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Cablegate: Under Pressure, Ortega Changes Tone and Tactics In

VZCZCXRO9537
PP RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #1327/01 3042221
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 302221Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3311
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 001327

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CEN, DRL
STATE PASS USAID FOR LAC
NSC FOR FISK/GARCIA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/29/2018
TAGS: PHUM PREL PGOV KDEM NU
SUBJECT: UNDER PRESSURE, ORTEGA CHANGES TONE AND TACTICS IN
CAMPAIGN AGAINST NGOS

REF: A. MANAGUA 1308
B. MANAGUA 1316

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

1. (C) Under sharp and growing international pressure over
its campaign against civil society, the Ortega government
appears to have made a decision to change its tone and
tactics in the run-up to the November 9 municipal elections.
The European Union, the U.S., the Carter Center, Friends of
the Inter-American Democratic Charter and others have issued
strong statements over the past two weeks denouncing the
GON's campaign of investigations, raids and harassment of
pro-democracy NGOs and its conduct in the pre-electoral
environment. Since these statements, criticism of NGOs in
the semi-official media has dropped significantly. In
addition, on October 28, President Ortega, First Lady Rosario
Murillo and other senior government officials attending a
meeting with representatives of many NGOs (most pro-democracy
groups stayed away) to pledge improved cooperation in the
future and to stress that Nicaragua welcomes a role for civil
society. While the Ortega Government clearly continues to
view NGOs as a threat, the events of the last few weeks
indicate that international pressure may have some effect on
the GON and allow Nicaraguan civil society a bit more space
to operate. End Summary.

ORTEGA -- NGOS BENEFIT OUR COUNTRY
-----------------------------------

2. (U) In an October 28 event organized by Nicaragua's
National Council for Social and Economic Planning (CONPES),
President Daniel Ortega, First Lady Rosario Murillo, Minister
of Government (MINGOB) Ana Isabel Morales, and Deputy Foreign
Minister Valdrack Jaentschke met with selected
representatives of NGOs working in Nicaragua. CONPES is a
pre-existing umbrella organization to funnel input from key
sectors of Nicaraguan society into government policy. Under
Ortega it has become a vehicle to incorporate the Citizen
Power Councils (CPCs) into the GON's social and economic
sector activities. At the meeting, Ortega appeared to be in
a conciliatory mood, telling NGO leaders that in the current
world economic crisis, "we should unite forces: the State,
the CPCs, and NGOs." Furthermore, he told the group "we all
want the well-being of the people, of all Nicaraguans,
without distinction for political ideology." He stated that
the Government should be thankful for the help it receives
from NGOs. He also directed MINGOB's Morales to "be more
flexible" in its supervision of NGOs. Despite the general
conciliatory tone, Ortega also lashed out at foreign donors
for imposing conditions on how donations and aid can be used
and for trying to impose "a political order, an ideological
order" via the aid they give to NGOs. (Note: Ortega
apparently may not be able to maintain this new attitude
towards NGOs for very long. Local media report that Ortega
circulated a paper at the 18th Ibero-American Summit in El
Salvador on October 30 in which he accused European
Ambassadors in Managua of seeking to "destabilize" his
government through their "illegal" support to certain NGOs.
End Note.)

3. (U) In the role of 'bad cop' to Ortega's 'good cop,'
Deputy FM Jaentschke defended the GON's efforts to "impose
order" over NGOs and foreign financing. "When we came into
power, we encountered disorder, a great disorder" in the
oversight of NGOs and compliance with Nicaraguan law. "There
was too much discretion" and therefore there were abuses.
Jaentschke announced that the GON, within the next two weeks,
would issue a manual governing implementation of the laws on
civil society and foreign financing. While the new rules
would not be "imposed" without consultation, Jaentschke
promised those assembled that, in 2009, Nicaragua will have a
system "more effective, more ordered, governing the flow of
foreign finances to non-governmental organizations."

