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Cablegate: Vandalism at Nicaraguan Broadcasters: Government

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/25/2018
TAGS: ECPS PHUM PGOV NU
SUBJECT: VANDALISM AT NICARAGUAN BROADCASTERS: GOVERNMENT
HARASSMENT OR SIMPLY RANDOM ACTS OF CRIME?

REF: A. 08MANAGUA573
B. 07MANAGUA669

Classified By: Ambassador Paul Trivelli, Resaons 1.4 (b and d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Over the past four months at least seven
Nicaraguan radio stations have reported incidents of
vandalism and sabotage. In making arrests, police suggested
that delinquents seeking copper wiring to sell for scrap were
to blame. However, the majority of affected broadcasters
feature programming critical of the Ortega Administration and
station owners have repeatedly asserted that the government
(or its agents) is behind the attacks. They note that in
most cases equipment essential to signal transmission was
targeted, indicating sophisticated attacks beyond what would
be expected by simple wire thieves. The destruction or loss
of certain targeted high value equipment has caused the
various radio stations to go off the air for a time, some as
long as 20 days. This recent rash of attacks comes as the
President's rhetoric against media has increased, referring
to non-government friendly outlets as "traitors" and
"murderers." Even if the actions were not
government-instigated, they have served to heat up an already
charged environment with recent closings of democratic space
and have allowed the government to limit freedom of the media
and expression. END SUMMARY.

Attacks on Broadcasters: Owners Blame CPCs
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (C) Over past four months a least seven radio broadcasters
have suffered acts of vandalism to critical elements of their
broadcast capacity. This vandalism has severely damaged some
of the main opposition stations, and caused all of them to be
off the air for periods ranging from a few hours to a couple
of weeks. Most of the affected outlets are right-of-center
broadcasters that feature, to some degree or another,
programming critical of the Ortega Administration. We met
with the owners of several of these stations. Some of whom
told us they believed the government and its "Citizens' Power
Councils" (CPCs) were behind the attacks.

The case of Radio 15 de Septiembre
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

3. (C) Radio 15 de Septiembre, the station most critical of
the Ortega Administration, has been attacked four times since
August of last year. The most recent attack took place in
late May and caused the radio station to be off the air for
20 days. (NOTE: The August and December 2007 attacks took
the station off the air for ten and seven days, respectively.
After an attack in March of this year, the station was up
and rebroadcasting on a limited basis after 24 hours. END
NOTE) According to the station's owner, the nature of the
vandalism indicates that the instigators had sophisticated
technical knowledge of radio broadcasting equipment and that
the items that were damaged or stolen were designed to keep
the station off the air indefinitely as many of the
replacement parts are not locally available. This sharply
contrasts with the official police position of vandalism or
robbery by local delinquents.

4. (C) The intruders stole eight kilometers of buried copper
cabling, the contents of the tuning box, the coaxial cable
that connects the transmitter to the antenna, and the ring of
copper wiring that connects all of the buried cabling.
Vandals also removed the wiring that ran up the antenna
providing electricity to the aircraft warning lights. The
security cables that keep the antenna upright were also
loosened. In addition, after the robbery had taken place,
the guard turned the transmitter back on causing two modules
to burn out. (NOTE: The owner suspects that the guard was
either involved in the sabotage or was threatened as no locks
were broken and the guard never attempted to call for help
even though he had a cell phone for just such emergencies.
The owner further noted that several neighbors reported that
members of the local CPCs were asking questions about the
security set-up ) how many guards, what hours they worked,
etc. END NOTE)

5. (C) As a result of the last attack, Radio 15 de
Septiembre was off the air until June 15 while the owners
bought new cables and equipment. Through donations from two
prominent Managuans and out of his own pocket, the owner was
able to replace 36 of the 240 underground copper cables, the
coaxial cable, and the contents of the tuning box. The two
burnt modules are still out of service.

Back on the Air, but for How Long?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

6. (C) As a result of the damage done to the transmitter
during the May attack, the station's present operating
capacity is only 20 kilowatts. Although the station's
current license only permits it to run at ten kilowatts,
eight months ago the station applied to increase its
broadcast signal to its full pre-attack capacity of 30
kilowatts, giving the station national coverage. Their
petition to run at 30 kilowatts has not been granted at this
time. Radio 15 de Septiembre's current license, granted
under the Bolanos administration, is set to expire on January
30, 2009. The owner is unsure if they will be granted
another license when they reapply.

7. (C) Two days after Radio 15 de Septiembre went back on
the air, inspectors from Nicaragua's telecommunications
regulating entity (TELCOR) unexpectedly arrived at the
transmitter site to make an inspection. No one at Radio 15
de Septiembre had been notified of the inspection. Per
orders from the owner, the new guard did not allow TELCOR
access. The owner of Radio 15 de Septiembre then went to the
TELCOR offices to for an explanation of the spot inspection,
but TELCOR employees would not see him.

Radio Pensamiento
- - - - - - - - -

8. (C) In March, Radio Pensamiento, which also airs
programming criticizing the performance of the Ortega
Administration, suffered a similar attack when intruders tore
up the cement blocks supporting the broadcast tower, cut the
stabilizing cables, and dug up underground copper cabling.
The owner estimated that damages exceeded USD 10,000.
Echoing the assertion made by Radio 15 de Septiembre, the
owner of Radio Pensamiento insisted that the vandals had to
possess sophisticated knowledge of radio broadcasting
equipment and processes and that the attack was intended to
disable the station's broadcasting capability. However, he
stopped short of accusing CPCs of involvement.

Radio Corporacion
- - - - - - - - -

9. (C) We also met with the owners of Radio Corporacion who
claimed that similar sophisticated technical knowledge was
needed in the thefts that occurred at their transmitter site
in May. Radio Corporacion was also forced off of the air for
over 10 hours, lost several kilometers of cable and had a

specific transmission antenna ring broken. The ring, a key
component, was not composed of high value copper for the most
part. Owners claim the government is probably encouraging
the vandalism but also stopped short of blaming te CPCs.

Comment
- - - -

10. (C) Since most of the recent attacks on radio
transmitters have targeted broadcasters that air programming
critical of the performance of the Ortega government, the
owners we have spoken with all suspect that the government is
attempting to restrict freedom of press and expression.
(NOTE: There appears to be a correlation between the number
and severity of acts of vandalism and the station's level of
anti-Ortega programming. Radio 15 lost the most, followed by
Radio Corporacion. El Pensamiento is less critical and less
cable was stolen END NOTE). These targeted attacks are a
cause for concern. Not only do such attacks directly
undermine freedom of expression, they create an atmosphere of
insecurity and raise the specter of self-censorship to
protect economic investments. In light of the government's
recent de-registering of two opposition political parties and
its mounting criticism of pro-democracy NGOs, a healthy
vibrant press is more important than ever to draw attention
to the government's actions.

TRIVELLI

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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