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Cablegate: Hurricane Felix - One Year Later

VZCZCXRO0704
PP RUEHLMC RUEHRN
DE RUEHMU #1329/01 3051955
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 311955Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3316
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO PRIORITY 5563
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY
RUEHRN/USMISSION ROME PRIORITY 0003
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 0378
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAHLC/HOMELAND SECURITY CENTER WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC 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 05 MANAGUA 001329

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CNE
DEPT ALSO FOR WHA/FO AND CA/OCS
DEPT PLEASE PASS TO USAID/W, USAID/DCHA AND USAID/OFDA
USAID/W FOR A/AID HFORE
SOUTHCOM PLEASE PASS TO JTF-BRAVO
SOUTHCOM FOR SCJ3
SAN JOSE FOR OFDA SENIOR REGIONAL ADVISOR

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/08/2018
TAGS: EAID PGOV MOPS AEMR CASC KPAO NU
SUBJECT: HURRICANE FELIX - ONE YEAR LATER

REF: A. MANAGUA 1136
B. 2007 MANAGUA 2417
C. 2007 MANAGUA 2325
D. 2007 MANAGUA 2211
E. 2007 MANAGUA 2168
F. 2007 MANAGUA 2148 AND PREVIOUS
G. 2007 MANAGUA 2070

Classified By: Ambassador Robert Callahan for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: On September 4, 2007 Hurricane Felix made
landfall in one of the poorest regions of Nicaragua, the
North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). The devastation by
this Category 5 hurricane in Nicaragua was horrific; the
government estimates 102 people died, and the storm destroyed
thousands of homes and businesses, and damaged dozens of
schools, community centers, and churches. The United States
was the first country to arrive with relief, and the largest
single source of international aid, approximately $15.7
million. U.S. and other foreign assistance played a key role
both in immediate humanitarian relief and subsequent efforts
of economic reconstruction. However, more than a year later,
government corruption and its efforts to politicize
international aid have stymied reconstruction and indeed, may
have magnified the psychological, physical, social and
economic problems of the region exacerbated by the storm,s
arrival. END SUMMARY.

- - - - - - - - -
The Perfect Storm
- - - - - - - - -

2. (SBU) Hurricane Felix, a Category 5 hurricane with 160 mph
winds, slammed into the Atlantic Coast of northeastern
Nicaragua and southeastern Honduras on September 4, 2007.
Official sources reported that the storm killed 102 people,
but NGOs reported more than 300 people perished, including 25
Miskito fishermen lost at sea. The hurricane completely
destroyed the villages and naval outpost on the Miskito Keys,
low level islands located approximately 43 miles from Bilwi,
the largest city in the RAAN. In the Puerto Cabezas
municipality (which includes the city of Bilwi), the high
winds damaged nearly every roof and many buildings were
leveled. GON officials estimated that the storm destroyed
more than 10,000 homes (most of them in Bilwi) and that
approximately 200,000 people were affected. Along the
Mosquito Coast, flooding and mudslides ruined homes and
blocked highways. There were almost no supplies and services
available in the aftermath of the storm to address the
devastation other than U.S. Government relief supplies,
pre-positioned before the hurricane season by the Red Cross.
The day after the catastrophe President Ortega visited Bilwi
and promised to rebuild the damaged homes and help the
victims. Two days later, U.S. Ambassador Trivelli visited
the region and brought actual aid.

- - - - - - - - - - -
Struggling Population
- - - - - - - - - - -

3. (C) One year after the hurricane little has changed.
Despite tens of millions of dollars of construction
assistance and building supplies from several international
donor nations and NGOs, most RAAN hurricane victims have not
been able to rebuild their homes. Many victims feel that the
government has not helped them enough. One exception may be
the community of Tuapi, where the Venezuelan government
donated zinc/steel roofing materials to help victims rebuild.
However, in other communities, such as Sandy Bay, victims
openly criticize public officials for their failure to
provide relief assistance after more than a year. It is not
a coincidence that Sandinista-Yatama Deputy Brooklyn Rivera
and Yatama Bilwi Mayor Elizabeth Enriquez, who were both born
in Sandy Bay, have still not visited the community since the
catastrophe.

4. (C) Hurricane victims not only suffer from physical
deprivation caused by the hurricane, but also continue to
suffer psychologically one year later. There are many
schools still in need of refurbishment, preventing
school-aged children from returning to normal routines. For
example, students in Sinsin are still attending classes under
tents or in the open air surrounded by pigs and chickens.
Adults feel hopeless and are unmotivated; there are reports
of depression and violent crimes within the communities.

- - - - - - -
Economic Woes
- - - - - - -

5. (SBU) The RAAN was already one of the poorest and
least-developed regions of Nicaragua before Hurricane Felix
struck. GON officials estimate that the hurricane caused
approximately C$869.3 million (US $46.7 million dollars) of
damage. The storm disrupted local businesses and created
higher unemployment. For example, in Bilwi/Puerto Cabezas
the storm surge destroyed fishing fleets and killed 25
Miskito fisherman. Since the storm, the cost of living in
the RAAN has increased more than four times. For example,
prior to the hurricane, a pound of rice cost C$3.50 (US
$.18). Now a pound of rice costs C$13.00 (US $.70).

