Search

 

Cablegate: Nicaragua: Scene Setter for Southcom Commander

VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #0854/01 2402303
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 282303Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUMIAAA/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 0197
RUEHSI/AMEMBASSY TBILISI PRIORITY 0017
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4504
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 000854

SIPDIS

FROM AMB CALLAHAN TO GENERAL FRASER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/25/2019
TAGS: OVIP PREL MOPS MARR NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA: SCENE SETTER FOR SOUTHCOM COMMANDER
VISIT

REF: A. MANAGUA 629 - H1N1 UPDATE
B. MANAGUA 626 - RADIO STATION JAMMING
C. MANAGUA 600 - CPC UPDATE
D. MANAGUA 599 - MCC REACTION
E. MANAGUA 580 - MCC CANCELATION
F. MANAGUA 541 - NGO MANUAL
G. MANAGUA 534 - NICARAGUAN ECONOMY OUTLOOK
H. MANAGUA 524 - TRIPARTITE WAGE AGREEMENT
I. MANAGUA 443 - CPC PRAYER CAMPAIGN
J. MANAGUA 415 - MISKITO INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
K. MANAGUA 258 - CAMPAIGN AGAINST OPPOSITION
L. 2008 MANAUGA 1392 - MUNICIPAL ELECTION FRAUD
M. 2008 MANAGUA 1240 - CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
N. 2007 MANAGUA 1785 - 28TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

Classified By: Ambassador Robert J. Callahan for reasons 1.4 (b & d)

1. (C) General Fraser, your visit to Nicaragua on September 1
and 2 comes at a moment when we face a challenging political
environment here with a government that is suspicious and
critical of the USG, even as the Nicaraguan public remains
fundamentally pro-US. Troubling phenomena include: economic
instability; political consolidation of party control over
national and local government; and an active party-patronage
system that rewards loyalty and punishes dissent and
opposition. Your visit also comes in the midst of
celebrations marking the 30-year anniversary of the
Sandinista-led victory over the Somoza dictatorship, and the
establishment of the Sandinista security organs that have
become the professional and independent Nicaraguan Army and
the National Police.

2. (C) Your visit is the first senior-level Executive Branch
delegation since that of former Health and Human Services
Secretary Michael Leavitt in MONTH 2008. NOTE. A visit by
former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez was cancelled in
September 2008 after Nicaragua formally recognized the
breakaway Georgian "republics" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
END NOTE. We expect that your government interlocutors,
including President Ortega, will give you a friendly
reception. This veneer, though, masks underlying pressures
and tensions that the ruling Sandinista party increasingly
brings to bear on Nicaragua's civil society, media, democracy
and even the institution of the military. Our bilateral
military cooperation, particularly in the area of
counternarcotics, is one of the bright spots we enjoy in our
relationship with Nicaragua. Your visit demonstrates the
value we place on military cooperation and the seriousness of
our continuing commitment to assist the Nicaraguan people.
These are messages worth repeating in your meetings.

- - - - - - - - -
POLITICAL CONTEXT
- - - - - - - - -

3. (C) The FSLN once again controls all four branches of
government. Beginning with his re-election to the Presidency
in 2007 -- with only 38% of the vote and via a
"pacto"/alliance with the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC)
-- Daniel Ortega has moved to consolidate political power in
himself and his family. Control of all National-level
entities, combined with the FSLN's local Citizen Power
Councils (CPCs), has permitted the Sandinista party to
actively restrict the ability of civil society, NGOs, the
media and the opposition to exercise their civic rights
(REFTELS B, C, F, K). Ortega's stated goal is to further
consolidate power through constitutional reform that would
permit him consecutive re-election and to remain in power
beyond the end of his term in 2011. Meanwhile, Nicaragua's
economy is distressed -- two critical concerns being high
unemployment due to "maquila" closings and biennual minimum
wage hikes, and to major budget shortfalls cause by
reductions in donor funds (REF G). Social services,
including healthcare and education, are suffering from two --
soon to be three -- rounds of budget cuts and a new scandal
surrounding the GON's "cover-up" of actual statistics about
H1N1 flu virus. (REF A).

