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Cablegate: (U) Ortega and the U.S.: New-Found True Love or Another

VZCZCXRO3354
RR RUEHAO RUEHRN
DE RUEHMU #0115/01 0561550
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 251550Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0724
INFO WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0011
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS 0006
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0001
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0001
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 0001
RUEHRN/USMISSION UN ROME 0005
RUEHSI/AMEMBASSY TBILISI 0001
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 MANAGUA 000115

SIPDIS
DEPT FOR WHA/CEN
DEPT FOR USOAS
DEPT PASS TO USAID/LAC -- JANET BALLENTINE AND ERIC KITE
SOUTHCOM FOR POLAD AND J5
AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PASS TO AMCONSUL RECIFE
AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PASS TO AMCONSUL QUEBEC
AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN PASS TO AMEMBASSY GRENADA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/02/24
TAGS: PREL PGOV EAID MARR XR RS IR XK
SUBJECT: (U) Ortega and the U.S.: New-Found True Love Or Another
Still-Born Charm Offensive?

REF: A) MANAGUA 182 -- REQUEST TO RENEW STATUS OF FORCES AGREEMENT
B) MANAGUA 49 -- ORTEGA ATTACKS U.S. "OCCUPATION" OF HAITI
C) 2009 MANAGUA 1090 -- FSLN PROTESTORS ATTACKS U.S. EMBASSY
D) 2009 MANAGUA 913 -- NICARAGUA RECOGNIZES BREAK-AWAY GEORGIA
REPUBLICS
E) 2009 MANAGUA 912 -- ORTEGA ATTACKS U.S. IN ARMY ANNIVERSARY SPEECH
F) 2009 MANAGUA 871 -- NON-COOPERATION IN ARMS CASE
G) 2009 MANAGUA 599 -- MCC CANCELLED

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

Summary


1. (S) Over the last six weeks, President Ortega has made an
uncharacteristically intense effort to pass messages of
conciliation and cooperation in our direction. Ortega's actions
include renewed cooperation on some dormant legal assistance
requests, especially cordial treatment of visiting VIPs, a possible
decision on a new Ambassador-designate, and a personal and quick
response to the Ambassador's request for information from Ortega
regarding the Secretary's planned trip to the region. Yet, over
the past three years, such "good" behavior by Ortega has occurred
only when he sought a particular political objective - e.g. the
early-2009 "charm offensive" that unsuccessfully sought to prevent
the partial termination of Nicaragua's MCC compact. The motivation
behind the current "charm offensive" is still unclear, but is
unlikely to portend a new, friendly Ortega with whom we can work in
the long-term. End Summary.


GON Has Been Cooperative Lately


2. (S) Over the last few weeks, we have noted a concerted effort
by President Daniel Ortega and First Lady Rosario Murillo to send
conciliatory signals our way. In late-January we were contacted by
the Foreign Ministry seeking to re-engage us on a renewal of the
Status of Forces Agreement governing U.S. troop presence in
Nicaragua (REF A). At about the same time, the Foreign Minister and
the Attorney General both indicated to the Ambassador that the
government desired to be helpful on some long-stagnant evidence
transfers requests we had made in 2009 (REF F). We also learned
that Ortega recently approached Arturo Cruz, Jr, the former
Ambassador to the U.S., about returning for a second tour as
Managua's representative in Washington, a post that has been vacant
since Cruz himself left it in March 2009 (details SEPTEL). Ortega,
through Cruz, has also invited WHA DAS Julissa Reynoso to visit
Managua. Additionally, both Ortega and Murillo were exceptionally,
and uncharacteristically, friendly to the U.S. Delegation, led by
DASD Dr. Frank Mora, that attended the February 22 change of
command ceremony for Nicaragua's Military High Command. Both
Ortega and Murillo spent several minutes with the USDEL prior to
the ceremony and were effusive in their praise of U.S. mil-to-mil
assistance. This string of events taken together, over the past
six weeks, represents an unusually friendly level of communication
and interaction by the Ortega government.


3. (C) On Friday, February 19, per instructions from Washington,
the Ambassador contacted the President's office to inquire whether
Ortega would participate in a proposed meeting between the
Secretary and Central American heads of state that would take place
in Guatemala during the first week of March. Normally our requests

MANAGUA 00000115 002 OF 004


of this nature go unanswered. However, within a few hours of
making this initial contact, First Lady Murillo personally called
the Ambassador seeking more information about the meeting. She
also asked the Ambassador to visit the Ortega residence, which also
serves as the Presidential "offices." NOTE: In 2007, Ortega
refused to occupy Nicaragua's Presidential palace. Instead he
governs the country - and runs his Sandinista party -- from his
home. END NOTE. Murillo asked the Ambassador to meet that same
evening following a Cabinet meeting; however, she later called to
re-schedule for the afternoon of Saturday, February 20, explaining
the cabinet meeting had run longer than expected.


Is this really "True Love?"


4. (C) During the Saturday afternoon meeting, the Ambassador found
the First Couple cordial, even friendly, contrary to past
experience. Ortega apologized for the attack on the Embassy in
November (REF C), noting that he had personally intervened with the
Chief of Police to ensure the Embassy [eventually] had protection
from anti-riot units (and for the Ambassador himself on the
following day). When the Ambassador noted our concern over the
fact that senior FSLN leaders had been seen urging on the violent
protestors, Ortega somewhat sheepishly acknowledged that at times,
even he, cannot control his own people.