4. (C) In organizing the event, the GON appeared to be
picking and choosing NGOs to create a more docile audience
and to divide the pro-democracy groups. A leading health
sector NGO that has been critical of the government was asked
to provide a list of its board members. Ultimately, the
group was not formally invited but potentially sympathetic
board members were. The Institute for the Development of
Democracy (IPADE), which has criticized the Ortega Government
over its refusal to grant the organization permission to
observe the municipal elections, was not invited, but its
executive director, a former Sandinista, was. An American
humanitarian aid worker, who runs a series of faith-based
humanitarian programs in the Leon and Matagalpa departments,
told us on October 29 that his organization was invited but
could not attend. Others organizations with whom he works
did send representatives who commented that Ortega was more
conciliatory in tone and appeared to welcome NGO assistance,
a change he suggested was driven by the international
pressure.

TURNING DOWN THE RHETORIC
-------------------------

5. (C) Since mid-August, the Ortega Government and the FSLN
have waged a virulent media campaign via the semi-official
media (Television Channel 4, Radio Ya, and the new weekly El
19) against civil society groups and their leaders. Morales,
Jaentschke and other senior officials have publicly accused
leading NGO leaders, such as press activist Carlos Fernando
Chamorro and women's leader Sofia Montenegro (reftels) of
being agents of the U.S., as well as attacking other
prominent NGOs of being in the pay of the USG to
"destabilize" the Ortega Government. In the October 16
edition of El 19, one article falsely claimed that a poloff
who recently left post was an intelligence agent directing
the activities of Sofia Montenegro and other women's movement
leaders and provided explicit directions to her former
residence. Embassy sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry on
October 17 protesting the article and reminding the GON of
its Vienna Convention obligations to provide protection to
diplomats. Following the letter and the outpouring of
international criticism over the GON's treatment of NGOs,
there has been a noticeable drop in the use of these
semi-official media outlets to criticize civil society groups.


GOVERNMENT STILL "AT WAR"
------------------------

6. (C) Marcus Carmona, executive director of the Nicaraguan
Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH), dismissed the
meeting with the NGOs as a GON effort to "save face" with the
international community without really changing its
intentions. "The reality is that Ortega has declared war on
us" and won't be satisfied until "we are broken." Carmona
said he had been invited to the October 28 meeting, but did
not attend "on principle." The pressure against his
organization, and other pro-democracy groups, continues but
in a less public manner. CPDH has been called to appear
before the Prosecutor's office multiple times in connection
with the investigation of the International Republican
Institute (IRI) and the visit of former Mexican President
Vincente Fox. Furthermore, CPDH was called to appear before
MINGOB to answer accusations that CPDH had violated a
citizen's rights. When CPDH appeared, there was no
information to substantiate the charge, but CPDH was still
required to present an array of documents regarding its
current activities. Furthermore, the case against CINCO, MAM
and OXFAM (reftels) has caused a project between CPDH and
OXFAM to be frozen and all documents related to the project
were turned over by OXFAM to the Prosecutor's office.
Carmona expects these documents will generate yet another
round of investigation against his organization and possibly
threaten his group's legal status.

7. (C) Carmona believes that, in part, the pressure directed
at NGOs is the result of the pro-democratic organizations
working together more effectively over the last three months.
They have held joint demonstrations, coordinated
get-out-the-vote efforts, aided each others investigations,
and provided defense when attacked by the government. "They
know they must break us apart." According to Carmona, the
FSLN's weak standing in key municipal races, and their desire
to force constitutional changes quickly after the elections,
are also driving factors in the current pressure tactics
against civil society.

COMMENT
--------

8. (C) The Ortega government continues to view civil society,
particularly those groups which challenge its policies or
which it cannot control, as threats to its short term goal of
winning the November 9 municipal elections and to its longer
term goal of consolidating and perpetuating Ortega's
political power. However, events of the last several weeks
lead us to also believe that coordinated and direct pressure
from the international community, especially with the U.S.
and EU working in concert, can bring about a change in the
GON's behavior. While the change is modest at best, any
extra breathing room that the international community can
gain for Nicaragua's democratic civil society is welcome and
needed.
CALLAHAN

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