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
MCC, OTHER DONOR CANCELATIONS HURT
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

4. (C) On June 10, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)
board announced the cancellation of approximately $62 million
of USG assistance as a consequence of election fraud
perpetrated by the GON during the November 2008 municipal
contests (REFTELS D, E, and L). Government and FSLN party
leaders, including Ortega himself, claim that the USG is
interfering with Nicaragua's sovereignty and its internal
affairs by asking them to account for the electoral fraud.
The expected cancellation announcement came after six months
of diplomatic efforts urging the GON to address the electoral
fraud. Of the $175 million MCC Compact, over $110 million
had already been spent or obligated. The loss of the
remaining $62 million in aid is a blow economically and
politically to the Ortega government, particularly since the
impact will be felt acutely in the FSLN's historical base of
Leon and Chinandega - areas that were served by the USNS
COMFORT mission in early July. Public reaction to the MCC
decision generally placed the blame on the Ortega
administration (REFTELS D, E).

6. (C) Also as a result of the November election fraud, the
European Union (EU) and several European nations suspended
donor assistance in the form of direct budget support.
Because this assistance accounted for a significant portion
of Nicaragua's operating budget, this loss of funds has
caused the GON to implement three rounds of budget austerity
measures (with successive reductions of up to 20% each time)
and has placed other financing deals, with the World Bank,
the IMF and other International Financial Institutions (IFIs)
in jeopardy. The government has managed to struggle on thus
far, but projections for 2010 are increasingly bleak.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
30-YEAR FSLN ANIVERSARY
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

7. (C) On July 19, five days after the COMFORT's departure
from Nicaragua, the FSLN celebrated the 30-year anniversary
of the victory over the Somoza dictatorship. At previous
celebrations (REF N), Ortega hosted Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez and organized large public demonstrations. To share
in the festivities, Ortega had reportedly invited recently
deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and other Bolivarian
Alliance (ALBA) leaders including Venezuela's Hugo Chavez,
Ecuador's Rafael Correa, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Cuba's
Raul Castro. However, the event was largely overshadowed by
Zelaya's predicament and, in the end, none of the leaders
attended although some sent representatives. This year's
event was significant in that the party declared Nicaragua
free of illiteracy and that the FSLN had successfully
enrolled over 1 million members -- "militantes" -- largely
through a high-pressure tactic of "strongly encouraging"
state employees to join or risk becoming unemployed. (REF C)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
CONSTANT ATTACKS AGAINST NGOS, MEDIA & OPPOSITION
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

8. (C) Since entering office in 2007, Ortega has consolidated
power across all levels of government. Perhaps the only
remaining independent government institution is the
professional military. The FSLN's stated goal is
constitutional reform that will either allow President Ortega
to be re-elected or change the government structure into a
parliamentary system (REF M). The FSLN already controls the
four branches of the national government through a "pacto" or
alliance with the PLC. Ortega announced the creation of
Citizens Power Councils (CPCs) in 2007 as a form of direct
democracy independent of political affiliation; however, by
the end of 2008, CPCs were overwhelmingly FSLN-controlled
local organizations. One national poll showed that less than
5 percent of Nicaraguans participate in CPCs. The FSLN is
actively limiting the ability of civil society, NGOs and the
media to exercise their civic rights. A new NGO manual
proposed by the Ministry of Government, not yet in force,
would restrict Nicaraguans' freedom of association and
influence on public policy (REF F). In mid-June the GON
arbitrarily blocked the signal and confiscated the equipment
of an opposition radio station (REF B).

8. (C) In a February speech, Ortega declared the FSLN in a
permanent campaign against the political opposition (REF K).
Opposition leader and National Assembly Deputy Eduardo
Montealegre refused to appear before a judge on June 22 for
politically motivated charges regarding the issuance of
government bonds (CENIS) while he served in the previous
administration. The FSLN has now threatened to strip
Montealegre of his immunity from prosecution in the National
Assembly (SEPTEL).

