Cablegate: Nicaragua's Mining Triangle - Ready for Municipal

DE RUEHMU #0212/01 0522317
P 212317Z FEB 08





E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/19/2018


D. 2007 MANAGUA 1944
E. 2007 MANAGUA 1783

Classified By: Charge Richard Sanders for reasons 1.4(b,d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: In Nicaragua's North Atlantic Autonomous
Region (RAAN) cities of Bonanza, Rosita, and Siuna (the
"mining triangle"), Liberal political parties are discussing
unity for the 2008 municipal elections, but obstacles remain
as entrenched leaders may torpedo unity to remain in power.
There is a sharp divide regarding the Supreme Electoral
Council's (CSE) proposal to suspend November's municipal
elections. Mayors in all three municipalities from multiple
parties support the suspension, while NGOs, religious
leaders, and opposition political parties insist
infrastructure is sufficient to hold elections. If elections
move forward, Liberals are confident of victory in the three
municipalities. President Ortega's Citizens' Power Councils
(CPCs) are active throughout the region, fueling resentment
in these predominantly Liberal municipalities and tension
with indigenous community councils. The small indigenous
Mayagna and Miskito populations resent the large numbers of
Pacific "mestizos" who continue to migrate into region,
causing land disputes and social problems. END SUMMARY.

Mining Triangle - Nicaragua's "Wild West"
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2. (SBU) On a recent five-day trip to the area known as the
"mining triangle," we met with political party
representatives, mayors, religious leaders, Ministry of
Family representatives, NGOs, and civil society groups in the
cities of Bonanza, Rosita, and Siuna to gauge how well the
region is recovering from the affects of Hurricane Felix, to
solicit opinions about the region's preparedness to hold
municipal elections in November, and discuss key issues and
challenges facing the region.

3. (U) Located in the center of the RAAN, these cities are
poor and isolated. Siuna, the closest to Managua, is a
bone-jarring six-hour drive and Bonanza is an additional
three hours. Dubbed the "mining triangle" for its past glory
as a minor gold mining region, little remains of this history
save rusting equipment and dilapidated buildings. Today,
Siuna is the only city where commercial mining activity
continues. Unemployment levels are estimated to top 75
percent in the region and the majority of the population
lives from subsistence farming and cattle raising. The
municipalities face shortages of potable water, have poor
public sanitation infrastructure, insufficient school and
health facilities, and bad roads.

Liberal Unity - Fact or Fiction
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4. (C) The two major Liberal parties - the Nicaraguan
Liberal Alliance (ALN) and the Liberal Constitutional Party
(PLC) - in all three municipalities are at various stages of
unifying their electoral tickets for November's municipal
elections. (NOTE: These meetings were all held before the
CSE stripped reformist Eduardo Montealegre of control of the
ALN. While the impact of this action at the local level
throughout Nicaragua remains to be seen, tenuous local
alliances -- such as those struck in the mining triangle --
may unravel without the weight of the central parties pushing
for unity. END NOTE) Liberal unity appears the most
advanced in Bonanza, the smallest of the three
municipalities, where the sitting mayor is from the
Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). The ALN and PLC
have tentatively agreed on a PLC candidate for mayor, Pedro
Torrez, and a yet-to-be-determined ALN candidate for vice
mayor. (COMMENT: Torrez, a current member of the RAAN's
Regional Council, came across as dull and befuddled. He was
unable to answer questions regarding his campaign strategy or
messaging and left the substantive talking to an advisor. In
reference to Torrez, the local representative from the

MANAGUA 00000212 002 OF 005

Nicaraguan NGO Institute for Development and Democracy
(IPADE) remarked "I can't believe there aren't better
candidates." It appears Torrez' main asset is his loyalty to
the party. The choice of lackluster, but loyal PLC
candidates would seem to confirm the intent by PLC defacto
leader Arnoldo Aleman to hand-pick PLC candidates rather than
bend to a more democratic primary (septel). END COMMENT)

5. (C) In Rosita, the PLC and ALN signed an agreement to
work together in late December. Neither the PLC nor the ALN
had finalized their respective tickets and they had not
discussed power-sharing specifics. They have agreed to work
together in principal, but it was apparent from our
discussions that lingering suspicion and mistrust remain.
The ALN representatives commented that "those in power (the
PLC) want to keep it and they will divide the Liberal forces"
and added that "all the PLC candidates are or have been in
power and that will make the process difficult." For their
part, the PLC representatives viewed the ALN as a "traitor"
to the true Liberal torch-bearing PLC and accused the ALN of
having weakened the PLC in 2006, facilitating Ortega's

6. (C) In Siuna, the largest of the three municipalities,
the political landscape is more complex. The PLC is the
dominant party and the FSLN and ALN are minor players. The
Nicaraguan Resistance Party (PRN) -- comprised of ex-Contras
-- is quite influential while the Sandinista Renovation
Movement (MRS) and PAMUK -- a regional indigenous party --
are on the cusp of forming an alliance. Where the PLC and
ALN have not yet held any discussions, the ALN and PRN have
been working together since last November and have developed
a sound campaign strategy and solid realistic messages. Via
open primaries held in late January, the ALN/PRN alliance
selected its mayoral, vice mayoral, and eight municipal
council candidates. The ALN/PRN alliance has laid excellent
groundwork for the elections, but expressed concern about the
PLC's willingness to compromise and work together given the
party's dominance in the municipality.

