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Cablegate: Territorial Restructuring of Autonomous Regions

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PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #0922/01 2002257
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 182257Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2917
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL//J2/J3/J5// PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANAGUA 000922

SIPDIS

DEPT PLS PASS TO USAID LAC
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN GREENE AND NYMAN
DEPT FOR DRL G. MAGGIO
DEPT FOR INR/IAA - EMERSON
DEPT FOR USOAS
NSC FOR V ALVARADO
SOUTHCOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/08/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ECON KDEM NU
SUBJECT: TERRITORIAL RESTRUCTURING OF AUTONOMOUS REGIONS
FAVORS SANDINISTAS

REF: A. MANAGUA 416
B. MANAGUA 865

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

1. (C) SUMMARY: There are two proposals pending
introduction into the National Assembly (NA) that would carve
out two new regions or departments from the North Atlantic
Autonomous Region (RAAN) and its southern counterpart, the
RAAS. Liberal deputies allegedly authored both proposals on
grounds that the western parts of both regions are
ethnically, culturally, and economically more tied to the
neighboring departments than to their coastal capitals.
Besides supporting these proposals, the president of the
Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)-allied indigenous
Yatama party, Brooklyn Rivera, also seeks to capitalize on
them to push for reforms to the Law of Autonomy (Law 28) that
governs both regions. Rivera would like to see greater
autonomy and indigenous control in what would remain of the
two regions. Liberals on the Atlantic Coast, however, oppose
both proposals on grounds that Rivera is manipulating the
deputies in order to consolidate his personal control of the
region. Many indigenous groups are also suspicious of
Rivera's motives, believing that such reforms would grant
Rivera and President Daniel Ortega virtually unfettered
access to the regions' rich natural resources. END SUMMARY

Reforms Needed to Law of Autonomy
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (SBU) Law 28, the law that established the North and
South Atlantic Autonomous Regions, was passed by the first
Ortega Administration over 20 years ago, many believe as an
effort to placate the regions, indigenous inhabitants after
years of conflict with Ortega,s then-administration. The
law, which created two zones from the larger Zelaya
territory, as well as the department of Rio San Juan,
formalized indigenous leadership structures at the regional,
territorial, and communal levels with elected leaders. In
addition, land and resources were recognized as communal.

3. (SBU) Over the past 15 years, there has been a steady
influx of "mestizos" -- non indigenous people of
Spanish-speaking origin -- into these vast sparsely populated
territories seeking cheap land for agriculture and
cattle-raising. Immigrants brought with them the concept of
private property and, thus, have sought to "purchase" land
from local communities or have simply moved in and staked out
property. Today, particularly in the western reaches of the
RAAN and RAAS, mestizos greatly outnumber indigenous groups
whose members are predominantly concentrated along the major
rivers and the Atlantic coast line, having largely ceded the
inland territory to immigrants.

4. (SBU) Given that Law 28 designated both regions as
communal property, the issue of property rights -- private
vs. communal -- is contentious and complicated in the RAAN
and RAAS. Indigenous communities have struggled for years
for more formal recognition and definition of their communal
lands and to stop, or better regulate, the encroachment of
mestizos. In this regard, the indigenous structures
formalized in Law 28 create an overlapping maze of
authorities, decision-makers, and claimants. This confusion
of land ownership and titling and the myriad of communal,
territorial, and regional bodies that potential investors
must work through has been an important contributor to the
regions' slow economic development (Ref A).

Current Political Reality Favors Liberal Parties
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (C) As the demographic mix of the RAAN and RAAS has
shifted, so, too, has the political balance. Most of the
mestizo immigrants from Nicaragua's western departments vote
Liberal. As a result, indigenous political parties and
movements have been slowly losing ground over the years. The
current incarnation of the largest indigenous political
movement, Yatama, is closely aligned with Sandinista
President Ortega's FSLN. The personal popularity of Yatama
president Brooklyn Rivera -- who is widely reported to fancy
himself "king of the indigenous peoples" -- has fallen
sharply over the past two years due to his close alliance
with Ortega, the national and regional government's
collective bungling of post-Hurricane Felix relief efforts,
and the violence orchestrated by these same authorities on
April 4 in the RAAN capital of Puerto Cabezas over possible
election delays. Aware that his only currency with Ortega is
his ability to control the Atlantic Coast, specifically the
RAAN, Rivera is interested in fashioning solutions that would
allow him to maintain his grip upon the region while
maintaining a facade of support for indigenous rights.

