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Cablegate: Nicaragua: Attorney General Estrada

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #1414/01 3291615
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 241615Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3422
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 001414

SIPDIS

STATE FOR WHA/CEN - CWEBSTER, AKRAAIMORE
STATE FOR EEB/IFD/OIA - HGOETHERT
L/CID - JKOVAR, CHOLLAND

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/24/2018
TAGS: EINV EFIN EIND ECON ENRG EU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA: ATTORNEY GENERAL ESTRADA

REF: A. MANAGUA 1120
B. MANAGUA 460
C. MANAGUA 803
D. MANAGUA 450
E. MANAGUA 880
F. MANAGUA 1052

Classified By: Ambassador Robert J. Callahan, reason: 1.4 (B) and (D).

1. (C) Summary: Attorney General Hernan Estrada is the
Government of Nicaragua's (GON) lawyer and a close advisor to
President Daniel Ortega. While Estrada is known to us as the
point person on U.S. citizen property claims, he also is the
lead government official on protecting the assets and natural
resources of the state, reviewing international contracts and
agreements, and fighting corruption. Estrada also acts as a
politically partisan defender of FSLN policies in local and
international fora. Although he presents himself as one of
the intellectual elite of the Sandinista party, Estrada
operates more like a foot soldier following orders and at no
time allows any daylight to show between his views and the
prevailing party line. Under pressure, he can be arrogant,
difficult and evasive. With a sharp legal mind and few
ethical inhibitions, he relies on intimidation tactics and is
likely to interpret what others say (or do not say) to his
advantage. End Summary.

LEGAL RESPONSIBILITIES
----------------------

2. (SBU) Attorney General Hernan Estrada is one of the most
powerful and influential officials in the GON. As the
government's lawyer, he carries the rank of minister and
enjoys direct access to President Daniel Ortega. He advises
Ortega on a wide range of issues related to government
affairs and politics. While Estrada is the lead official on
resolving U.S. citizen property claims, he has a myriad of
other legal responsibilities. By law, the Attorney General
is charged with defending and protecting the assets and
natural resources of the state, representing the state in
national and international court cases, acting as a legal
advisor to the executive branch, defending human rights,
fighting corruption and malfeasance within the government,
and reviewing contacts and international agreements signed by
the executive branch. In practice, Ortega almost always
delegates authority to Estrada to sign contracts on behalf of
the government.

BROAD AUTHORITY
---------------

3. (SBU) Legal scholars say that President Ortega has had
Estrada engage in closer political control over the work of
the government lawyers than recent attorneys general. An
example of this is his authority over the administrative
procedures and compensation deliberations on all property
claims. Previously, the attorney general reviewed and signed
final settlements, or "finiquitos," but did not get involved
in negotiations or ruling on claims. Late in 2007, in a
shocking development, Estrada exercised broad authority to
review and dismiss property claims previously accepted as
legitimate. This included 48 claims for a lack of
documentation and 98 U.S. claims under Decrees 3 (1979) and
38 (1979) for political reasons (Ref A). On principle, we
have not accepted these dismissals, but we did contact U.S.
claimants to inform them of the dismissals and their right to
appeal.

4. (SBU) Today, no one would argue with the assertion that
Estrada exercises full control over government institutions
dealing with property claims, including the Office of the
Property Superintendent, the National Confiscations Review
Commission (CNRC), the Office of Assessment and
Indemnification (OCI), the Nicaraguan Institute for
Territorial Surveying (INETER), as well as the national and
all regional public property registry offices. None of these
agencies/offices are allowed to pursue settlements
independently of the attorney general, although Estrada has
been willing to delegate a bit more authority in recent
months. The Property Superintendent, Yara Perez, a militant
Sandinista and a particularly difficult adversary, was
Estrada's Assistant Attorney General before he named her
Superintendent. She still takes her orders from Estrada.

OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES
----------------------

5. (SBU) Estrada has been a key player in pursuing GON
interests on a wide range of sensitive issues outside of
property claims. Since 2007, he has worked with the Ministry
of Energy and Mines and the Investment Promotion Agency to
resolve contractual issues surrounding offshore oil and gas
concessions to two U.S. firms. He signed new contracts with
one of the U.S. firms and is currently reviewing contracts
for the other (Ref B).

6. (SBU) In 2007 and 2008, after Ortega threatened the
electric utility, Estrada challenged the government's
contract with Union Fenosa, the Spanish company operating the
national utility, forcing the firm to renegotiate contracts
with suppliers. One result was that the government acquired
a 16% stake in the local Union Fenosa subsidiary, which came
with a seat on the board.

7. (SBU) In 2008, Estrada led the government's efforts to
pressure Barcelo Hotels and Resorts (Spain), owner of
Nicaragua's flagship tourist resort (Montelimar), to pay a
$1.5 million fee for failing to honor a sales agreement to
pay more to the government should the hotel's occupancy rate
rise above a predetermined level (Ref C). Barcelo enlisted
the support of the Spanish government and dug in its heels,
maintaining that because it had invested in the construction
of more rooms, the resort never reached the occupancy rate
specified in the contract.

