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Cablegate: Nicaragua: Relations with Cuba Closer Under Ortega

VZCZCXRO6587
RR RUEHLMC
DE RUEHMU #1490/01 3501510
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 151510Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3522
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHDC
RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0059

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAGUA 001490

SIPDIS

STATE FOR S/CT, WHA/CEN, AND INR/IAA
STATE PASS USOAS AND USAID
SAN SALVADOR FOR DHS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/15/2028
TAGS: ETRD ETTC PREL ECON CU NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA: RELATIONS WITH CUBA CLOSER UNDER ORTEGA

REF: A. SECSTATE 126578
B. MANAGUA 1437
C. MANAGUA 0673

Classified By: Ambassador Robert J. Callahan for reasons 1.4b and d.

Summary
-------

1. (C) Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's association with
the Cuban regime spans several decades. Since Ortega
returned to power in January 2007, Nicaragua has
re-established very close relations with Cuba, especially
through common membership in the Bolivarian Alternative for
the Americas (ALBA). Ortega frequently lauds the Cuban
socialist model in his public speeches. While trade between
the two countries is limited, Cuba sponsors important
training and exchange programs in health and education. End
summary.

Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Revolutionary Brotherhood
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (C) Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's association with
the Cuban regime spans several decades. Upon release from
prison, Ortega spent several months in exile in Cuba during
the 1970s. When the FSLN rose to power, Ortega looked to
Cuban-style socialism for direction. Throughout the 1980s,
the two countries enjoyed close economic, political, and
military cooperation. After losing the 1990 elections,
Ortega traveled to Cuba frequently and continued to maintain
close relationships with senior Cuban officials, including
Fidel Castro.

3. (C) Reflecting ideological and historical affinities with
the Cuban regime, Ortega moved immediately after taking
office in January 2007 to join Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia
as the fourth member of the Bolivarian Alternative for the
Americas (ALBA). Through this forum, President Ortega
maintains regular contact with high-level Cuban officials.
Most recently, on November 26, 2008, Ortega participated with
Ricardo Cabrisas, Vice President of the Cuban Council of
Ministers, in an ALBA summit held in Caracas, Venezuela.
There, he likened Nicaragua's battles against European and
"Yankee" interventionism to Cuba's struggle against the U.S.
trade embargo and international isolation since its
revolution. In a televised speech on September 20, 2008,
Ortega favorably remarked that "Cuba is without question an
extraordinary example of a socialist project in the Latin
American and Caribbean context." Esteban Lazo Hernandez,
Vice President of the Cuban Council of State, participated in
a ceremony held in Managua on July 19, 2008, to commemorate
the 29th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution.

4. (C) Nicaraguan Ambassador to Cuba Luis Cabrera, Argentine
by birth but a close confidant of President Ortega,
coordinates the bilateral relationship at a working level.
Press reports identify Cabrera as the point of contact for
President Ortega with the FARC, according to documents seized
by Colombian Armed Forces from the FARC in 2008.

Trade and Investment
--------------------

5. (U) Nicaraguan-Cuban bilateral trade declined steadily
from 1991 to 2005 but has increased since 2007. Nicaraguan
exports to Cuba in 2007 totaled $700,000, up from $400,000 in
2006. Nicaraguan imports from Cuba rose from $1 million in
2006, before Ortega took office, to $6.3 million in 2007.
Primary imports included energy-efficient light bulbs,
medical equipment, and pharmaceuticals. Two-way trade,
however, remains insignificant, representing 0.1% percent of
Nicaragua's total trade worldwide. Nicaragua's investment
promotion agency, ProNicaragua, reports no significant Cuban
investment in Nicaragua.

Training and Scholarships
-------------------------

6. (C) As a legacy of FSLN rule during the 1980s, Cuba and
Nicaragua regularly collaborate on health and education
programs. Since Ortega took office in January 2007, that
collaboration has also intensified:

--According to Nicaraguan Minister of Health Guillermo
Gonzalez, as of July 2008 there were 250 Cuban medical
personnel working throughout Nicaragua -- up from 140 just
six months before -- with the largest concentration along the
Atlantic coast.

--Through "Operation Miracle," Nicaraguan Government
officials claim that Cuban doctors, with Venezuelan funding,
have performed cataract surgery for more than 20,000
Nicaraguans.

--Under a long-standing agreement, any member of the
Nicaraguan military can receive free medical treatment in
Havana, though in practice most are served by local military
hospitals and seek specialized care in the United States.

--For years, Cuba has offered full scholarships to Nicaraguan
students to attend Cuban universities. According to press
reports, as many as 1,000 Nicaraguan students are currently
studying in Cuba, mostly medicine.

--Cuban teachers seconded to Nicaragua also participate in a
rural literacy program in Nicaragua called "Yes, I Can."

Comment
-------

7. (C) While President Ortega's ideological and historical
affinities with the Cuban regime make the two natural allies,
it is ALBA that provides the framework for the relationship
and Venezuelan funding that facilitates programs at the
operational level (Ref B).
CALLAHAN

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