposals using indigenous
groups. The committee includes leaders from the Catholic,
Moravian, and Evangelical churches; indigenous NGOs; and
other community leaders. To date, we have received five
proposals from the committee totaling USD 230,000 for
agricultural development programs in some 55 communities in
the RAAN.

Comment - Funding the Locals to Help Themselves
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8. (C) The aftermath of Hurricane Felix provides a unique
opportunity for us to enable the indigenous population to
help themselves. Although there are administrative
challenges to working with non-traditional partners, the
benefits of doing so are twofold. Indigenous groups
understand the needs of the population as well as the
challenges and complexities of working in the RAAN's
multi-ethnic environment. Although sheer necessity overrides
the indigenous communities' suspicion of outsiders, they
would prefer assistance and support from their own people.
Second, the national and regional governments' numerous
blunders in the wake of the hurricane have further weakened
the Ortega-allied YATAMA's stranglehold in the RAAN.
Financing democratically-oriented indigenous NGOs to carry
out rehabilitation efforts (reftel) would exploit this
weakness and send a strong message to the peoples of the RAAN
that YATAMA and the FSLN have failed them. Although not an
inherently political message, when voters go to the polls in
November 2008, they will remember who helped them in the time
of their greatest need.
TRIVELLI

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