Cablegate: Nicaraguan Independent Media Attacked Again; Albanisa to Buy Major Nicaraguan News Channel?
DE RUEHMU #1157/01 3561432
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 221432Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0327
INFO WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/DEPT OF JUSTICE 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 001157
E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/22
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM NU
SUBJECT: Nicaraguan Independent Media Attacked Again; Albanisa to Buy Major Nicaraguan News Channel?
REF: A) MANAGUA 1111; B) MANAGUA 959; C) MANAGUA 916; D) MANAGUA 626
CLASSIFIED BY: RJCallahan, AMB; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
1. (C) Summary: Independent media is under attack again in Nicaragua. Two civil court judges recently filed a "preventive embargo" against Radio 15 de September and Televisora Nicaraguense (Telenica), essentially freezing several thousand dollars worth of broadcast gear equipment. The embargos appear to be another politically motivated attempt by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) to force Radio 15 de September off-air (Reftel A,B,C,D) and to pressure the sale of Telenica to Albanisa, S.A., the Nicaragua-Venezuela petroleum-funded venture controlled by President Ortega and the FSLN. End Summary.
Radio 15 de September faces "embargo"
2. (U) Late evening, December 10, a judge issued a "preventive embargo" for USD $10,000 dollars against Radio 15 de September, a radio station owned by Liberal National Assembly Deputy Enrique QuinC3nez and former Liberal Deputy, Fernando AvellC!n. A preventive embargo is a civil court procedure authorized and issued by a judge to prevent a debtor from hiding assets in order to avoid payment in a pending civil suit demanding payment. A judge may issue an embargo if reasonable ground exists for pursuing a civil case. The judge's decision, executed by his alternative ("suplente") judge, JosC) Galeano Bravo, stems from a "request" filed against the station by the family of U.S. citizen Frank Lee Owen concerning a property dispute. The exact contents of the request are currently unknown. Julio CC)sar BlandC3n (a.k.a., Contra commander "Kaliman"), president of the Nicaraguan Resistance Party (PRN) and an employee of the Ministry of the Government, arrived at the station accompanied by over 100 PRN and FSLN protestors as Galeano delivered the embargo. Demonstrators attempted to put chains on the office gates, threatened station workers, and called for the radio's closure. Once a preventive embargo is issued, a "custodian" is appointed by the court to monitor all assets subject to the embargo. A preventive embargo, or assigned custodian, cannot impede a company's daily operation. At the time of reporting, it is currently unclear if the court has appointed a custodian. On December 16, Radio 15 de September moved its equipment from the disputed property, forcing it to temporarily stop its radio transmission until January, while the station is located to an alternative site.
3. (U) QuinC3nez, AvellC!n, and Deputy Eduardo Montealegre claim the preventive embargo and protest is another politically motivated attempt by the FSLN to "silence" the radio station, which has maintained an openly critical stance against the Ortega Administration. Radio 15 de September has been the subject of repeated signal transmission interruptions over the last two years, supposedly carried out via the hands of Ortega loyalists. QuinC3nez, a member of the opposition Nicaraguan Democratic Bloc (BDN), charged Blandon of colluding with the FSLN. Eduardo Montealegre, leader of the BDN, also criticized Blandon, stating that the legal action carried out by Blandon under the name of the PRN, "betrayed the blood of the 'Contras' that died fighting the FLSN in the 1980s."
If you can't beat them, join them-Telenica to Albanisa?
4. (U) On December 14, NC)stor Castillo, judge for the Third District Civil Court in Managua, issued a preventive embargo against the license of Telenica, television Channel 8. The embargo, which is for the sum of USD $500,000, is based on a request filed in November 2009 by JosC) Venancio BerrC-os, former Telenica commentator on Channel 8. BerrC-os is suing Carlos BriceC1o, owner of Telenica, for defamation and failure to honor a contract. (Note: BerrC-os brought the complaint after BriceC1o filed a suit against BerrC-os for breach of contract after BerrC-os failed to pay Channel 8 for financial obligations incurred for the cost of BerrC-os's television show. End Note). Carlos Mario Pena, former Supreme Court justice and Ortega loyalist, met with BriceC1o and his lawyer, Victor Grijalva, shortly before Fernando Gil Baca, alternative judge for the First District Labor Court in Managua, delivered the embargo to the station's gate. However, Gil Baca was unable to deliver the embargo notice because BriceC1o had closed the station. Grijalva declared the embargo "null" on the grounds that it was never "officially" delivered, was executed by a judge with no jurisdiction in the Third District, and unconstitutional. According to the Nicaraguan Constitution, licenses are property of the state and cannot be embargoed.
5. (C) The embargo against Telenica occurred amongst a cloud of
speculation concerning the possible sale of the company, which
includes Channel 8 and Radio 1 FM (109.1). BriceC1o is currently
entertaining offers from various groups for the sale of Telenica.
The Nicaraguan press has reported that BriceC1o is negotiating the
sale of Telenica to Albanisa for USD $10,000,000. BriceC1o
emphatically denied reports he had already sold or would sell
Telenica to Albanisa. However, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a
prominent left of center, investigative reporter and host of two
popular news shows on Channel 8, confirmed to post that BriceC1o
plans to sell Telenica to Albanisa. Our contact also informed post
he is currently seeking a new home for his show. On November 15,
BriceC1o met with Rafael SolC-s, Vice-President of the Supreme Court
and orchestrator of the Court's decision allowing Ortega's
re-election. The purpose of the meeting which occurred at Channel
8 was unknown; however, post contacts and media reports suspect it
was concerning the sale of Telenica to Albanisa. Many workers from
both Channel 8 and Channel 4 believe the sale is already final. In
an impromptu interview with Channel 4, the media station owned by
President Ortega and First Lady Rosario Murillo, BriceC1o denied the
sale, but commented, "Some people in the media think I am doing
something criminal. I can do with this channel what I want. I can
have business partners. I can sell it completely. I can close it if
I want to. There are sectors of society, that for ideological
reasons, want to create an image of impropriety with this potential
6. (U) Press reports, as well as post contacts, have speculated
that Telenica's possible sale to Albanisa is motivated in part by
Ortega's desire to remove Carlos Fernando Chamorro from the air.
Through his daily show, "Esta Noche" (Tonight), and weekly program,
"Esta Semana" (This Week), Chamorro has been extremely critical of
the FSLN government, conducting numerous investigative reports
exposing government abuses of power.
7. (C) BriceC1o might also be facing increasing legal pressures. In
2000, Telenica was embargoed by the Nicaraguan Institute of Social
Security (INSS) for nonpayment of $72,000 dollars in workers'
social security taxes. However, the debt was forgiven in
negotiations with INSS. Since 2000, BriceC1o has continued to avoid
paying social security taxes and owes INSS for back taxes. We
believe the FSLN government is using BriceC1o's tax debt as leverage
to pressure him into selling Telenica.
8. (C) Independent media which criticize the Ortega Administration continue to face intense political pressure from the government (Ref A,B,C,D). The arbitrary and politically motivated use of preventive embargos against Radio 15 de September and Telenica is another example of the length the FSLN government will go to suppress political opposition and extend its power. The possible sale of Telenica to Albanisa is a disturbing development for democracy in Nicaragua. The acquisition of Telenica by the FSLN-controlled Albanisa would help the Sandinistas enlarge its media network and control its party message. The loss of Telenica, an independent media outlet for over 19 years, would significantly limit Nicaraguans access to non-government news sources.