8. (SBU) Also in 2008, Estrada led a GON negotiation team at
one point for the refinancing of medium-term government
bonds, known as CENIs, with two of the largest local banks.
His high pressure tactics included challenging one of the
banks (majority U.S.-owned) regarding the title to its
principal office holding and both banks by attempting to have
a local judge sequester the CENIs, which were bearer bonds
(Ref D). In the end, the banks agreed to cut the interest
rate by 30% and extend the redemption date (Ref E). (Note:
Ironically, this is exactly what opposition leader Eduardo
Montealegre did as Finance Minister, and for which the Ortega
government has threatened criminal prosecution. End Note.)

HATCHET MAN
-----------

9. (SBU) Beyond his legal responsibilities as Attorney
General, Estrada frequently serves as political hatchet man
in the defense of FSLN policies. For example, he publicly
asserted that famous Nicaraguan singer and former FSLN member
Carlos Mejia Godoy could not sue the FSLN for unauthorized
use of his song, "La Consigna (The Insignia)," because
Godoy's music "belonged to the Nicaraguan people, just like
works that one might find in the national archive" (Ref F).
At one point, Estrada threatened to shut down the national
newspaper "La Prensa" for reporting that six members of the
Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), an
internationally recognized terrorist organization, entered
Nicaragua to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the Sandinista
Revolution. Several members of the private sector have told
us that Estrada is normally "the muscle" when they negotiate
with or receive bad news from the GON.


MOVING AGAINST NGOS
-------------------

10. (SBU) During the 133rd meeting of the Organization of
American States' International Human Rights Commission
(CIDH-OEA) in Washington on October 27, Estrada, as
representative of the GON, answered questions concerning
government audits, investigations, and intimidation of
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based on trumped up
allegations of corruption and money laundering. Despite the
fact that his government was in the midst of taking action on
multiple fronts to stifle or even close local NGOs,
especially those engaged in fostering democratic institutions
and values, he categorically stated with a straight face that
"there is no government persecution against NGOs that exists
in Nicaragua. There are no restrictions against the freedom
of expression. Any accusations are nothing more than a
campaign to discredit the government during the Nicaraguan
municipal elections."

BLURRING THE LINE BETWEEN PARTY AND STATE
-----------------------------------------

11. (SBU) Like other agencies and ministries in the
Nicaraguan government today, Estrada makes sure that his
office actively supports the political objectives of the
FSLN. At the conclusion of the October Property Working
Group meeting, for example, EconOff witnessed FSLN supporters
preparing for a political campaign rally inside of the
Attorney General's Office, in fact recruiting officials to
participate.

12. (SBU) During a November 13 visit to the Nicaraguan Center
for Human Rights to investigate acts of political violence
that occurred as a result of civil protests against the
wholesale fraud that took place during the November 9
municipal elections, Estrada again donned the red and black
colors of the FSLN, publicly warning with biblical reference
(Luke 21:6), "If Commander (Ortega's rank as a Sandinista
Revolutionary) Ortega would make a call to his supporters,
there will 'not be left one stone on top of another' when it
came to press that opposed the government. Thank God he has
not done so." Within days, 40 masked men invaded and
destroyed three radio stations in the city of Leon commando
style, and roving Sandinista gangs ransacked the parked
vehicles of two local broadcast stations in sporadic street
violence. On November 19, a smiling, friendly Estrada took
pains to explain that his statement should not be construed
as a threat, as it was widely perceived to have been in the
press.

BIOGRAPHY
---------

13. (U) Dr. Hernan Estrada Santamaria was born on October 21,
1957 in Chinandega, a city in northwestern Nicaragua. He
graduated from the Universidad Autonoma de Nicaragua in Leon
(UNAN-Leon) in 1980 with a law degree, and quickly became a
practicing lawyer and notary public. During the first
Sandinista government, Estrada worked for the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs (it has been rumored that he is a possible
replacement for Foreign Minister Samuel Santos), including a
concurrent appointment as Ambassador to East Germany and
Austria. In 1990, he established his own law firm, Abogacia
Estrada, retained by public and private sector clients alike.
Ironically, several U.S. citizen claimants whose property
was confiscated in the 1980s employed Estrada as their
lawyer. On January 10, 2007, inauguration day, President
Ortega appointed Estrada as Attorney General.

14. (SBU) Estrada is married to Vilma Roman, a cousin of
Comandante Jaime Wheelock Roman. As Minister of Agriculture
and Agrarian Reform after the Sandinista revolution in 1979,
Wheelock supervised the wholesale confiscation of private
property in Nicaragua. In all, the government took control
of or redistributed more than 28,000 properties. Estrada and
Roman have two sons, one is married to an Austrian citizen
and currently lives in Austria. Estrada speaks Spanish,
German, and very limited English.

Comment
-------

15. (C) Although Estrada prides himself as one of the
intellectual elite in the FSLN, he operates more like a foot
soldier following orders and at no time allows any daylight
to show between his views and the prevailing party line.
Under pressure, he can be arrogant, difficult, and evasive.
Unless a counterpoint is forcefully made, he may simply
ignore it, pretending that his argument has carried the day.
With a sharp legal mind and few ethical inhibitions, he
relies on intimidation tactics and is likely to interpret
what others say (or do not say) to his or the GON's
advantage. Securing agreement on contentious issues may be
difficult. However, when he wants, as he undoubtedly will at
least at the beginning of the bilateral review scheduled for
December 11-12, he can be a smiling, effusive, and charmingly
welcoming individual.

CALLAHAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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