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Cablegate: Miskito Independence: Death & Mayhem in Bilwi Protests

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #1047/01 2991612
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 261611Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0015
INFO WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 001047

SIPDIS
DEPT PASS WHA/CEN KRAAIMOORE
DEPT PASS DRL MAGGIO
DEPT PASS INL/IAA ARCHULETA
STATE FOR USOAS
STATE FOR USAID
PASS TO MILLENIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/10/26
TAGS: PHUM PGOV NU CASC PBTS
SUBJECT: MISKITO INDEPENDENCE: DEATH & MAYHEM IN BILWI PROTESTS

REF: MANAGUA 501; MANAGUA 415

CLASSIFIED BY: Robert J. Callahan, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

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SUMMARY
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1. (C) Protestors who support the six-month-old independence
declaration by Rev. Hector Williams, the "Wihta Tara" (or "Great
Judge" in Miskito) of the Miskito Council of Elders (see REF A & B)
have been brutally attacked by police, the Navy and government-run
Citizen Power Council (CPC) youth gangs in the Puerto Cabezas
municipality of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN)
according to multiple accounts from eyewitnesses, demonstrators,
and media. Confrontations against separatists began on October 17
and culminated in full-scale violence on October 19. At its
height, the police and CPC gangs worked in tandem to stop the
protest, which led to the death of one man and the wounding of many
others. On October 20, President Ortega declared that foreign
embassy officials and NGOs were behind the protest; it was the
first time Ortega had made any public comments regarding the
six-month-old conflict. The violence marks another chapter in the
ongoing conflict between the Atlantic Coast and central government.
END SUMMARY.

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NICARAGUAN NAVY BOAT HITS CIVILIAN LAUNCH
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2. (C) Since September, Reverend Hector Williams, the elected Wihta
Tara (Miskito language for "great judge") and leader of the Miskito
separatist movement, has called on supporters to join him in a
peaceful demonstration to take over the RAAN Regional Government
offices in Bilwi on October 19, the six-month anniversary of the
declaration of independence of the Mosquito Coast (see REF A & B).
Supporters from outlying communities began leaving their villages
on Saturday, October 17 to arrive in Bilwi. One group of
approximately 40 Miskito supporters left the Sandy Bay area at 7:00
a.m., traveling in three panga boats. The group was intercepted by
a Nicaraguan Navy anti-narcotic craft, which rammed one of the
panga boats, capsizing it and sending the passengers into the
water. Silver Fredrick, a 16-year-old passenger, was struck by the
navy craft's propeller, which severely lacerated his back and
abdomen. The Nicaraguan Navy claimed that the panga boat
passengers were involved in illicit drug activities; however, the
victims and our contacts claim that the Navy was sent by regional
leaders to prevent them from joining the protest in Bilwi.

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HEAVY RAINS THWART EARLY PROTESTS
--------------------------------------------- ----

3. (C) On October 18, a large group of over 500 separatists braved inclement weather and joined the Wihta Tara on an initial march to the RAAN Regional Government buildings. Protestors carried white flags and posters with political messages regarding independence and human rights. The Wihta Tara called on regional government leaders, primarily Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) Governor Reynoldo Francis, to hand over the keys to the RAAN Regional Government buildings. When a heavy downpour ensued, protestors left the Bilwi streets, vowing to return the next day to take over the RAAN Regional Government buildings on the six-month anniversary of the Mosquito Coast independence declaration.

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POLICE-DIRECTED MOB VIOLENCE
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4. (C) According to multiple accounts, from eyewitnesses, demonstrators and media, on October 19, anti-riot police and CPC-led youth gangs brutally dispersed a march of more than 2,000 indigenous Miskito separatists who were protesting in support of independence from the central government of Nicaragua (see REF A). Protestors, mainly elderly Miskito Indians, who again waved white flags and carried posters, marched to the RAAN Regional Government buildings. The Wihta Tara and the Council of Elders legal representative, Oscar Hodgson, led the march, which began in the morning with only limited opposition until about noon. At that point, the Bilwi Police Chief Emilio Rodriguez went on a FSLN radio station (all opposition radio stations had their power cut off) to call out CPC-led youth gangs into the streets, directing them to put an end to the protest and help arrest the leaders of the independence movement. Approximately 800 CPC-led youth gangs (many of whom were drunk from free rum offered by the FSLN) took to the streets, burning tires in Bilwi's central park and reinforcing anti-riot police guarding the RAAN Regional Government buildings. Media reported that the Sandinistas tried to force state employees to take to the streets to stop the separatist march, in violation of the country's labor code.