RAAS Proposal - Playing into Rivera's Hands?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

6. (C) National Assembly deputy Francisco Jarquin, who,
until recently, was allied with Eduardo Montealegre's Vamos
Con Eduardo (VCE) movement, is the primary advocate for a
plan to carve out a new department composed of four
municipalities -- Nueva Guinea, El Ayote, El Rama and Muelle
de Los Bueyes -- from the western portion of the RAAS.
Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) deputy Francisco Aguirre
Sacasa is also backing this proposal. According to Jarquin,
these municipalities are populated by mestizos who vote
Liberal and who have more in common -- culturally and
economically -- with their neighboring departments to the
west than with the RAAS' coastal population. He also
emphasizes that the new territory would be incorporated as a
department, not a region, precisely to facilitate the
ownership of private property. Jarquin also admits -- as
does RAAS Regional Council President Lourdes Aguilar -- that
these four municipalities have never participated in Regional
Council elections, as mandated by Law 28. As such, Jarquin
stresses that the inhabitants' interests are therefore not
represented by the regional government. (COMMENT: When
pressed about why these important commercial and population
centers had never been incorporated into regional elections,
Aguilar simply shrugged and admitted it was a problem. END
COMMENT)

7. (C) While Jarquin, who hails from Muelle de Los Bueyes,
is pushing for the separation of a new department based on
commercial, cultural, and ethnic differences, Aguilar and
other Liberal leaders in the RAAS capital of Bluefields are
strongly opposed to the idea and are convinced that Rivera --
who also favors the separation of these four municipalities
-- is manipulating Jarquin. According to Aguilar, Liberal
Bluefields mayor Luis Gutierrez, and VCE mayoral candidate
Harold Baccon, removing these Liberal municipalities would
have several negative effects on the RAAS:

- It would sever a large portion of the RAAS' Liberal voter
base, increasing the proportion of Yatama -- and, by proxy --
Sandinista votes in the remaining RAAS;

- it would reduce the remaining RAAS percentage of the
national vote from 10 percent to two percent, jeopardizing
the RAAS' representation in the National Assembly, which has
historically been Liberal; and,

- it would economically isolate Bluefields from the rest of
the country.

8. (C) Although the RAAS, as a region, would lose its
economic engine if these four municipalities were separated,
Rivera appears willing to accept this "compromise" for two
reasons. First, if the alternative to separation would be
inclusion on the Regional Council, Liberal representation on
the council would immediately increase by 12 votes (each
municipality enjoys three votes), shifting power -- and
control -- on the council away from Rivera. Second, Rivera
is advocating that, in exchange, the remainder of the RAAS be
left alone to govern itself using a reformed Law 28, which
Rivera himself drafted, that strengthens indigenous control.
Despite Rivera's supposed strong advocacy for indigenous
rights and communal property, some of Rivera's strongest
opponents remain the indigenous groups themselves --
including the Mayangna and Rama Indians of the RAAS -- who
claim that Rivera is playing the indigenous card to further
his own political and economic ends.

RAAN Proposal - Same Question
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

9. (C) In the RAAN, PLC National Assembly deputy Victor
Duarte is also advocating the creation of a territorial
entity that would include the western and northern RAAN
municipalities of Siuna, Bonanza, Rosita and Mulukuku.
Unlike Jarquin's proposal, however, Duarte prefers the new
territory be classified as a "region" versus a "department,"
placing him at loggerheads with Rivera. The primary
advantage, as Duarte sees it, is that regional status bestows
additional budgetary support through the parallel governor
and Regional Council structures set up under Law 28. As a
department, these autonomous governance structures -- and the
accompanying budget -- would not be available. When pressed
about the possibility of Rivera exerting more influence than
he does today in this area of the RAAN if the new territory
were set up as a region -- especially if his Law 28 reforms
are approved -- Duarte remarked, "At least the region would
get more money, and we (Liberals) would also see some
benefit." Duarte was equally dismissive of the strengthened
communal property language in Rivera's proposed reforms that
would theoretically apply, commenting that, "98 percent of
the population is mestizo and we already have private
property."

