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Cablegate: Nicaragua: "No More Uppity Gringos"

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #0336/01 0791842
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 191842Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2290
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

UNCLAS MANAGUA 000336

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CEN, EB/IFD/OIA AND L/CID
STATE FOR WHA/EPSC
STATE PLEASE PASS TO USTR
TREASURY FOR INL AND OWH

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EINV ECON USTR KIDE NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA: "NO MORE UPPITY GRINGOS"

REFS: A) MANAGUA 301, B) MANAGUA 287, C) MANAGUA 274, D) MANAGUA
173, E) MANAGUA 0106, F) MANAGUA 0002, G) 07 MANAGUA 2581, H) 01
MANAGUA 2313, I) 04 MANAGUA 2442, J) 04 MANAGUA 2324

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) In a March 17 interview with a local newspaper on the
status of U.S. citizen property claims, Attorney General Hernan
Estrada challenged WHA/CEN Director John Feeley's concerns that the
Government of Nicaragua (GON) has so far resolved few U.S. citizen
property claims during the 2007-2008 waiver year. The Attorney
General expressed confidence that the United States would grant
Nicaragua a Section 527 waiver for foreign assistance. Estrada
reported the GON is tracking 572 claims belonging to 376 U.S.
citizens. The Attorney General alleged that U.S. claimants and
their legal representatives have engaged in improprieties in
pursuing compensation, or they have not accepted "reasonable" offers
from the GON to resolve their claims. He also complained that the
USG continued to accept cases after a December 20, 2003, deadline
established by the GON. Estrada's interview seeks to give an
impression of confidence regarding the Ortega administration's
approach to resolving claims and convey that the GON, not USG, is
running the show.

ORTEGA ADMINISTRATION ON RECORD PACE
------------------------------------

2. (U) On March 17, national center-left newspaper "El Nuevo Diario"
published a front page interview with GON Attorney General Hernan
Estrada on U.S. citizen property claims. Under the front page
headline that read "No More Uppity Gringos," Estrada's interview was
a direct response to WHA Central American Affairs Director John
Feeley's March 4 interview with "El Nuevo Diario," in which Feeley
underscored USG concerns about slow progress in resolving U.S.
property claims during the current waiver year.

3. (U) Estrada asserted that the Ortega administration is resolving
U.S. citizen property claims at a faster pace than the previous
Chamorro, Aleman, or Bolanos administrations. He evinced confidence
that the USG would grant the GON a waiver for the 2007-08 waiver
year.

4. (SBU) Note: As of March 19, 2008, the GON has resolved 5 claims
during the 2007-08 waiver year, 3 via the administrative process and
2 through local courts. However, one U.S. citizen informed us that
two of his claims in our database were resolved in 1999, bringing
the total to 7. During the 2006-07 waiver year, the GON resolved 34
claims, but the Ortega administration is responsible for only 5.
During the 2005-06 waiver year, the Bolanos administration resolved
86 claims. From 1996 to 2006, the Chamorro, Aleman, and Bolanos
administrations resolved an average of 155 U.S. citizen claims per
year (Ref A). End Note.

A CASE IS RESOLVED WHEN WE SAY SO
---------------------------------

5. (U) Estrada claimed that the GON currently tracks 572 claims
belonging to 376 U.S. citizens. He added that the Ortega
administration categorizes claims according to the status of each in
the administrative process and in the courts. Estrada noted that
the United States and Nicaragua differ on how we define a "resolved"
claim. He explained that the GON considers a case resolved when it
is either dismissed or favorably resolved, while the USG only
considers a claim resolved when the decision is in favor of the
claimant. Estrada highlighted the "challenge" he faces in educating
the Embassy about the Ortega administration's procedures for
resolving U.S. claims.

6. (SBU) Note: As of March 19, 2008, the Embassy Property Office is
tracking 666 Embassy-registered property claims belonging to 293
U.S. citizens. Within the last three months, the GON has dismissed
52 U.S. citizen claims because, according to the GON, claimants (a)
cannot prove they had owned the property in question, (b) cannot
prove that the GON had ever expropriated the property, (c) failed to
present necessary documentation, (d) a claim is deemed inadmissible
because the claimant already possesses the property, (e) the matter
is being handled in court, and/or (f) the claimant was considered an
ally of Somoza based on Decrees 3/1979 and 38/1979. The Embassy
considers a case resolved when the property is returned to the
claimant, or he/she received acceptable compensation. We cannot
consider these 52 cases resolved because the GON has yet to share
any credible information with us to show that it has implemented a
fair and transparent case dismissal policy (Refs A-H). End Note.

U.S. CLAIMANTS ARE CORRUPT
--------------------------

7. (U) Estrada alleged that U.S. claimants and their legal
representatives had engaged in improprieties with GON officials of
previous administrations in pursuing compensation for their
properties. He asserted that other U.S. claimants, such as Norman
Senfeld, have not accepted "reasonable" offers from the GON to
resolve their claims. Estrada also complained that the Embassy
Property Office continued to accept cases after a December 20, 2003,
deadline the GON established as the last day for claimants to submit
their claims to the National Confiscations Review Commission
(CNRC).

8. (SBU) Note: The GON has previously made vague references accusing
U.S. claimants or their legal representatives of corruption in
pursuing compensation for their claims. Econoffs have asked GON
officials to share any information they had on such practices, but
they have refused to provide details (Refs I-J). With regard to
U.S. claimants not accepting "reasonable" settlements, some
claimants have rejected offers by the GON because they are not based
on fair market value. As for Estrada's allegation that the Embassy
accepted claims after the Nicaraguan deadline of December 20, 2003,
deadline, we are unclear about his complaint. The Embassy
understands that the deadline for filing a property claim with the
CNRC was December 23, 2000. If an individual did not file a claim
prior to that date, he/she must pursue that claim in court. The
deadline for filing a claim with the Property Office under Section
527 was July 31, 2005. The Property Office accepts U.S. claims
filed after that date, but considers them post-waiver cases. The
Property Office is not aware of any agreement between the United
States and Nicaragua regarding claims that were presented after
December 2003. End Note.

COMMENT
-------

9. (SBU) Estrada's interview seeks to convey confidence that the
Ortega administration's approach to resolving U.S. property claims,
that is, cleaning up the "errors" of previous administrations, will
be well-received by the public. Estrada also may have wanted to
convey that the GON, not the USG, is running the show. While we
have seen some positive movement on their part after WHA/CEN
Director Feeley's visit on March 4, the Ambassador's meeting with
Estrada on February 26 (Ref C), and then the Ambassador's meeting
with Estrada, Foreign Minister Samuel Santos and Nicaraguan
Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Cruz on March 7, we remain unconvinced
that the GON is truly committed to resolve a reasonable number of
claims this year.

TRIVELLI

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