5. (C) Eyewitnesses report that when the marchers reached the first
police barrier outside the RAAN Regional Government buildings the
CPC-led youth gangs, standing behind police lines, assaulted the
independence protesters with a volley of stones and morteros (a
type of firebomb). At the same time, the NNP provided cover for
the CPC-led youth gangs by shooting tear gas grenades and rubber
bullets into the group of protesters while blatantly ignoring the
violence CPC militants used to start the confrontation. The NNP
and CPC gangs eventually dispersed the crowd and chased marchers
off the streets. Many marchers sought refuge in the Council of
Elders' headquarters, but this was also assaulted with tear gas
grenades and rubber bullets. Throughout the afternoon NNP
anti-riot police indiscriminately shot tear gas grenades into
private homes. At least 50 people have been hospitalized and
between five and nine arrested, but little information exists on
the extent of injuries or the charges to be filed.

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ONE DEATH
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6. (C) The media have confirmed that at least one protester was
killed in the confrontation. According to the two major daily
newspapers and our sources, Ormes Warman Mens, a 68-year-old
Miskito elder, suffered either a heart attack or stroke brought on
by the police's use of tear gas to put down the demonstration. His
death occurred as he attempted to flee the mob attack. Some people
attempted to keep the man alive through CPR and mouth-to-mouth
resuscitation, but they were unable to continue their efforts very
long because of the continuous bombardment of tear gas and rocks
coming from the police and CPCs.

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MEDIA BLACKOUT
----------------------

7. (C) A consular warden in the Bilwi area confirmed these reports
and said that he could hear gunfire and tear gas grenades going off
throughout the day around the city. He claimed that he had a video
of the police and the CPC gangs working hand-in-hand to suppress
the protest. Furthermore, the warden told us that the opposition
radio stations were shut down during the afternoon of October 19.
The only news outlets broadcasting were the government-controlled
television station and FSLN and Yatama (a pro-government,
indigenous political party) radio stations, which, according to
local reports, were broadcasting inaccurate information about the
basic facts of the protest and subsequent police repression.

--------------------------------------------- ---------------------- -----
MORE ATTACKS AND ARRESTS - WIHTA TARA BACKS DOWN
--------------------------------------------- ---------------------- -----

8. (C) On October 20, our contacts and the media reported that
anti-riot police laid siege to the Council of Elders' Bilwi offices
where the Wihta Tara and at least 80 of his supporters were
barricaded. Police closed off access to the street, then launched
tear gas grenades at the building, and finally detained 30
supporters to prevent further protests. Heavy rains also inhibited
protestor gathering. On afternoon of October 21, the Wihta Tara,
speaking on Radio VECA, called on his supporters to return to their
villages and end their protests for now.

--------------------------------------------- ---------------
ORTEGA'S BLAMES FOREIGN EMBASSY OFFICIALS
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

9. (C) During a speech on October 20, President Ortega referred to
the conflict in Bilwi. Without specifically mentioning either the
independence movement or the Wihta Tara, Ortega declared that the
conflict in Bilwi was about regional elections and blamed Embassy
officials and NGOs for fomenting the crisis. "We will have
elections in the month of April in the RAAN and RAAS and there are
already those wanting to boycott these elections; they are
promoting disruptions, promoting violence, above all in
Bilwi...But, who are those encouraging this attitude of violence?
The oligarchs, the traitors, accompanied by officials of some
embassies and some NGOs, are trying to sow the seeds of discord.
We know who they are."

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COMMENT
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10. (C) The six-month anniversary of the Mosquito Coast
independence declaration failed to advance the separatists agenda
or the creation of a dialogue with the government. It was to be
expected that the GON would try to stop the takeover of public
buildings. But the police-sanctioned mob violence against
demonstrated the government's willingness to resort to vigilante
justice at the expense of basic political rights and the freedom of
assembly of its citizens, and the ever increasing politicization of
the Nicaraguan National Police. Post believes that Ortega's veiled
threat against foreign embassies and NGOs were specifically
directed against the United States Embassy and our democracy
programs in the RAAN and RAAS run by the International Republican
Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
CALLAHAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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