10. (C) Consulted on the issue, ecumenical and Miskito
leaders in the RAAN coastal cities of Puerto Cabezas and
Waspam expressed firm opposition to Duarte's proposal,
claiming that Rivera is manipulating Duarte. The proposal,
leaders claim, would weaken the economic strength of the
region, deepening the region's poverty and making its
inhabitants even more vulnerable to Rivera's machinations.
Leaders warned that Rivera is sending teams of his Yatama
supporters to communities throughout the region to promote
regional separation and his Law 28 reforms, claiming "greater
empowerment" for the Miskito communities. While the
communities are inherently suspicious of Rivera, the leaders
lamented that most residents have little formal education and
virtually no knowledge of the proposed reforms.

11. (C) Of greater concern to both Duarte and coastal
Miskito leaders is President Ortega's May 5 Presidential
Decree to create Special Development Regimes (SDRs) in four
municipalities in the RAAN and the northern department of
Jinotega (Ref B). Whereas the high Liberal voter
concentration in the proposed new region would still assure
strong Liberal representation in any form of elected
government, the directors or "sindicos" of the SDRs would be
appointed directly by President Ortega to oversee government
development programs. Duarte is concerned that, even if his
wish for a separate region were realized, any elected
government -- be it governors or regional councils under
autonomous law or municipal mayors under national law --
would be side-lined by the sindicos because they would
control the purse strings.

Rivera's Dream
- - - - - - - -

12. (C) Rivera envisions a purely indigenous government with
complete control over the regions' resources. In a detailed
presentation, Rivera spells out many reforms and changes to
Law 28, including the abolition of the municipal government
structure to be replaced by an indigenous community model.
These community structures would form part of larger
indigenous territories which, in turn, would form autonomous
regions (the RAAN and the RAAS). Rivera also seeks to create
a third regional-equivalent structure called "Wanky Wihta
Buka Was" that is comprised of several non-contiguous
geographic territories. Consulted about this new structure,
RAAN Miskito leaders clarified that the indicated territories
coincide with the region's richest resource concentrations
and that Rivera intends to set himself up as "cacique" --
chief -- of the region to control these resources (septel).
Rivera's plan would divide each region into two components -
Indigenous Territories and Multiethnic Districts. The
multiethnic Districts -- where the remaining mestizos would
presumably reside -- would, according to Rivera's vision,
still be subject to national law, giving the impression they
will be isolated Liberal pockets within the region and
therefore less of a threat to Rivera's new kingdom.

Comment - Likely Outcome
- - - - - - - - - - - -

13. (C) It is likely that some version of both the RAAS and
RAAN proposals will pass, most probably, according to both
bill sponsors, after November's municipal elections. The
proposals should gain Liberal support due to the obvious
benefit of concentrating and granting more control to the
Liberal vote in new departments / regions. Reclassification
as a department, in the case of the RAAS, would help
facilitate private property ownership. Likewise, the FSLN
would support the proposals because separating the Liberal
portions of the RAAN and RAAS would strengthen President
Ortega's hold on the region through his alliance with
Brooklyn Rivera.

14. (C) Through the lens of political and economic self
interest, both the Liberals and FSLN can justify their
support for the proposals. Whether or not these proposals
are in the best long-term interest of either democracy or the
indigenous populations, however, may be an entirely different
matter. Controlling the region -- especially under the guise
of empowering the indigenous by reforming Law 28 -- would
give Rivera and Ortega virtually unfettered access to the
regions' rich natural resources. Indeed, well placed sources
fret constantly about Rivera's interest in resource
extraction from the two autonomous regions. For example, he
reportedly holds significant timber interests in the area
affected by Hurricane Felix last September and is extracting
timber despite a restrictive ban on timber harvesting. Law
28 reform could set well up Rivera as a virtual one-man
political show and local economic robber baron on the
Atlantic Coast, undermining both the principles of elective
democracy and fundamental elements of indigenous law.
TRIVELLI

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