- - - - - - - -
Broken Promises
- - - - - - - -

6. (SBU) President Ortega made an international plea for $292
million dollars to rehabilitate the RAAN soon after the storm
struck. One year later, the GON has not announced the
official amount of aid received or distributed.
Unofficially, media sources estimate that between $50 to $100
million dollars of aid came to Nicaragua. Ortega also
promised to organize a Consulting Group by February 2008 to
coordinate the international donations. One year later, the
group still has not formed. In mid-April, Vice Minister of
Foreign Affairs Valdrac Jaentsce stated that instead of
organizing a consulting group to coordinate international
aid, the GON would establish an international forum to
transform disaster aid into development proposals. This
still has not happened. Now the GON intends to organize a
Global Roundtable on International Cooperation that will
focus on the RAAN.

7. (C) On September 1, 2008, RAAN Governor Reynaldo Francis
stated that the region needed $320 million in disaster relief
and that the World Bank had already approved $17 million.
The Ministry of Family (MIFAMILIA), one year later, has still
not made an exact census of the hurricane victims.
Nevertheless, Francis estimated that the GON has provided
assistance to approximately 35 to 40 percent of hurricane
victims. However, the NGO Center for Justice and Human
Rights of the Atlantic Coast (CEJUDHCAN) estimates that the
regional government has only addressed, at best, one fourth
of the population affected by the disaster.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The U.S. and NGOs to the Rescue
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

8. (SBU) NGOs and international donor nations have been
essential to the RAAN recovery from Hurricane Felix and are
the main sources of aid to remote areas of the RAAN,
delivering not only immediate economic and disaster relief
but also providing valuable training to help victims become
economically self-sustaining. According to media reports,
approximately 34 NGOs actively ran programs in the RAAN.
International aid organizations and NGOs cooperating in the
RAAN include: USAID, Accion Medica Cristiana (AMC), Action by
Churches Together (ACT), Assistance from the Norwegian
Church, CARE International, International Institute of Rural
Reconstruction (IIRR), Canadian International Development
Agency (CIDA), Adventist Development and Relief Agency
(ADRA), Canadian Food Grains Bank, Catholic Relief Services
(CRS), Diakonia Sweden, Pan American Health Organization
(PAHO), Spain Pharmaceuticals, the Spanish Agency for
International Cooperation, Canadian Local Initiative Fund,
Horizon 3000 (the Austrian Organization for Cooperation and
Development), Intermon Oxfam, UNICEF, Oxfam England, Tearfund
England, European Community Humanitarian aid office (ECHO),
World Vision, and the Christian Action Commission among
others. The Moravian Church also played a key role in
coordinating relief efforts locally.

9. (SBU) The United States was the first country to arrive in
relief, and the largest single source of international aid,
approximately $15.7 million in humanitarian assistance and
economic development, airlift costs, and financing for home
mortgages to help hurricane victims (see REF E and F).
Victims were pleased that Ambassador Trivelli visited shortly
after the catastrophe. By the one year anniversary, USAID
provided humanitarian assistance and economic development of
approximately $7.2 million through a dozen implementing
partners, including: the Nicaraguan Red Cross (NRC), ADRA,
CRS, PAHO, CARE, Mision para Cristo, Moravian Church, and
Save the Children. Almost half of the USAID humanitarian
assistance went through the World Food Program, which
received approximately $3 million to address food shortages
by providing two thousand metric tons of rice and 680 metric
tons of fortified cereals. The Department of Defense (DOD)
provided approximately $1.5 million in airlift cost to bring
emergency relief to the region. The U.S. Overseas Private
Investment Corporation (OPIC) support for mortgage lending
amounted to $7 million, and Ambassador Trivelli invited one
of Nicaragua,s largest banks to open a branch in Bilwi to
provide construction and housing loans. In addition, USAID
and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)
implemented emergency assistance for flood victims of
approximately $700,000, through CRS, Save the Children and
ADRA.

10. (SBU) Other NGOs, such as AMC, provided humanitarian
assistance and trained hurricane victims in rural areas on
improved cultivation techniques. While the 2007 harvest was
lost because of the hurricane, AMC training helped
communities harvest 9 million kilograms (19.8 million pounds)
of beans and cultivate approximately 3,500 hectares of rice
in Waspam. AMC community coordination established an early
alarm system for emergencies, evacuated people from Cabo
Viejo, constructed seven shelters and initiated 18 emergency
projects in communities such as Tasba Pri, Raudales, and Rio
Coco. AMC also distributed food, materials, domestic
supplies, shelters, water, medicine and coordinated
transportation and storage in Tasb Pri, Bilwi, and Waspam.
AMC,s aid amounted to over $800,000 dollars during the
immediate aftermath of the emergency. One year after the
storm, AMC continues to provide rehabilitation assistance by
improving agriculture production, reconstructing
infrastructure, digging wells and latrines, and providing
health care and emotional recovery.