Ambassador to Ortega: Your Behavior Damages Our Relations


5. (C) The Ambassador raised the nearly year-long vacancy at
Nicaragua's Embassy in Washington, noting that some in Washington
perceive this as an intentional slight by Managua. Ortega
responded slyly that he was on the verge of naming - likely in
March - a new man (or, he noted, even a woman) to fill the post.
("Tal vez, una embajadora...") The Ambassador also protested
Ortega's false claims about the U.S. "military occupation" of Haiti
following the January 12 earthquake (REF B). He told Ortega the
Secretary had been very angry at Ortega for the malicious comments.
Ortega responded weakly that he had spoken in ignorance, and that
he later became aware that other nations had also sent troops.


6. (C) Turning to the Secretary's proposed Guatemala meeting with
regional heads-of-state, Ortega expressed concern that U.S. intent
was to force the issue of Honduras recognition. He restated
Nicaragua's opposition to recognizing the Lobo government, adding
that he would do nothing until the various censures on Honduras by
multilateral bodies - the UN, OAS, SICA, Rio Group, and ALBA. - had
been lifted. Ortega said he needed more information before
agreeing, but ended the one-and-one-half-hour meeting on a friendly
note. The First Couple's good will carried into Sunday, when they
met with the U.S. delegation attending the change of command
ceremony for Nicaragua's military high command. Ortega and Murillo
were careful to spend several minutes chatting with each member of
the USDel before the ceremony. Even Ortega's remarks, which
included the typical anti-imperialist screed, were milder than
normal.

MANAGUA 00000115 003 OF 004


What's "Wrong" With Ortega?


7. (C) While Ortega's true motives are only ever fully known to
himself, over the past three years we have occasionally seen his
"conciliatory" face, but only as a means to a short-term objective.
We recall the unsuccessful charm offensive against us in early-2009
that sought to prevent the partial termination of MCC (REF G). It
was followed by vicious and malicious public attacks over several
months, culminating with Ortega's speech at the Army birthday
celebration, when he accused U.S. forces of genocide (REF E) The
pattern is a spurt of amity and cooperation that is immediately
followed by distance, contempt, and even hostility regardless of
whether his objective is achieved. At times it seems Ortega's
subsequent "rejection" of his "intended" is more severe when he
succeeds. Others - the Europeans, Taiwan, Japan, the World Bank
and the IMF - have received similar treatment, often ahead of
decisions on funding for foreign assistance or important visits.
Nearly all have subsequently been spurned.


Is It Frustrated Foreign Policy?


8. (C) One of Ortega's current motives in seeking a "thaw" with us
may be a reflection of his unsuccessful attempts to wean Nicaragua
off the "imperialist" aid of the United States and Europe. He is
keenly aware (and resentful) of Nicaragua's dependence upon outside
assistance, especially ours. Given his constant anti-U.S.
rhetoric, the scale and persistence of U.S. aid contrasts greatly
with that of other patrons Ortega has actively wooed. Three years
of persistent overtures to Iran have failed to produce anything
besides ideological capital and a handful of commercial
delegations. His long-standing ally, Cuba, continues to provide
medical and educational "brigades" for rural Nicaragua, but these
rely on Venezuelan funding and the support of their Nicaraguan
hosts for sustenance. Russia has been Ortega's other promising
target. His recognition of Georgia's two breakaway republics was
clearly designed to please Moscow (REF D), and though Moscow has
recently come through with some limited assistance, including a
fleet of modern buses and the promise of military aid and
cooperation, the commitment still falls far short of Cold War
levels, for which Ortega had hoped. Russian Foreign Minister
Lavrov was on the ground for less than 24 hours here during his
mid-February trip.


Is It Unrequited ALBA?


9. (S) The ALBA bloc is an increasingly vocal and coordinated
grouping that demands attention in international fora, both inside
and outside the Hemisphere. Yet there are indications that the
Ortega-Chavez revolutionary partnership may be suffering a cold
snap. Over three years, Chavez has supplied Ortega with nearly a
billion dollars in badly-needed "assistance," but Ortega's constant
need for operating cash to off-set forfeited donor assistance is
likely now wearisome for Chavez who faces growing domestic economic

MANAGUA 00000115 004 OF 004


difficulties. The Venezuelan in charge of the joint-venture ALBA
de Nicaragua (ALBANISA), an umbrella holding company that channels
Venezuelan funds, was recently "recalled" to Caracas after a series
of unfortunate public statements about Venezuela's plan and goals
in Nicaragua. The "dynamic duo" appears to have been strained by
several factors, including disagreements over how aggressively to
exploit Zelaya and the Honduras coup and rivalry over who is the
Hemisphere's rightful heir to Castro's "revolutionary" legacy.
Both Chavez and Raul Castro came here for the hastily-convened June
2009 ALBA/SICA/Rio Group meeting that followed the Honduras coup.
Yet both confirmed for, but failed to attend, Ortega's July 19 gala
commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Sandinista victory.
Ortega was also surely stung by the last-minute cancellations of
both Venezuela and Cuba for the recent military change of command.
Even so, we do not/not believe that ALBA is in imminent danger of
collapse. In fact, we are confident that Ortega would not
recognize Honduras without prior consultation with, even
authorization by, Chavez.


Comment


10. (C) At this point, we can only speculate as to Ortega's
underlying aim or motive behind this current amiable countenance.
We note that in Nicaragua's most famous theatrical work, "El
Gueguense" (The Old Man), performers hold masks over their faces.
The theme is deception, and the ubiquitous masks, with their false,
painted-on smiles, symbolize the mutual distrust between the
colonial-era indigenous population and their duplicitous Spanish
overlords. The smiling masks project an outward appearance of
comity and respect, while true visages and feelings are hidden from
view. In our experience, Ortega's charm offensives are gueguense -
short-lived and insincere. Perhaps in the face of
less-than-successful foreign policy to diversify his donor base,
and disenchanted with the lack of revolutionary camaraderie within
the Bolivarian experiment, he simply seeks reassurance that we plan
to stay on here. We will. And hope this new beginning does not
end in disappointment, again.
CALLAHAN

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