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Cablegate: Ortega Meets Epa/Cdc Team

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #1030/01 2251451
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 121451Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3015
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS MANAGUA 001030

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CEN, HHS FOR OGHA - BSTEIGER AND RCORREA
STATE PASS TO EPA/OW - BGRUMBLES AND EPA/OIA - CHILL-MACON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV TBIO KSCA EAID PREL NU
SUBJECT: ORTEGA MEETS EPA/CDC TEAM

REF: MANAGUA 949

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) watershed and
wastewater management experts and a Center for Disease
Control (CDC) water sanitation expert visited Nicaragua July
21 ) 25 to assess Nicaraguan efforts to protect Lake Managua
and Lake Nicaragua from contamination and provide advice on
how to improve those efforts. This visit fulfilled a
commitment Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael O.
Leavitt and EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin
Grumbles made to President Ortega during their visit to
Nicaragua in late June. The team's visit culminated with a
private meeting at FSLN Headquarters with President Ortega,
where President Ortega expressed gratitude for efforts on
"issues of importance to the Nicaraguan people," and queried
them on topics such as the pan-American canal, tilapia
aquaculture, and biofuels. End summary.

EPA and CDC Team Fulfill HHS Commitment
----------------------------------------

2. (U) EPA watershed and wastewater management experts and a
CDC water sanitation expert met July 21 ) 25 with Nicaraguan
counterparts to assess Nicaraguan efforts to protect Lake
Managua and Lake Nicaragua from contamination and provide
them with advice on how to improve those efforts. This visit
fulfilled a commitment Secretary of Health and Human Services
Michael O. Leavitt and EPA Assistant Administrator for Water
Benjamin Grumbles made to President Ortega during their visit
to Nicaragua in late June (Reftel). The team included EPA
watershed management expert Bill Cox, CDC water sanitation
expert Richard Gelting, and EPA wastewater management expert
Antonio Quinones.

Nicaragua's "Great Lakes"
-------------------------

3. (U) Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua are the largest lakes
in Central America and are viewed by the government as
critical to economic development in Nicaragua. Both are
located within the San Juan River watershed that approximates
one quarter of Nicaragua's total land area and contains 80%
of its population. The challenge of protecting these lakes
and managing the San Juan River Watershed is enormous. The
Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) cites
urban waste, agricultural waste, deforestation, and poor land
management as the primary causes of lake pollution. The city
of Managua dumps 120,000 cubic meters of untreated wastewater
and sewage into Lake Managua daily. The lake is now so
polluted that it cannot be used to supply drinking water.
Drinking water must be sourced from nearby volcanic lagoons
and acquifers. The government estimates that Managua will
face water shortages by 2015, and therefore increasingly
views Lake Nicaragua as a future source of water for its
largest city (population 1.3 million).

GON Introduces Team to "Environmental CPC"
------------------------------------------

4. (U) MARENA Vice Minister Roberto Araquistain took the lead
in organizing the agenda, including meetings with Minister of
Health Dr. Guillermo Gonzales, President of the National
Water Board (ENACAL) Ruth Selma Herrera, and a number of
local government officials. Meetings emphasized the
importance of Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua, coherently
linking water quality, public health, and watershed
management concerns. Nicaraguan interlocutors highlighted
their interest in receiving additional technical assistance
on these issues. Vice Minister Araquistain also introduced
EPA watershed management expert Bill Cox to an "environmental
brigade" within a Citizens Power Council (CPC) to demonstrate
GON efforts to encourage citizen participation in watershed
management efforts. CPCs are Sandinista National Liberation
Front (FSLN) controlled groups whose purpose is to bring FSLN
engagement down to the community level, and in effect
supplant independent civil society at the local level.

Wastewater, Laboratories, and Watersheds
----------------------------------------

5. (U) EPA team members visited wastewater treatment plants
in Managua with MARENA Minister Juana Argenal and in Granada
with MARENA Vice Minister Araquistain. Team members also
consulted with GON officials on CAFTA-DR USAID-funded
regional harmonization of wastewater regulations. ENACAL
President Ruth Selma led a tour of ENACAL's water quality
testing laboratory. Health Minister Gonzales guided the team
through Nicaraguan health and medical laboratories and
emphasized Nicaragua's lack of food quality testing capacity.

6. (U) EPA's Bill Cox met with Jaime Incer, President of
Fondo Natura, a Nicaraguan nongovernmental organization
dedicated to sustainable development and environmental
conservation, and Salvador Montenegro, the Director of
Nicaragua's National Autonomous University's Center for the
Investigation of Aquatic Resources (CIRA-UNAN). Both Incer
and Montenegro emphasized renewed interest on the part of the
GON to improve watershed management, and described their
efforts to capitalize on this opportunity.

President Ortega: Castor Beans, Biofuels, and Tilapia
--------------------------------------------- ----------

7. (SBU) The team's visit culminated with a private meeting
at FSLN Headquarters with President Ortega. Minister of
Health Guillermo Gonzales, MARENA Minister Juana Argenal, and
MARENA Vice Minister Roberto Araquistain took turns briefing
Ortega on the visit. President Ortega expressed gratitude
for the team's efforts on "issues of importance to the
Nicaraguan people," and was clearly impressed that Secretary
Leavitt had followed through so quickly on his promise to
send a technical team.

8. (SBU) President Ortega then queried EPA's Bill Cox on a
variety of topics, including his opinion on a pan-American
canal that would incorporate Lake Nicaragua, the
environmental impact of tilapia aquaculture in Lake Nicaragua
(without referencing an existing U.S. investment at issue),
and the use of corn in biofuel production (the subject of
harsh public criticism by President Ortega in the recent
past). Cox provided careful answers that emphasized the
importance of effective regulatory regimes and transparency
in decision-making on environmental issues. He emphasized
the need to weigh all of the costs and benefits to get a full
picture of the environmental impact of a particular farming
practice or infrastructure proposal.

Comment
-------

9. (SBU) At one point during the visit, MARENA officials
suggested that the team should sign an agreement outlining
additional technical assistance before its departure. While
we successfully sidestepped this hasty and perhaps
politically motivated request, we believe there exists the
continuing expectation that additional U.S. technical
assistance will be forthcoming.
SANDERS

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