11. (SBU) USAID funded programs to several NGOs, donating
fishing nets, boats and seeds to revive the agriculture and
fishing sectors damaged by the storm. For example, ADRA
programming included agricultural rehabilitation assistance
that included seeds, fertilizer and tools to cultivate 1,808
hectares. However, community members complained that the
donated seeds came too late in the season to be effective
(June instead of March). For instance, the rainy season
destroyed the cassava crop because it was planted too late.

12. (C) Independent press in Puerto Cabezas has consistently
recognized the U.S. Government as the most effective aid
donor in the aftermath of the catastrophe. However,
Sandinista controlled media have emphasized Venezuelan and
Cuban aid.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Government Corruption - the Biggest Obstacle
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

13. (C) There are many reports in the media and by our RAAN
contacts that the central government has been negligent in
estimating and providing relief. Contacts tell us that the
initial response to the disaster by the GON was slow - three
days after local NGOs had begun providing relief. Within two
weeks after the catastrophe, GON required all aid groups to
have a GON representative or someone from the Mayor,s office
with them to exert control over the relief effort.
Through-out the past year, the GON has practiced a policy of
secrecy regarding aid statistics, distribution of aid, and
economic relief for hurricane victims. GON relief programs
were disorganized and ineffective. Certain government
leaders, including the mayor of Bilwi, have allegedly used
international relief funds and construction materials for
personal projects instead of channeling it through public
distribution systems. There have been complaints that GON
authorities consistently block civil society and private
initiatives to act in the disaster zone. Other NGOs
complained that GON officials sought bribes in exchange for
authorization to work in the RAAN (see REF C).

14. (C) NGOs and community leaders criticize the local,
regional and central government for corruption and
politicizing the international aid by failing to distribute
it fairly and transparently to the whole population. For
example, GON authorities estimate that they distributed
14,836 tons of food to approximately 180,000 people in the
RAAN during the past year. The food donations were
controlled by the Citizens Power Councils (CPCs), which are
directed by the FSLN leadership. Our contacts report that
Yatama-FSLN party members received preferential treatment,
and that non-party members were prohibited from receiving
food aid. There were also reports that food donations were
sent to Managua and later illegally sold into local markets.


15. (C) According to media reports and NGOs, the GON
distributed less than 30 percent of the construction
materials that they promised to the affected population.
Instead, NGOs and international aid organizations have
constructed the majority of the new homes in the RAAN one
year after the catastrophe. For example, the GON did not
distribute all of the Venezuelan donations of zinc/steel
roofing materials to the general population; instead it was
given to Yatama-FSLN supporters and the remainder was left to
rust in the Port Institute (EPN) fields.

16. (C) The Nicaraguan National Institute of Forestry
(INAFOR) Director William Schwartz stated that Hurricane
Felix,s powerful winds leveled approximately 10 million
cubic meters of lumber, of which, only six million cubic
meters could be salvaged due to limited access and capacity.
The GON and RAAN regional government purchased five portable
sawmills to help community members rebuild their homes using
salvaged lumber. Ortega issued decree 42-2008 that suspends
the prohibition against exporting salvaged lumber, and the
National Assembly has initiated legislation to allow the RAAN
to benefit from selling the salvageable lumber. However, our
contacts in the RAAN report that the GON is granting
preferential access and lumber rights to FSLN-Yatama
supporters, in addition to commercial rights already given to
U.S. and Canadian companies. There were also reports by our
RAAN contacts that CPC leader and FSLN Mayoral candidate
Guillermo Espinoza was using salvaged lumber to buy votes,
telling voters to &vote for me and I,ll give you wood to
build your houses.

17. (C) Throughout the year the FSLN and CPCs have used their
control over the distribution of aid to keep party members
loyal, to campaign, and to buy votes. Political parties used
the anniversary of Hurricane Felix for their own campaign
purposes. After Yatama withdrew from its election alliance
with the FSLN (see RefTel A), Yatama as well as the ALN
political party presented their Puerto Cabezas mayor
candidates during the memorial dedication at Miskito Key.

- - - -
COMMENT
- - - -

18. (C) Hurricane Felix was one of the worst natural
disasters to strike Nicaragua,s RAAN. The 160 mph storm
winds and surge devastated coastal communities, disrupted the
economy, and destroyed thousands of homes, as well as
hundreds of schools, churches and community buildings. The
first wave of help from international aid organizations and
local NGOs answered the call to bring immediate relief and
disaster assistance in the storm,s aftermath. More than a
year later, many NGOs have remained active in helping
thousands of poor families reconstruct their homes, farms and
lives. Meanwhile, the FSLN-Yatama controlled local, regional
and central governments have failed to provide transparency
and impartiality in the distribution of government aid
programs. Aid has been used primarily for political purposes
instead of helping the victims -- the CPCs and FSLN-Yatama
political alliance tightly controlled the distribution of
relief, to encourage party loyalty, consolidate power, and
buy votes for the upcoming municipal election. By most
counts, the region remains devastated, with only 25 to 30
percent of the victims ever receiving assistance one year
after the storm.
CALLAHAN

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