7. (C) The ALN's concerns may be well-founded. Neither the
incumbent PLC mayor, nor the mayoral and vice mayoral
candidates in Siuna (both nominated by the local PLC party)
appeared genuinely interested in working with the ALN. As in
Rosita, the PLC views the ALN as a pesky upstart that
undermines Liberal unity. The ALN and PLC were scheduled to
hold a first round of discussions two days after our
meetings. The outlook was not bright, however, as the two
parties' separate power-sharing proposals appeared virtually
incompatible. The PLC proposal would assign the ALN the
number 5 and 7 seats (of 8) on the municipal council, while
the ALN proposal allots the party the vice mayorship along
with seats 1, 3, 5, and 7 on the council. If the PLC refuses
to negotiate a middle ground, ALN/PRN alliance
representatives assured us they will take their case to the
national level with both parties to broker an acceptable
compromise (a path to resolution no longer possible following
the CSE's February 20 decision stripping Montealegre of
control of the ALN).

Support for Municipal Elections in November
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8. (C) According to NGO and religious leaders -- all of whom
have extensive presence in rural areas -- as well as
political opponents, the damage caused by Hurricane Felix to
essential voting infrastructure (clinics and schools) in the
mining triangle municipalities was minimal and does not
justify suspending November's municipal elections, a proposal
currently under consideration by the CSE (ref C). This
broad-based opinion sharply contrasts the statement signed by
the RAAN's eight municipal mayors on January 10 in Siuna (ref
C). Asked in turn about this statement in light of the
contrast of opinions, the FSLN mayor of Bonanza and PLC mayor
of Rosita staunchly defended their decisions to sign the
statement and were adamant about the extent of the damage.
(NOTE: In Rosita, municipal statistics revealed that the
hurricane destroyed 25 schools and damaged 12 more. END NOTE)
Siuna's PLC mayor -- the instigator and host of the January

MANAGUA 00000212 003 OF 005

10 session -- suggested that the signed statement had been
improperly interpreted by the media and recast it as a
statement "showing solidarity about the extent of the
damage," not a demand to suspend the elections.

Lost "Cedulas" Excuse is a Red Herring
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9. (C) In addition to downplaying infrastructure damage, our
NGO, religious, and political party contacts stressed that
the loss of cedulas -- national ID documents required for
voting -- was minimal in these municipalities. They pointed
out that families affected by the hurricane were, in fact,
required to present their cedulas as proof of residence to
receive relief assistance. Instead, sources remarked that
the majority of people who don't have cedulas in the affected
areas never did have them. Most believed this justification
is a red herring and that local leaders, having had a taste
of power, are simply loath to surrender it.

Liberal Migrants Remain Unregistered
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10. (C) Liberal leaders in Bonanza, Rosita, and Siuna
estimate that thousands of recent immigrants -- principally
from the Liberal strongholds of Matagalpa and Jinotega --
remain absent from local voter registries. Whereas changing
domicile is unlikely to affect the electoral outcome in
Rosita and Siuna, which remain staunchly Liberal, PLC and ALN
leaders hoped to win in Bonanza for the first time in four
election cycles by taking advantage of this demographic
shift. Liberal leaders acknowledged, however, that it
routinely takes years for voter registries to be updated, a
problem they believe will only get worse with the CSE firmly
under the control of President Ortega's FSLN (septel).
Liberals fear that the CSE will take whatever measures
possible to prevent Liberals from being able to vote in
November's elections which many see as a referendum on the
Ortega administration (ref A).

