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Cablegate: Libertad Act: Nicaraguan Relations with Cuba


DE RUEHMU #1083/01 3201504
R 161504Z NOV 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 001083


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2029/11/16
SUBJECT: Libertad Act: Nicaraguan Relations with Cuba

REF: STATE 115416

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


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 close relations with
Cuba, especially through common membership in the Bolivarian
Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). Ortega frequently lauds the
Cuban socialist model in his public speeches. He has called for an
end of the U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. While trade
between the two countries is limited, Cuba sponsors important
training and exchange programs in health and education.

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 would travel to Cuba frequently and he
has maintained close relationships with senior Cuban officials,
including Fidel Castro. Ortega and other senior GON official
frequently voice support for the Cuban regime:

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--On October 28, 2009, Nicaraguan Ambassador to the United Nations
Maria Rubiales described the U.S. economic sanctions against the
Cuban regime as "cruel, inhuman, illegal, illegitimate, and
designed to cause famine, illness and desperation among the Cuban

--In protest over the exclusion of Cuba from the April 17 - 19,
2009, Summit of the Americas, Ortega joined Bolivia and Venezuela
in refusing to sign the draft declaration.

--In a televised speech on September 20, 2008, in Managua,
Nicaragua, Ortega favorably remarked that "Cuba is without question
an extraordinary example of a socialist project in the Latin
American and Caribbean context."

The ALBA Nexus

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 Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). Through
ALBA, President Ortega maintains regular contact with high-level
Cuban officials. According to open source reporting, Ortega met
with a number of senior Cuban officials during the last year:

--On October 18, 2009, in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Ortega met with First Vice President of the Cuban Council of State Jose Ramon Machado Ventura during the Seventh ALBA Summit. There, Ortega emphasized the importance of ALBA summits in confronting "northern, capitalist countries, the Europeans, the Americans." He said the ALBA countries are "fighting against these powerful enemies and the model they have imposed with its different forms of control."

--On April 21, 2009, in Havana, Cuba, Ortega met with Fidel Castro.
Ortega also participated in a series of media events and received
medical treatment while there.

--On April 16, 2009, at an ALBA summit in Cumana, Venezuela, Ortega
met with Raul Castro. There, Ortega called U.S. sanctions against
Cuba "a true genocide against the people of Cuba," and he called
for their removal.

--On April 1, 2009, in Havana, Cuba, Ortega and First Lady Rosario
Murillo met with First Vice President of the Cuban Council of State
Jose Ramon Machado Ventura and Minister of Foreign Relations Bruno
Rodriguez Parrilla.

--On November 26, 2008, in Caracas, Venezuela, Ortega participated
in an ALBA summit with Ricardo Cabrisas, Vice President of the
Cuban Council of Ministers. 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.

Trade and Investment

4. (U) Nicaraguan-Cuban bilateral trade declined steadily from 1991
to 2005 but has increased since 2007. During the first ten months
of 2009, Nicaraguan exports to Cuba totaled $1.3 million. In 2008,
exports totaled $2.1 million, up from $700,000 in 2007. The
public-private Center for Exports and Investment (CEI) led a
delegation of 13 small business owners to participate in the Havana
Trade Fair from November 2 - 7, 2009. Nicaraguan imports from Cuba
were $1.6 million in 2008, down from $6.3 million in 2007 that
included the importation of a large quantity of energy-efficient
light bulbs. Nonetheless, two-way trade 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. In September 2009,
Nicaraguan Tourism Minister Mario Salinas announced plans to offer
vacation packages for Russian tourists who would visit Cuba and
Nicaragua on Aeroflot flights.

Training and Scholarships

5. (C) As a legacy of FSLN rule during the 1980s, Cuba and
Nicaragua have historically collaborated on health and education
programs. Since Ortega took office in January 2007, this
collaboration has intensified:

-- Cuban Vice Minister of Health Marcia Coba visited Nicaragua in
October 2009 and met with President Ortega. She led a Cuban
medical mission comprising 68 doctors and other specialists who
would remain in Nicaragua for at least six months to provide
medical care to patients vetted by Citizen Power Councils (CPCs), a
local governance structure that bypasses elected municipal
officials and reports directly to First Lady Rosario Murillo.

--Through "Operation Miracle," Nicaraguan government officials
claimed in October 2009 that Cuban doctors, with Venezuelan
funding, have performed cataract surgery for more than 60,000
Nicaraguans since January 2007.

--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.

--According to Embassy contacts, Cuba is supporting Nicaraguan
intelligence gathering, with training and personnel, against
Nicaraguan and U.S.-based democracy activists.

--For years, Cuba has offered full scholarships to Nicaraguan
students to attend Cuban universities. According to May 2009 press
reports, as many as 900 Nicaraguans are currently studying in Cuba,
700 of them studying medicine.

--Cuban teachers participate in a Cuban-designed rural literacy
program in Nicaragua called "Yes, I Can." On October 18, 2009,
President Ortega credited the assistance provided by Cuba for the
decline in Nicaragua's illiteracy rate to 3.8%.


6. (C) While President Ortega's ideological and historical affinity
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. Ortega and
other government officials frequently praise Cuban assistance,
while ignoring - or in some cases criticizing as insufficient - the
estimated $50 million (excluding MCC) in assistance that the USG
provides annually to Nicaragua through a variety of programs.

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