- - - - - - - - - -
ECONOMY LOOKS BLEAK
- - - - - - - - - -

9. (U) With a per capita income of $1,140 and poverty rate of
46%, Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western
Hemisphere. Official unemployment was 4.9% in 2007, but 60%
of all workers earn a living in the informal sector, where
underemployment is as high as 90%. The Central Bank
forecasts 0.5% economic growth in 2009, but independent
economists believe the economy may in fact contract by as
much as 1% this year. Exports to the United States, which
account for 59% of Nicaragua,s total exports, increased 45%
from 2005 to 2008 (in large part due to CAFTA-DR), but they
are down 14% so far in 2009.

10. (U) In the wake of fraudulent municipal elections, the
government has been unable to secure continued budget support
provided by European donors, resulting in a significant
fiscal deficit that led President Ortega to cut spending and
appeal to assistance from international financial
institutions and Venezuela. In 2008, Venezuela provided
somewhere between $326 million and $436 million in
assistance, all off-budget through entities controlled by the
FSLN. In 2008, Nicaraguans received $818 million in
remittances from abroad, most of which came from the United
States.

11. (U) President Ortega,s harsh rhetoric against the United
States, capitalism, and free trade has had a negative effect
on foreign investor attitudes and perceptions of country
risk. Since President Ortega took office, Nicaragua has
fallen in the World Economic Forum,s Competitive Index
Ranking from 95th place in 2006 to 120th in 2008.
Nonetheless, the government reports foreign investment
inflows of $626 million in 2008, mostly for
telecommunications infrastructure and electricity generation.
However, many companies in the textile/apparel sector,
including a $100 million U.S.-owned denim mill, have
shuttered during the past twelve months due to falling demand
for these goods in the United States.

- - - -
COMMENT
- - - -

12. (C) Many of the current circumstances Nicaragua faces
mirror the last time the FSLN was in power in the 1980's:
economic turmoil; overt efforts to consolidate one-party
control over both the national and local government; active
repression of civil society, independent media and the
opposition; and an active FSLN propaganda machine to claim
greater public support for the party and its agenda. Unlike
the 1980's, however, Nicaragua has made significant economic
progress since the return of democracy in 1990, and while its
political institutions are weak and easily manipulated, civil
society, the Catholic Church, the media, and more serious
elements of the opposition have in fact pushed back and
restricted the GON,s ability to pursue its authoritarian
agenda.

13. (C) Ortega and his party need to create the impression
that they are in control of the bilateral relationship and
have weathered any "damage" from the November elections
fiasco. We fully expect that the GON's propaganda machine
will work overtime to try to twist your visit to serve FSLN
purposes.

14. (U) General Fraser, it is my pleasure to welcome you to
Nicaragua. My Embassy team, especially LTC Regan and the
MilGroup staff, have worked diligently to ensure the
successful execution of your visit. We believe your visit
will underscore our message of the continuing commitment of
the U.S. to the Nicaraguan people and counter GON messages of
hostility.
CALLAHAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 

OECD: COVID-19 Crisis Puts Migration And Progress On Integration At Risk, Says

Watch the live webcast of the press conference Migration flows have increased over the past decade and some progress has been made to improve the integration of immigrants in the host countries. But some of these gains may be erased by the COVID-19 pandemic ... More>>


Pacific Media Watch: How Pacific Environmental Defenders Are Coping With The Covid Pandemic

SPECIAL REPORT: By Sri Krishnamurthi of Pacific Media Watch Pacific Climate Warriors - creative action to trigger better responses to climate crisis. Image: ... More>>

Reporters Without Borders: Julian Assange’s Extradition Hearing Marred By Barriers To Open Justice

After monitoring four weeks of evidence in the US extradition proceedings against Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates concern regarding the targeting of Assange for his contributions to journalism, and calls ... More>>

OHCHR: Stranded Migrants Need Safe And Dignified Return – UN Migrant Workers Committee

The UN Committee on Migrant Workers has today called on governments to take immediate action to address the inhumane conditions of migrant workers who are stranded in detention camps and ensure they can have an orderly, safe and dignified return to ... More>>