FSLN - How to Influence People and Buy Votes
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11. (C) NGO, religious, and political party representatives
universally criticized the Ortega government for hijacking
Hurricane Felix relief supplies and using the Hambre Cero
(Zero Hunger) rural development program to strongarm and/or
bribe residents into supporting the Citizens' Power Councils
(CPCs) -- President Ortega's mechanism for bringing direct
democracy to Nicaragua (ref B) -- and the FSLN. Sources
reported that communities were required to establish CPCs in
the aftermath of Hurricane Felix to receive relief supplies.
Those who refused, sources alleged, did not receive
assistance. Further, contacts reported that the Ortega
government has greatly scaled up the distribution of Zero
Hunger assistance packets (ref C, D, E) in the mining
triangle, especially among Mayagna and Miskito indigenous
communities, to bolster flagging support for the FSLN and
FSLN-allied indigenous YATAMA party. According to a YATAMA
representative in Rosita, seven families in each of 85
communities (nearly 600 families) had received assistance
packets. He confirmed that the CPCs selected all of the
families and that every family supported either the FSLN or

CPCs Presence Grows
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12. (C) CPCs have now been established in nearly every
community in the mining triangle and are beginning to exert
influence on a variety of fronts. The notable exception is
the city of Siuna where the outspoken Liberal mayor, backed
by a strong Liberal majority, have forced the CPCs to
maintain a low profile. Despite this, the Ministry of Family
(MiFamilia) in Siuna works closely with youth coordinators
within community-level CPC cabinets to carry out training,
distribute information, and to act as the Ministry's "eyes
and ears" to detect incidents of inter-familial violence.
The MiFamilia official praised the effectiveness of the CPCs,

MANAGUA 00000212 004 OF 005

pointing to a marked increase in the reporting of violence.
Her counterpart in Bonanza also works closely with CPC youth
coordinators and uses monthly CPC meetings as a forum to
promote specific programs. The FSLN mayor of Bonanza
referred to the CPCs as his "right arm" and mentioned that
the CPCs are currently carrying out a comprehensive study of
the urban center's problems.

13. (C) While government agencies appear to leverage the CPC
network to extend their reach into rural areas with positive
results, other uses of it are not as positive. As mentioned
earlier, it was widely reported that the CPCs have used
hurricane relief supplies and the Zero Hunger program to
reward FSLN party loyalists and exclude others. IPADE's
Bonanza representative reported that while some CPC
coordinators are excellent, most are "polarizing the
communities and forcing traditional community councils to
become more political." His counterpart in Siuna remarked
that FSLN staff in every government institution have been
appointed as CPC representatives. The PRN president in Siuna
complained that 200 PRN affiliates who applied to the
National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA) for seeds
were told they needed reference letters from local CPC
coordinators to qualify. All were subsequently denied. The
mayor of Siuna bitterly recounted that a number of
PLC-affiliated teachers were transferred to remote
communities without warning and replaced by CPC-recommended

Racial Groups Sharply Divided
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14. (C) Tension between the indigenous populations (Mayagna
and Miskito) and immigrant mixed ("mestizo") populations
simmers just below the surface. The indigenous populations
-- estimated at 20,000 people -- live in a few communities
and there is limited contact between the two groups.
Property rights are the primary point of conflict. Under the
Law of Autonomy (Law 28), the indigenous communities use a
system of community property rights. While poor demarcation
creates friction between the indigenous communities, all
resent what they see as the illegal land-grab practices of
the immigrant mestizos. With mestizos now accounting for the
majority of the mining triangle's population, the
community-managed land system is under threat. This conflict
leaves both sides open to political manipulation as parties
maneuver to curry favor with the groups.

Domestic Violence is Commonplace
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15. (C) Domestic violence and insufficient resources to
address this growing problem were challenges facing the
MiFamilia and the Women's Network NGO in each municipality.
Driven by poor education and chronic unemployment levels of
70-85 percent -- and exacerbated by the economic effects of
Hurricane Felix -- the domestic situation of women in the
mining triangle is worrisome. In Rosita, over 250 cases of
inter-familial violence were reported to the Women's Network
in 2007. Thus far in 2008, the Network has received an
average of two cases per week. Despite these high abuse
levels, none of the three MiFamilia offices have facilities
to protect battered and/or abused girls and women. Often,
they must place victims with local families, rely on the
scarce resources of their Network colleagues, or simply
return the women to their homes. Neither MiFamilia
representatives nor Network staff had information about the
scope of Trafficking in Persons (TIP), but they did not
believe it was a significant problem in the region.

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16. (C) Although the region is remote and poor, we left the
mining triangle after five days with the impression that the
region is changing and that the people are doing their best
to recover from the economic damage caused by Hurricane Felix
last September. Buses and trucks of all shapes and sizes
carrying cattle and an array of supplies were plying the bad

MANAGUA 00000212 005 OF 005

roads connecting these three cities whose streets teemed with
pedestrians and commercial activity. Despite the mayors'
"gloom and doom" rhetoric about the general state of things,
we received a loud and clear message that the people want to
keep moving forward with the region's development and they
see their right to vote in democratic elections as essential
part of the development process. Within the framework of our
2008 Democratic Initiatives program, we will work to
strengthen relations with partners in the region to
facilitate free and fair elections.

© Scoop Media

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